Those who counselled against holding a national election in Haiti in the midst of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis will take no comfort in the debacle it became.
Our thoughts rest squarely with the tens of thousands of people afflicted with cholera, or the hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims still without shelter, clean water and hope. How much suffering could have been alleviated with the tens of million of dollars spent on a wasted electoral exercise?
The image of the brave and resilient Haitian people will inevitably be stained by what the world has witnessed. Haiti, we are told by so many uninformed commentators, is hopelessly rife with “corruption,” “fraud” and “violence.” But that’s not correct and it’s not fair.
Yes, there was no shortage of electoral fraud on display on election day (November 28). But it’s not true that this is the hallmark of elections in Haiti. The country has held four successful presidential elections in the past 20 years.
To achieve the first of those, in 1990, the people sacrificed greatly in a difficult and bloody four-year battle against the country’s wealthy elite.
The elite sought to recover what was lost with the overthrow of the Duvalier tyranny in 1986 by transferring political rule to the ousted dictator’s army. Ultimately, that failed. But not without a high human toll.
No one knows more the value of a free and fair election than ordinary Haitian people themselves.
The current election was imposed on Haiti, courtesy of Washington, Ottawa, Paris and the UN Security Council. The dust had barely settled from the earthquake when they began to press for it.
They footed the bill, to the tune of at least US$25 million. They are the ones to be held accountable, for there was no shortage of voices in Haiti and abroad crying foul and calling for a different political course.
Why were these voices not heeded? Sadly, November 28 was the latest step in a long and protracted effort by Haiti’s elite and the wealthy powers of the world to disenfranchise the Haitian people and strip them of their national sovereignty.
Following ten years punctuated by a military coup and incessant foreign interference, the disenfranchisement effort resumed in earnest following the election in 2000 of a government of social reform, headed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The elite opposition boycotted the election, but to little avail. The people voted overwhelmingly for Aristide. His party, Fanmi Lavalas, won 72 of 83 parliamentary seats.
Impartial observers declared the election fair. But the opposition called for a boycott of aid and assistance to the government, the opening shot in a protracted drive to overthrow it.
The US, Canada and Europe obliged, pressuring international financial institutions to withhold aid funding.
One of the victims of the aid embargo, as documented by Partners in Health in a comprehensive study in 2008, “The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti,” was a government plan to build water treatment facilities in the very Artibonite region where cholera recently broke out.
Four years later, the elected government was overthrown in a bloody paramilitary assault that received political and military backing from the US, Canada and France. The much-hated UN Security Council mission, MINUSTAH, was created in May of that year.
In the 2006 election, a clumsy effort was made to steal the result from the presidential candidate favored by the popular majority, Rene Preval.
The people accepted him, reluctantly, as a stand in for Fanmi Lavalas because the party’s leaders were either in exile (Aristide) or in prison (Jean Juste, Auguste, Neptune, many others).
But even the mild-mannered Preval was too much for the elite to stomach. They tried, but failed, to block his election.
Regretfully, he became the pliant president they wished for, holding down, for example, the factory minimum wage, and failing to aggressively apply the law against specious landowners following the earthquake so that temporary shelter could be built more rapidly.
In 2009, the Preval-appointed electoral council issued its first formal ban against Fanmi Lavalas taking part in elections, in the partial senate elections in April and June.
As a result, voter turnout was less than 5%. The council banned Fanmi Lavalas again for the election that was supposed to take place in February 2010. It rolled the decision forward to apply to this November 28 election.
So how can Haiti recover from this foreign-sponsored electoral disaster?
First, the candidates calling for the election to be canceled should be heeded. As well, a new Provisional Electoral Council needs to be formed.
Haitians have been demanding this in countless demonstrations over the past seven months; those candidates now crying foul are doing so late in the game.
Second, the foreign powers in Haiti should respect the sovereign will of the country and its institutions in the reconstruction effort.
Haitians need social cohesion and a rights-based plan for national recovery. Foreign assistance could help such a process by cooperating with Haitian authorities and bending over backwards to assist the creation of public services and other social institutions that strengthen Haitian capacity.
Third, MINUSTAH needs to prepare an orderly departure from the country. Many Haitians already revile it as a symbol Haiti’s loss of sovereignty in 2004.
Now it stands accused of being the likely source of the cholera outbreak, via its Nepalese contingent, and of backing a fraudulent and undemocratic election.
Finally, and above all, the humanitarian crisis requires urgent attention and much more resources.
Notwithstanding the sacrifices and heroism of so many Haitians and their allies, the international aid effort has proven flawed and insufficient. A renewed influx of resources and commitment is required.
[Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University’s Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario. Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and one of the editors of its website. He lives in Vancouver. Article reprinted from the Toronto Star.]