Elections: Haiti's "impossible nightmare?"
June 7, 2005
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© Haiti Information Project - Sept. 30 2004 - Marchers hurled insults intended for the UN soldiers they called "occupation troops." The sign in the background to the left translates, "With Kerry I will smile." While low voter turnout in USA is nothing unusual, it has real significance for the politically-active people in Haiti.

Elections: Haiti's "impossible nightmare?"

Why are Haiti's voters staying away?

Haiti Information Project (HIP) The centerpiece of the international community's policy to rebuild violence-torn Haiti is the upcoming elections that were originally scheduled to begin in October of this year. As a renewed climate of violence and insecurity continues to grip Haiti, elections remain the only process that can legitimize and justify the overthrowing of the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. This fact is not lost among supporters of Lavalas, the deposed president's political party, who arguably still represent the most potent political force in Haiti today. Many independent observers have also begun to ask if the climate of violence alone explains the disinterest of Haiti's electorate in the next elections.

Haiti's latest wave of violence and insecurity began after the Haitian police fired on peaceful marches in the capital demanding the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 28 and April 27. At least 11 unarmed demonstrators were killed in the two attacks, prompting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to echo demands by human rights organizations for an official investigation. The U.S.-installed government of Gerard Latortue has dismissed the allegations despite statements made by Brazilian General Heleno Ribera and video footage taken by a local television station confirming the unprovoked attacks. The video footage also shows members of Haiti's police force planting guns on corpses to justify the slayings on April 27.

Since then, there have been almost daily kidnappings and killings that U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley and the local Haitian business elite continue to blame on a small and violent minority claiming allegiance to Aristide. The fact that some members of Haiti's police force have been implicated in the recent spate of kidnappings has not softened the rhetoric calling for retribution and violence against pro-Aristide neighborhoods.

Haitian police have sustained an on-going attack against Bel Air, a neighborhood that served as a launching site for demonstrations demanding the return of Aristide, for the past four days. Early reports from the neighborhood claim that the police have killed at least 30 people and 15 homes have been set ablaze. The armed incursions are backed up by U.N. forces and are being described by some human rights groups as a "scorched earth" policy being employed against Aristide supporters.

Boycotting elections, the only way left to protest

As you approach the modest building not far from a police station in the suburb of Petion-Ville, you wouldn't know this is a meeting place for a women's organization aligned with Lavalas. On this day 20 women sit in a circle in a stifling hot room to discuss the topics of the day that include human rights abuses by the police, politically motivated rapes against them, the high cost of living and, of course, the upcoming elections.

"Many of us are physical victims of the coup of Feb. 29, 2004, against President Aristide," began one woman. "Most of us sitting here have been abused physically by the former military and Haitian police. All of us have lost a father, husband, brother or loved one to the violence against Lavalas that continues to this day," she continued. "We have organized quietly to tell people not to register for this election. We don't go to the demonstrations because the police might kill us, and this is the only way left to us to protest the coup," she stated.

Apparently she is not alone. The body overseeing the election process, the Provisional Election Council, announced on May 30 that only 60,000 people have registered out of an eligible 4.5 million potential voters since registration began on April 25. Patrick Fequieres, president of the Electoral Operations Commission for the council, commented on a local radio station that at this rate of registration Haiti wouldn't be ready for balloting until 2007.

"I am going to register! I am going to vote!"

As you drive down Delmas road in Port au Prince you can see several large banners that read, "I am going to register! I am going to vote!" Radio stations throughout Haiti play commercials round the clock that encourage people to register. The international community and the U.S.-installed government are implementing a policy of mandatory registration. The repercussions for not obeying mandatory registration subject potential voters to fines and to paying for a new national identity card that is being offered for free during the electoral registration period. Despite these efforts, the number of people actually registering to vote remains low.

One international observer close to the process commented on the registration figures: "This is the international community's worst nightmare. If the numbers of those participating in these elections do not rise to credible levels, it will give Aristide and his supporters the argument that this was a national referendum on his ouster. This will make it an impossible nightmare for the next government to rule. They won't have a credible mandate, and all we may have succeeded in doing [in supporting Aristide's ouster] is opening the door for future instability. We have to wonder when the next Haitian government will actually finish a full term in office without having to rely upon severe repression. It's a legitimate question at this point even though we would like to avoid it."

In Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitien, there appears to be even less interest by the population in registering for the vote. There is also nothing close to the level of violence and insecurity racking Haiti's capital. A peasant leader from a nearby town stated, "Many of us were driven into hiding after Feb. 29, 2004, but things have calmed down a lot. We don't have anything close to what's going on in Port au Prince for the moment. It doesn't mean it can't get worse, but they can't blame violence around here for spoiling the elections. The truth is we are not interested because we don't have confidence in elections anymore. What have they gotten us in the past? More killing, more violence, higher prices - we don't see the point."

A troubling process

Despite the low registration figures and the possibility of an unprecedented low-voter turnout, consultants working with Haiti's Provisional Election Council remain undeterred but wary. One consultant stated, "Everyone in the international community agrees that high registration and high voter turnout is vital in order to legitimize the next government. At the same time, the basic fact is that elections will occur given the international mandate and constitutional deadlines involved - the elections will occur."

"The fear is that low registration and a low voter turnout will put into question the legitimacy of the next government," he continued. "At this moment in time, the prevailing view among donor nations is that the real problem is the dysfunction of the Provisional Election Council, the OAS and U.N. in their mandate for implementing the electoral process. Only a handful of the planned registration centers have been opened. This is unacceptable! Even if these internal problems are resolved soon, if Lavalas sympathizers abstain from registering out of political convictions, the whole political transition process will be in deep trouble."

Addressing the underlying political stalemate

For the moment, this wariness seems to be the semi-official view of most donor agencies and diplomatic circles involved in the electoral process in Haiti. Some say such a scenario would result in a new government lacking a credible mandate and heavily dependent upon backroom political deals and increasing repression to stay in office.

The alternative - negotiating for the return of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide - being demanded by his supporters before the upcoming elections, is also simply unthinkable to them. But apparently so are the other basic demands of Lavalas supporters, such as freedom for political prisoners, an end to the repression against them, prosecution of police involved in human rights abuses, and a guarantee of security during the upcoming electoral campaign. The international community wants Haitians to participate in the next elections en mass without seriously recognizing and addressing this underlying political stalemate that is currently paralyzing the country. Instead, many embassies are following a path of least resistance and focusing the blame on violence and insecurity attributed to Lavalas. They have bought into the propaganda of Haiti's business elite that deadly raids into poor communities by U.N. forces and the police are a quick-fix solution to the crisis.

The majority of nations involved in the current U.N. coalition don't appear willing or able to forge an independent policy and stand up to the powerful triumvirate of the United States, France and Canada. This triumvirate is widely viewed as having fomented the coup against Aristide Feb. 2004 and for currently backing Haiti's traditional elite in closing all potential avenues of compromise with Lavalas. In the meantime, the violence in Haiti continues to escalate, creating the potential for a lasting impression of marginalized elections floating in a sea of blood.

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See Also:

Elections: Haiti's "impossible nightmare?"
Why are Haiti's voters staying away?
The centerpiece of the international community's policy to rebuild violence-torn Haiti is the upcoming elections that were originally scheduled to begin in October of this year. Congresswoman Waters states that elections in Haiti this year would be a disaster June 7

Spokesman for Aristide’s Lavalas movement condemns violence in Haiti Port au Prince (HIP) - A spokesman for Aristide's Lavalas movement in Haiti's capital, Mr. Samba Boukman, condemned an attack and firebombing against a popular market in Port au Prince this last Wednesday. At least 10 people are reported to have died in the blaze that was started after unidentified gunman began shooting in the area.

The Haiti Information Project (HIP) is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti.

For more information visit: http://haitiinformationproject.blogspot.com/

Contact: HIP@teledyol.net

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