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#329: This Week in Haiti 17:23 8/25/99 (fwd)

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax)
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                      August 25 - 31, 1999
                          Vol. 17, No. 23


"The CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] will not receive any gift nor any
loan, even if it is placed at its disposal, which passes outside of the
government." With these words on Aug. 24, Macajoux Médard, the CEP
spokesperson, seemed to reject Washington's move to usurp control from the
Haitian government of producing Haiti's voter registration cards.

Médard's statement comes in response to fierce criticism that the CEP has
remained silent for three weeks while the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), an arm of the State Department, has unilaterally
funneled $3.5 million to Code, Inc., a Canadian company, to produce about 4
million cards. The move effectively circumvents the CEP and the Haitian
government, which are constitutionally supposed to administer all election

The money has been channeled through the "intermediary" of the International
Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel
Witham calls an "impartial independent non-governmental organization." In
truth, IFES is a quasi-official tool of the U.S. government, used to oversee
and engineer elections throughout the world. It was created in 1987 with $5
million from USAID. Along with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED),
USAID remains IFES's largest funder.

The cards will bear a photograph of the registered voter. They are a
critical element in the election, since they will be the foundation for
computerized vote-tallying. They will also constitute a comprehensive
database of the Haitian population.

This makes it both politically and logistically inconceivable that the U.S.
government would commandeer voter card production. "There are even practical
reasons for this," said Médard, trying to downplay the problem somewhat. "A
company is supposed to give us the materials by a certain deadline. Suppose
they don't give them. What is the CEP going to tell them if it has signed no
contract with them?"

Outcry over Washington's move has been particularly loud from Haiti's
anti-imperialist sector. On Aug. 23, a day before Médard's announcement, the
National Popular Party (PPN) issued a statement saying that "members of the
[CEP] have shown very clearly that they are the house-servants of the U.S.
government since they have made no objection when a foreign government takes
responsibility to sign a contract with a foreign firm to make our electoral
cards."  The PPN said that it would boycott any "USAID electoral masquerade"
and invited the Lavalas Family party (FL) of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide and a newly formed (and still unnamed) party of former
"anti-neoliberal" parliamentarians to "sit down so that we can prepare
together for this blow they want to give the Haitian people."

Even Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, so compliant on other fronts,
seems to be stung by U.S. arrogance in this matter. "I had a meeting with
them over 21 days ago, in which USAID asked me where they should send their
aid," Alexis said last week. "I explained to them that whatever the form of
the aid, it had to pass through the intermediary of the Ministry of

The voter card scandal may be one of the reasons behind the CEP's
announcement this week that the first round of elections will not be held on
Nov. 28 as originally forecast. "The date of the elections depends on when
we can do the registration," Médard said. "As long as we don't know that, we
can't fix a definite schedule for the elections." Despite his open-ended
excuse, Médard insisted that the CEP would hold the municipal and
legislative elections in time to have the 47th Legislature sworn-in on Jan.
10, 2000, the government's target date.

But some politicians are skeptical. Perennial U.S.-backed candidate Marc
Bazin said that a November-December electoral calendar seemed too optimistic
and proposed the first and second rounds for January and February.

Jean Rosemond Pradel of the Espace de Concertation, a front of bourgeois
parties, said that the delay was caused by "the executive in particular
stalling for a long time" by changing words in the electoral decree and then
not signing it (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17 No. 19, 7/28/99). "All of that
was a maneuver to arrive at this result... because the political 'family' of
President [René] Préval doesn't want elections in 1999; it wants all the
elections to take place together so this fits their plan." Opponents of the
Lavalas Family and Aristide claim that the former president wants to delay
legislative elections until the time of his campaign for re-election in Dec.
2000, so FL candidates can ride on his coattails.

Meanwhile, the FL held large rallies in the cities of Cap Haïtien and
Jérémie last week to prepare the party's programme and for a congress
projected for Dec. 14-16. In a recorded message, Aristide told his partisans
that the FL was "the largest and most powerful political organization in the
country" and "we are all warmed up and ready to win the elections
Lavalasally," in other words to sweep them like a flood.

Of course, it is the prospect of such a sweep by any progressive party or
parties which is likely behind the U.S. government's maneuver to gain
control over the computers which will count Haiti's votes.

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