[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#4029: Article from COHA (fwd)

From: John Kozyn <jckozyn@hotmail.com>

The following article will appear this weekend in the Washington Report on 
the Hemisphere, a newsletter from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 

John Kozyn


Haiti?s Turbulent Electoral Step

By John Kozyn

On May 21, amid confusion and logistical delays, Haiti successfully held its 
first local and legislative elections in two years with a participation rate 
estimated at 60 percent. These contests, which will bring into office 19 
senators, 83 deputies as well as hundreds of local councils, precede the 
presidential elections slated for later this year, which former president 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, leader of the Fanmi Lavalas party, is heavily 
favored to win. Aristide, first elected to the presidency in 1990, was 
deposed in a coup d?état in 1991, and returned to power three years later 
under a U.S.-led military operation mandated by the United Nations.

In Haiti, where infrastructure remains threadbare, the results were not 
likely to be made official for at least one week. However, media reports 
based on electoral observation teams fielded by the Organization of American 
States and the U.S. Congress, indicate that Fanmi Lavalas will enjoy 
dominance in Haiti?s bicameral legislature. This has prompted harsh 
criticism from anonymous ?Western diplomats? who fear Aristide will win the 
presidency later this year, along with a comfortable majority in the 
parliament?an eventuality which led one U.S. diplomat in Haiti to recently 
refer to Aristide as a ?dictator.?

Such disdain on the part of U.S. officials based in Haiti is not uncommon. 
Great pressure in the last six months was brought to bear on Haitian leaders 
to hold elections as quickly as possible. Hearings  on Capitol Hill were 
accompanied by rising Republican and Democratic discontent over the small, 
overwhelmingly black, republic. At issue in these hearings was the use of 
Haiti as a transshipment point for narcotics?primarily cocaine?headed for 
the United States as well as the Haitian government?s commitment to 
elections. Predictably, Aristide?s name figured prominently during both 

Mistrust of Aristide obscures U.S. foreign policy

A former Catholic priest beloved by the poor, Aristide has never been 
trusted by Washington, even while in exile here from 1991-94. He is still 
regarded with suspicion, even contempt, by the Republican leadership in 
Congress, particularly by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who has led extensive efforts to discredit 
Aristide's leadership. In fact, a broad range of U.S. human rights groups 
have criticized the former president for his reluctance to publicly denounce 
Haiti?s political violence.

Pre-election violence took fifteen lives, including that of the acerbic and 
independent radio personality, Jean Dominique, the country?s most famous 
journalist and a close friend of both Aristide and current president René 
Préval. The U.S. press consistently pinned the blame on ?Aristide 
supporters,? but Fanmi Lavalas officials have denied the largely unsupported 
charge. As was the case in 1991 following his violent removal from office, 
Aristide continues to be the target of slander from his enemies both in the 
U.S. and on the island.

During congressional hearings last month, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), 
head of the House International Relations Committee, hinted that Aristide 
was involved with drug trafficking. Nevertheless, the lack of significant 
progress in capturing Colombian drug traffickers in Haiti was cited by the 
DEA as a possible result of the Committee?s failure to respond to its 
earlier request for helicopters. While the DEA congratulated Haitian 
authorities for their high degree of professional cooperation, Gilman sought 
to link Aristide to the drug trafficking that actually began in earnest 
during the early period of the 1991 coup, a fact that the Clinton 
administration has rarely acknowledged.

In addition to the many false accusations directed at Aristide, Washington 
only injured prospects for a free and fair election by inflexibly demanding 
that Préval set a premature election date. In a May 11 Miami Herald article, 
ambassador-designate Brian Dean Curran was quoted as saying, ?We have made 
clear that the failure to ensure prompt and credible elections?followed by 
the rapid seating of a parliament with full powers?will risk isolating Haiti 
from the community of democracies, jeopardize future cooperation and 
undermine the legitimacy of presidential elections later this year. This is 
not a threat, but a statement of fact.?

The chronic disrespect which is traditionally lavished on Haiti and its 
people was also manifested by the Washington-based International Federation 
of Electoral Systems (IFES). The IFES, which provides technical electoral 
assistance to foreign countries, was angered when its director for Haiti, 
Micheline Begin, was declared persona non grata by Haiti's prime minister, 
Jacques Edouard Alexis, after he discovered that she was ?acting in bad 
faith and was far from forthright in her dealings with the Haitian 
government and Haiti's electoral council.? Ms. Begin had submitted a 
relatively positive report to the Haitian government, while in another 
report, sent to her superiors in Washington, she accused Haitian officials 
of collusion, contradicting her statements in the first.

While Haitian voters commendably stood in the face of fear in order to 
adhere to democratic principles, Washington?s policy towards Haiti remains 
clouded in vagueness. After pushing relentlessly for elections even while 
conditions were far from optimal, the State Department has been effusive in 
its praise of the Haitian government. But given Washington's abiding odium 
for Aristide, it is doubtful whether such a felicitous mood will continue to 
exist as Haiti heads toward its fall presidential race.

John Kozyn, COHA Research Fellow (The views expressed in the above article 
are Mr. Kozyn?s alone.)

Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com