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#3379: Haiti Alert: Participatory Democracy in Danger (fwd)

From: Moira Feeney <moira@globalexchange.org>

Haiti Alert:
Participatory Democracy in Danger

As members of a recent human rights delegation to Haiti, we wish to
express our grave concerns regarding the ongoing electoral process and
its potential consequences. At this time, local and parliamentary
elections are scheduled for May 21, 2000, with Presidential elections
slated for late fall. While these elections are critical to the
development of a genuine democracy in Haiti, it appears that serious
errors in the planning and execution of the voter registration drive may
irreparably taint the results. As discussed below, the Haitian people
are now facing exclusionary elections, a situation which negates the key
concept of "one person, one vote." According to numerous reports, up to
25% of the eligible voters have been prevented or deterred from
registering. Although official agencies responsible for organizing the
electoral process, such as the Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP),
insist that the majority of the population have in fact been registered,
this claim is not consistent with what we heard again and again from
religious, civic, labor, and peasant leaders. Given that this electoral
process was conceived of and executed with the technical assistance and
financial support of various U.S.-based agencies, this problem raises
special concerns.

We note that the Haitian CEP has been established to organize and carry
out local and parliamentary elections, and that a permanent electoral
council will be established to organize this fall's Presidential
elections. Based on our conversations with a number of Haitian civic and
religious leaders, we learned that the members of the CEP were appointed
with the intention of best representing different political parties.
Many high-ranking members of certain political parties landed positions
on the CEP while other parties have complained of exclusion from the
CEP. They have also protested posts assigned at the regional and
communal levels, hires made largely with the influence of the
Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).
These conditions have, from the outset, created an atmosphere of serious
distrust. Money to support the electoral process did not flow through
the appropriate channels in Haiti; funding was passed directly from the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to IFES and
the National Democratic Institute (NDI), among others.

Although these US agencies have been mandated to assist Haiti in the
building of democratic institutions, to hold training sessions and to
encourage civic education so that the political parties and population
of Haiti can begin to understand participatory democracy. There is
little evidence that real democratic institution building has taken
place. IFES worked with the CEP to create the original plan for
registration. Their plan included cutting the number of registration
bureaus to approximately half the number provided during the 1995
elections. In addition, IFES strongly encouraged the requirement of
photo ID cards without requiring any central database to be maintained.
As a result, appropriate monitoring is impossible and there is no way to
account for actual voters registered.

Of far greater concern, however, is the fact that the recent voter
registration campaign, as planned and executed by the CEP with the
guidance of IFES, has shut out a significant percentage of the Haitian
population. These elections will thus be highly exclusionary in nature.
There have already been several popular demonstrations in Haiti to
protest this serious problem. The problem is specifically derived from
the requirement of photo ID cards for voting, a first in Haiti's
history. The original registration period was very brief - only six
weeks - although the angry popular response forced the CEP to briefly
extend this period. Even though there were far fewer bureaus than in
1995, many of these remained closed for hours and even days at a time.
In rural areas there was inadequate outreach: many people remained in
doubt as to where to go to register, or had to walk long distances, then
stand in line for hours at a time, only to be told to return the next
day. Although upper class Haitians were able to return and register, the
poor could not afford this luxury. To make matters worse, we heard
numerous reports that the cameras were sold or broken, that film ran
out, and that other needed equipment was lost or out of order. Certain
registration lists have been "lost", meaning the loss of several
thousand registrants. Others have been withheld by angry employees who
claim they were never paid by the CEP. The CEP, in turn, does not yet
have definitive lists of whom their local employees were.

The CEP has inaccurately reported that most of the eligible population
is registered. Sometimes as high as 96% of the voters has been reported
registered. It is impossible for the CEP to back up their claims with
any empirical evidence - registers are lost and being held hostage by
unpaid employees. The CEP is also working with very approximate
population estimates; the last official census was more than ten years
ago, and there is no official data on the current population of Haiti.
More importantly, without central data processing there is a potential
for individuals to register several times, and there is no means of
computing the number of registered voters. Even those persons involved
in and supportive of the registration drive recognize that there was no
way to prevent multiple registrations. These officials opine that the
use of indelible ink to mark all voters on election day will prevent any
duplicative voting. Even assuming that this is correct, the result will
be an exclusionary election because without a card, one cannot vote.

If the official reports of almost total voter registration go without
criticism, the potential consequences are very serious. It will be said
that the severely limited number of registration bureaus was adequate,
and it is possible that arguments will be made against re-opening
registration before the presidential elections. In addition, low voter
turn out may be construed as apathy, when in reality many eligible
voters could not register. Based on our conversations and interviews, we
believe that the CEP claim of near total registration is highly skewed.
Although no one was able to give a precise figure for the percentage of
adults excluded from the registration process, a common estimate was

We found the following situations to be very significant. Cite Soleil is
Haiti's most impoverished and crowded area, and is located in
Port-au-Prince. We heard numerous complaints about the severe
registration problems there. During the previous elections, some 142
voter registration offices had been made available to these people. This
time, approximately 13 bureaus were opened for one month, but of these
13 many closed repeatedly and for lengthy periods. The official
estimated population of Cite Soleil is 200,000, although no formal
figures exist and it is the largest growing area in the country.
Assuming that half of these people would be of voting age, at least
100,000 needed to be registered. Even if ten offices had remained open
and functional for the full thirty days, this would mean that each
office had to register nearly one person every 1.5 minutes. This was
clearly impossible.

Lastly we note that Jean Dominique, a famous and popular 70 year-old
journalist, was shot to death in front of Radio Haiti Inter. He was
killed in broad daylight on the busy Rue Delmas by a gunman who shot him
through the head and then fired six additional shots into his body. The
assailant, after also killing a security guard, then simply walked away,
apparently confident that there would be no consequences for his act.
Jean Dominique had been investigating the electoral process, and had
been highly critical in his commentaries. Many in Haiti predict
additional violence will erupt over the voter problems.

We believe that the current electoral process will be highly significant
in setting the stage for the coming presidential elections this fall.
Clearly, the principle of "one person, one vote" is critical to any fair
and open elections, yet this principle seems to be very much at risk at
this time. We strongly urge the international human rights community to
become involved on an urgent basis. International observers will be of
great importance, not only to record any irregularities, but to receive
complaints from disenfranchised voters as well. As Haitian and U.S.
politicians, government officials and the agencies responsible for
organizing Haiti's local and legislative elections continue to argue
about the constitutional importance of certain dates and the possibility
of Haiti's exclusion from the community of democracies, the people of
Haiti are suffering from the worst economic crisis they have ever
experienced with the knowledge that they have already been excluded from

Pierre LaBoissiere 
Bay Area Haitian American Council

Melinda Miles      
Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center

Moira Feeney       
Global Exchange

Jennifer Harbury
Human Rights Attorney