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6087: The cost of democracy to Haiti (fwd)
P.S. Please bear with me for this text is rather long.
It's been recently with amazement that I have been reading the news about
Haiti and the recent elections. The reason is rather simple: the number of
times a politician's name has been included in those texts.
If all of us on this list took the time to count how many times the name
-Aristide- has been included in those few-hundred-words texts, we'd be
surprised. I will tell you, though. At the very list, five times in the vast
majority of them.
My question then as an uninformed individual about Haitian politics, would
have been: who is that man? What does that name symbolize? I would dig and
dig, until I find its true meaning.
It is indeed becoming clearer and clearer to the rest of us, that Aristide is
not just the name of a person. It is a name that encompasses more, a lot more
than we would have time to discuss. Let us just then move on, and debate a
different issue. It is the matter of Haiti's burgeoning democracy and its
cost to its people.
Many of us here seem oblivious to the fact that between May and November of
this year, the State of Haiti has spent approximately $25 million US to have
elections, to institutionalize our democracy: 300 million gourdes
(approximately 12.5 million US) spent for the May elections, and another 300
million gourdes spent for the November 26 elections. This is nothing to many
people in the United States. But for those of us who know the misery in
Haiti, this rather small sum could be the equivalent of the United States
government spending close to 25 billion dollars for their recent elections.
There is indeed a lot that could be done by the Haitian government with that
sum (25 million US). From road repair to electricity to agriculture to school
building, that rather small sum does amount to a lot for the Haitian people.
They have thus compensated that government and the political party that they
represent with a huge victory. This is probably the most difficult pill for
Haiti's opposition and many in the International Community to swallow, for
they have made their own investment too. But the vast majority of the Haitian
people have decided to gamble their future one way, while some in the
International Community were hoping that they would another way.
The International Observers themselves during the May elections were quick to
point out that overwhelmingly, the May 21 elections were free and fair. The
point of contention was and still is, over 10 Senators from Fanmi Lavalas
that were well ahead in the count, but should have gone for a second round.
For sure there were irregularities during the May elections. Democracy is a
brand new process in Haiti. Anyone who would say otherwise would be
dishonest. But those irregularities could have been corrected if the
opposition was wise enough to point to specifics (localities where they
occurred and tangible proofs) and request if not a recount (sound familiar?)
at most a revote in those places where they supposedly occurred. I suspect
that even then, the opposition would have still lost if all is free and fair.
The truth of the matter is however, that the real issue seems to be lying
under the rug. We must be honest here. We must. The opposition in Haiti did
not lose because of fraud. The opposition lost because it did not address the
issues that are at the heart of the matter for the Haitian people while Fanmi
Lavalas was shrewd enough to address them head on. Those issues are peace
(security) and food. I hope we all remember the FL slogan in May, and again
in November of this year: "la pè nan tèt; la pè nan vant". Translated, "peace
in the mind; peace in the belly."
The opposition lost because, rather than focusing on those two issues that
should have been Lavalas Achilles' heel, they focused their attention on the
man that symbolizes liberation for the vast majority of the Haitian people:
Aristide for the foreign press; Titid for his beloved people.
I know it aches. It hurts an opposition that kept putting all their eggs in
one basket, without realizing that this basket had a huge whole at its
bottom, and that the eggs kept falling and breaking.
We must move on but how can we? Every time I think that we might be getting
closer to a thaw, suddenly a new roadblock seems to be put in place. Recently
for instance, the leader of the MIDH made a declaration explaining his
position vis-a-vis the November elections and his reluctance to be a
presidential candidate. He basically said that Aristide was too popular for
him to even try. Last weekend, the leader of the RDNP made another
declaration in which, after his usual rambling about Lavalas, he suggested
that, those who wish to vote should and those who do not should simply
abstain from the polling booth. Aristide after his all but certain victory,
earlier this week made a declaration in which he extended his hands to the
opposition. It's been total silence since then from MIDH; the RDNP leader
called Aristide's offer for compromise a "trick," and we are back to square
The truth of the matter is however, that we must all keep striving for a
viable and strong democracy in Haiti with a vigorous and well-established,
Haitian opposition. That is the only way to go. We must also acknowledge that
our democracy is at a very high cost. Just consider children on their way to
school, having their heads blown away just because it is a pre-election
period and somebody is trying to scare the people away from the voting booth.
Some seem to suggest that Lavalas could be behind such appalling acts. But
how could that be? It is like someone working hard to afford himself
alligator shoes, and shooting himself at the foot the moment he is about to
wear them for some special occasion. Does anyone really believe that Lavalas
is that stupid? Or is it that some people think that we really are?
The Haitian people are paying a very high price indeed for their democracy.
They want it to be participative and many do not like that. We must be honest
here. They hate their chosen leader not because he was poor, or is now
reclusive as they like to say, or even because he wears Italian suits as they
are now saying. They hate him because of what he represents and preaches. I
am not surprised for the simple reason that any leader who stands for
something and manages to bring it effectively to the forefront in political
debates, is usually vilified.
Rest assured however that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, if he keeps his promises to
work hard for all Haitians regardless of their race and class, will be as
well known and studied around the world for generations to come, as is
Toussaint Louverture. It does not matter whether he succeeds or not. His
failure if provoked and managed by some invisible hand, will be in fact the
key to his veneration. If he manages to succeed against all the odds, the
greater his image will be in all Haitians hearts for many generations to
come. I am sure that many of his detractors, here and elsewhere are now ready
and willing to jump on me and call me a chimè. I am convinced however after
eight hard years of following very, very closely Haitian politics, that I am
absolutely correct on that point.
My only hope is that some in this so diverse, eclectic opposition, recognizes
that it's best for the sake of the country, to negotiate in good faith with
Fanmi Lavalas. Otherwise, short of an "invasion" which most of them seem to
hope for, Lavalas if they play their card right and democratically, will be
in power for a very long time to come.