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6970: A step in the right direction for democratic Haiti (fwd)
From: nozier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Tuesday, February 6, 2001, in the Miami Herald
A step in the right direction for democratic Haiti__By Brian Concannon
Brian Concannon Jr, a lawyer, works for the Bureau des Avocats
group of lawyers assisting the Haitian justice system with human-rights
Haiti's progress in consolidating democracy over the last decade is
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI- Tomorrow, Haiti President René Preval is
pass the mantle of power to his successor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If
he does, he
will have been elected, served no more nor less than his constitutional
relinquished power voluntarily.
Such a trajectory in a more-established democracy would be routine, not
of note. In Haiti, it's an accomplishment, one that none of Preval's
since independence in 1804 have managed. If present trends continue,
may one day treat such an administration as routine.
Haiti has struggled in its democratic transition since the departure of
``Baby Doc'' Duvalier in 1986, and it continues to struggle today. Yet,
against the backdrop of the last 200 years, Haiti's progress in
democracy over the last decade is nothing short of spectacular, and is
Preval took over five years ago from Aristide, who was Haiti's first
elected president (his term was interrupted by the brutal 1991-1994 de
dictatorship). Although elections last year in May and December didn't
criticism, for the first time ever all of the 1987 constitution's
elected posts are
For the first time, the local assemblies, called ASECs, will operate.
individual ASEC members have little power, the ASEC system nominates
and chooses the Permanent Electoral Council. The installation of a
preclude many of the criticisms that have plagued previous elections.
Democracy is also fighting its way into the justice system. In 1990,
Committee for Human Rights reported that there ``is no system of
justice in Haiti.
Even to speak of a ``Haitian justice system'' dignifies the brutal use
of force by
officers and soldiers, the chaos of Haitian courtrooms and prisons and
corruption of judges and prosecutors.
Last November, the United Nations support mission to Haiti affirmed
recent landmark trials ``prove that the Haitian justice system is
effectively prosecuting'' human-rights cases, ``while respecting the
the 1987 constitution and international treaties to which Haiti is a
The two trials were of the 1999 Carrefour Feuilles massacre and 1994
massacre. Although neither was flawless, they are by far the two best
proceedings in Haiti's history. The former showed the system's
ability to punish even top officials for police brutality. The latter
showed that the
judiciary could perform to international standards in a complex case,
responding to popular demands for justice for the dictatorship's
The still unsolved murder of prominent journalist and pro-democracy
Dominique last April serves as a reminder of work undone, but even here
justice system is trying.
Possibly the most-important development in Haiti's democratic
transition is the
abolition of the army, which had historically pillaged the treasury and
the population. It is impossible to over-emphasize the improvement of
measure in the lives of ordinary Haitians.
Not coincidentally, there were twice as many schools in 2000 as in
although it will be years before the education system is adequate.
Like many of its neighbors that are poor and unfortunately placed
cocaine's supply and its demand, Haiti struggles with the drug trade's
But even here there is progress. The Parliament reopened in August, and
a drug interdiction treaty with the United States. Bills to fight
money laundering are working their way through the legislature, and the
bank has required reporting of suspicious bank transactions.
Although we in the United States have reason for pride in our
institutions, we need to remember that they were achieved through long,
Our struggles should also be a source of humility, and of perspective
seek to judge and to assist our neighbors' progress toward the ideal of