Left, Right, Left, Right: Running off With Haiti's Democracy

ZNet Haiti Watch

Left, Right, Left, Right: Running off With Haiti's Democracy
by Anthony Fenton, February 14, 2006


If Haiti's elites and their foreign backers are able to "sell" the Haiti election runoff to the international public, a significant milestone will have been achieved. Every Presidential election since the fall of 'baby Doc' has been won in a landslide victory for either Jean Bertrand Aristide or Rene Preval, with support from Haiti's popular Lavalas movemment. By many accounts, Haiti's most recent elections, held after four postponements on February 7th, produced another landslide winner in Rene Preval. However, the same forces inside and outside of Haiti that coaleced to bring down Aristide and the Lavalas Party in 2004, are now coordinating intense efforts to force Haiti's first run-off where they believe they can produce Haiti's first democratically elected elite President.

It remains quite possible, however, that Preval will be 'given' the Presidency and avoid a runoff, after massive popular demonstrations calling for the overwhelming vote for Preval to be respected, public statements by two CEP officials claiming ballot 'manipulation' and other serious irregularities, and intense negotiations between Preval, foreign diplomats, the UN, Haitian elites, and popular organizers. Preval himself has said that he will contest the election results should they go through as they now stand, citing "massive fraud or gross errors" in the ballot counting. As it stands one week after the elections, Preval 'officially' has just under 49 per cent of the vote, still more than the rest of the candidates behind him combined.

If the Presidential runoff elections do go ahead, the elite candidate, Leslie Manigat, will square off against Preval, who, even with the skewed results, got four times the votes that Manigat did in the initial round. However, we have to recall an agreement "for modernity and democracy" that was signed by Manigat and seven other Presidential candidates last November. Here is what AHP reported on the agreement, on November 28, 2005:

"The signatories are the Fusion of Social Democrats, the Great Front of the Center Right, the Allyans party, MOCHRENA, the Alliance of National Progressive Democrats, the Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL), the Union of Chavannes Jeune, and Charles Henri Baker's grouping called RESPE/KONBA. These political organizations, who said they consider themselves to be the most significant political organizations, announced that in the event that a second round is necessary to decide the presidential elections, and a candidate from one of the organizations that signed the agreement makes it to the second round, all the other signatories to the agreement will unite behind that candidate on the second round....Several of the parties that signed this agreement recently called for the parties to unite behind a single candidate to thwart the presidential prospects of the candidate from the Platform of Hope, former President René Préval."

We already know, thanks to the FOIA's that [Sprague received <http://freehaiti.net>], that the International Republican Institute (IRI) helped to foster the development of a 'socialist coalition,'culminating in the creation of the "Fusion of Social Democrats":

"From July 31 to August 1, 2004, leaders of left of center parties, Ayiti Kapab, KONAKOM, OPL, and PANPRA met to discuss ways to accelerate a merge and the various techniques needed to advance the goal at the municipal level. At the end of the session, they put in place a work plan for the departments and municipalities to implement the merger of the four parties, now called the Groupe Socialiste. . ."

Indeed, a central component of the IRI's pre and post-Aristide strategy in Haiti is "political party building" and "coaltion building." This much can be gleaned from the [two quarterly reports pdf.dec.org/pdf_docs/PDACF866.pdf] from 2005 made available online by [USAID <http://dec.org>], and was made clearer through several interviews with individuals working for or with IRI in Haiti, as well as grantees and individuals participating in IRI training sessions.

Further insight into the 'socialist coalition' is found in IRI reports from 2000 and 2001 for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), obtained through FOIA by journalist Jeremy Bigwood. These reports describe how prominent members of opposition parties OPL and KONAKOM, Irvelt Cherie and Victor Benoit respectively, attended meetings with the IRI and U.S. officials in Washington, along with other prominent Haitians including Rudy Boulos, a wealthy business elite who would later help found the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project, an anti-Aristide lobby group and think tank, and the foreign public relations arm of the Group of 184 and Democratic Convergence opposition bloc. Interestingly, Boulos resigned from his seat on the Board of the HDP in order to run for Senate in the NorthEast department with the Fusion, the party which comprise part of the "socialist coalition" and "agreement for modernity and democracy" signed with Haiti's right-wing parties in November.

We should also recall that another Haiti Democracy Project Board member, Timothy Carney, also resigned in order to take over as interim Ambassador to Haiti. Carney has long been a fierce defender of the IRI's activities in Haiti and an ally of Haiti's elite. It was while he was U.S. Ambassador to Haiti in 1998-99 under Clinton that the IRI was forced to shut down its operations there, and set up shop in the Dominican Republic under the leadership of IRI Program Officer Stanley Lucas. In a recent NYT article, the IRI and Stanley Lucas were singled out as, in effect, 'rogue elements' straying from an otherwise benign U.S. 'democracy promotion' program for Haiti. Nowhere in the extensive NYT piece, nor in the IRI-led propaganda melee that has ensued, is there mention of an across-the-board strategy coordinated by the State Department, the NED, USAID, among other foreign actors, to collectively foster the conditions for elite rule in Haiti in strict accordance with the dictates of neoliberal globalization.

One example of the coordinated effort to help build and consolidate an opposition to Aristide and Lavalas came from a current program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy. I spoke to Fabiola Cordova in December, 2005. She had just recently taken over at the NED's Washington office after some staff turnover in the Latin American and Caribbean division. Her experience in Haiti came from a six month job as an in-country program officer for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), one of the four core grantees of the NED. With combined grants coming from NED, the State Department, and USAID, NDI's budget for "democracy promotion" is over $100 million a year.

Characterizing Aristide and the elite opposition from the perspective of her work with "democracy promotion" agencies, Cordova told me: "When I was in Haiti when Aristide was still there, he had obviously a prominent presence both in Congress and local government and everywhere else in public life. There were a lot of lines being drawn between Haiti and Venezuela, that, basically, Venezuela could become a Haiti where you have, well, a democratically elected leader but that's slowly taking over all the branches of government and then arming their own people and the opposition is getting armed..." Cordova went further:

"What happened in Venezuela had been happening in Haiti for a long time. The opposition party had been boycotting elections for a long time, because they kept saying 'well we don't have the minimal conditions for running a competitive process, or participating in a competitive process,' but they kind of withdrew from this and by doing this they kind of consolidated Aristide's power, and they also weakened their own organizations. I mean, I think one of the main problems in Haiti has been a very weak opposition, a very fragmented opposition with no platform, unwilling to come together and form some sort of coalition by ideology or program or anything, so you have, I think when I was there, 120 registered parties; it's impossible to have a serious competitive process when you have that kind of diversity and then very few of them really carry any weight when it comes to an electoral competition. So, it's a challenge."

On the question of the November 25th "agreement for modernity and democracy" Cordova said:

"I think it's a good, positive development in general and that's where I think a lot of people see Haiti moving toward, fewer, fewer political parties, and just more serious competition so you don't have the kind of situation where you have, you know, Aristide really had 70% of the popular support and then the 120 other parties had the thirty per cent split in one hundred and twenty different ways, which is basically impossible to compete [with]." (Note: Cordova later sent me the NED's approved grants FY2005 for Latin America and the Caribbean. These 'declassified' documents are now online at <http://www.inthenameofdemocracy.org>) Just a couple of weeks before the elections, a Senate candidate from Lespwa, Frantz Large warned of the manipulations of the elite "civil society" sector. AHP reported:

"The former president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast and candidate for Senate from the Platform of Hope in the Southeast department, Dr. Frantz Large, expressed concern Tuesday at what he called the presence of individuals at the heart of the electoral system who claim to be representatives of civil society...Dr. Large said that these individuals, presented as election observers or officials of polling stations, were recommended deliberately for the purpose of imposing their will on the electoral machinery to the detriment of the Platform of Hope...Either one is part of civil society or one openly declares that one is engaging in politics", declared Frantz Large. he criticized what he called "the arrogance of a supposed civil society that is becoming increasingly monopolistic, greedy for political power to the point of contempt for any ethical standard."...Frantz Large mentioned by name "the Group of 184 and the Chamber of Commerce of Port-au-Prince", whose legitimacy as part of civil society he disputes. He warned them against any attempt during the upcoming elections to carry out fraud with contempt for the interests of the Haitian people....The members of that civil society would bear sole responsibility for the chaos that could result from rigged elections, insisted Dr. Large."

The head of the Haitian National Observation Council (CNO), Leopold Berlanger, explained to me how the Canadian government was paying for training and presence of 3,500 of the 8,000 observers that the CNO would be deploying on election day. Berlanger is also co-owner of RadioVision2000 with Reginald Boulos, and director of Fondation Nouvelle Haiti (FNH). Between Boulos and Berlanger, tens of millions of dollars in foreign "democracy promotion" funds have been funneled to their organizations in Haiti. Of the 3,500 election observers that Canada was to pay for, 1,500 of them would be provided by the Civil Society Initiative (ISC), an organization headed by former Duvalierist Rosny Desroches, and key to the creation of the Group of 184. Just a couple of days after the February 7th election, Berlanger confirmed that Andy Apaid, the Group of 184 leader, sweatshop owner and U.S. citizen was part of the "civil society" election observation team.

On February 12th, amidst increasing signs of the "rigged elections" that Large warned about, he posted a document on his website [<http://frantzlarge.com/>]titled the "Plan." This details how he thinks "civil society" intends to hijack Haiti's democratic process. Large refers to "massive falsification of the first results from the polls results that have been posted in each polling station." This is part of specific objectives of the force a runoff election and "to push the popular masses who have a legitimate beef, into the streets, inciting them to vent blind rage onto the " bord de mer " (dockside) in Port-au-Prince which houses stores and offices of all kinds, small businesses, fine victims making up the country's working middle class. This would certainly lead to creating hate and resentment against President Préval, and a desire to find refuge in choking policies that border on fascism."

Biting and unrestrained, Large ended with another prediction:

"And for all who would prefer calling for an occupation by foreign powers, thinking that the interests of these foreign powers will coincide with their own fascistic ideas, not so fast! Of course, they will need more courage than they are normally capable of to dare show themselves as the complete champions of the new INTERNATIONAL APARTHEID. This is the spectre that now haunts Haiti!"

Today, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that "Communist Cuba accused Washington Tuesday of helping manipulate the results in Haiti's presidential elections." Granma newspaper wrote "What is happening in Haiti shouldn't be surprising...It isn't the first time that the United States has intervened on a whim over the destiny of this nation, nor is it the first time it has shameless manipulated another country's electoral results to its benefit."

Indeed, at the front of the public relations pack calling for the media to temper the enthusiasm over a Preval victory, was the Haiti Democracy Project, who sent an [election observer mission <http://haitipolicy.org/content/3459.htm>] to Haiti which included the U.S. government's official observer, John Merrill, the head of Western Hemisphere programs for the Defense Department. In the HDP's first communique, apparently issued before the polls even closed, they boldly stated, "All signs suggest that for the Presidential and Legislative races, the majority of the candidates will have to prepare for a runoff." The HDP's 'corrective action' should be seen as among the clearest representations of U.S. and elite interests for Haiti; it is a sign of their influence over the media machine that the runoff elections should be accepted as a serious possibility.

Both the Miami Herald's Joe Mozingo and Jacqueline Chalres and the New York Times' Ginger Thomspson joined the HDP and lent credibility to the runoff possibility in recent articles. The Herald in particular presented former Group of 184 leader turned Presidential candidate Charles Henri Baker (member of the "agreement for modernity and democracy") as a reliable source to be quoted. The Baker campaign had sent a letter to the CEP stating that votes should be nullified, `where there were too many irregularities.' Baker's spokesperson, Hans Tippenhuer said, 'People voted two, three and four times." The Herald neglected to mention that Tippenhauer's organization, Fondation Espoir (The Hope Foundation), has received at least $182,970 from the NED since Aristide's overthrow "To increase the political awareness and participation of Haitian youth," and approximately $40,000 from the IRI for work with young political candidates. Tippenhauer also helped set up a $33,271 grant for GRAFNEH to "conduct a civic education campaign to educate Haitians about the political parties, candidates, and issues being presented during the electoral season ." Members of GRAFNEH are often seen in the offices of Charles Baker. GRAFNEH even conducted a poll for the NED in mid-January which showed that Haitian students overwhelmingly favored both Baker and Manigat over Preval as Presidential candidates.

Lastly, there is another striking omission from most mainstream coverage of Haiti's "demonstration elections." Whereas almost all of the focus has been centered on the Presidential elections, very little has looked at what lines Haiti's legislature will be formed on. On February 7th, in addition to a new President, Haitians were supposed to vote for 30 Senators and 99 deputies; many of these seats would also be subject to potential run-off elections, not to mention vote-tampering. Importantly, it is those who control the legislature that will approve Haiti's next Prime Minister. And, also not to be overlooked, much of the foreign intervention in Haiti's election process has focused on the campaigns of the political parties that signed the "agreement for modernity and democracy." The USAID-UNOPS program unveiled through Sprague's FOIA's made significant contributions, some $3 million, to the campaigns of non-Lespwa (Preval) parties, providing election materials, television and radio advertising credits, leaflets, posters, several campaign offices, vehicles, computers; in short, all the means to conduct a "fair and democratic" election campaign designed to allow Haiti's elites to finally obtain power through "democratic" means. So we need to be mindful of both the important omitted context where the elections are concerned, but also the broader picture of "democracy promotion" strategy that is seeking to consolidate a system of polyarchy in Haiti. Social and political theorist William Robsinson describes what polyarchy is, in his "Transnational Conflicts: Central America, Social Change, and Globalization,":

"Developing the social control systems and political institutions most propitious for achieving a stable world environment revolved around the promotion of "democracy," or what is more accurately called polyarchy. This refers to a system in which a small group actually rules, and participation in decision-making by the majority is confined to choosing among competing elites in tightly controlled electoral processes. This type of "low intensity democracy" does not involve power (cratos) of the people (demos), much less an end to class domination or to the substantive inequality that has grown exponentially under the global economy."

Haiti's impoverished majority knows full well the brutal reality of international efforts at "promoting democracy." This program has resulted in the overthrow of the same President twice, and is in the midst of trying to once again undermine the popular will by tampering with their most recent vote. The massive support for Preval and the need for Haiti's elite to resort to "massive fraud" to counter that support are indications of the failure of the "democracy promoters" to impose their polyarchy on Haiti. We should not kid ourselves though. In the two years since Aristide's ouster, much of the neoliberal structural adjustments that were not adhered to by Aristide or Preval have since been set in motion. Whoever forms Haiti's next government will be confronted by deep foreign penetration of Haiti on every level: economically, politically, and socially.

Fenton is an independent journalist/researcher, a member of In the Name of Democracy (<http://www.inthenameofdemocracy.org>), and co-author of "Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. Feedback is welcome at fentona@shaw.ca.

Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

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