No more Lavalas, the fire next time?

Common Sense
John Maxwell
Sunday, February 19, 2006
        
The Associated Press headline says it all: 'Haiti poll marred by ballot fraud protests'. The poll was marred not by fraud, but by the people's protests against the fraud.

It is important that we understand the difference, because for the next few years what will be important in any international discussion about Haiti is not whether René Preval won the majority of the votes cast, but that it took a peaceful uprising of the people to establish that Mr Preval did win more than half the votes cast.

It has taken nearly two weeks for the interim government of Haiti to declare what every Haitian and many outside Haiti suspected, that the masses of Haiti, mainly poor, had stood patiently for hours in hot, uncomfortable conditions, to tell the world that they wanted their democracy back.

Brian Concannon is an American lawyer who spent several years in Haiti helping the governments of Aristide and Preval identify, document, track down and prosecute some of the most gross human rights abusers of the era of the dictatorships of Duvalier and Cedras. On Friday, on the site of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, he gives a clear and dispassionate analysis of the recent elections (http://www.ijdh.org/) which explains in much greater detail than I can here, what really happened in Haiti over the last 12 days.

"On February 7, Haitian voters went to the polls to elect a president for the fourth time since 1990. Through great patience and determination they overcame official disorganisation, incompetence and discrimination, and for the fourth time since 1990 handed their chosen candidate a landslide victory.

And for the fourth time Haitian elites, with support from the international community, started immediately to undercut the victory, seeking at the negotiation table what they could not win at the voting booth."

Concannon points out that there is very little doubt that Preval was the overwhelming choice of the Haitian people, and that they made this choice despite two years of brutal intimidation, despite the fact that many of their leaders have been murdered or are in jail unjustly, despite the fact that it was made extraordinarily difficult for them to register to be able to vote, despite the fact that their candidate was prevented from staging an effective campaign, despite the fact that the number of voting places was inhumanly deficient, despite the fact their enemies did not want this election.
PREVAL. the overwhelming choice of the Haitian people

The electoral council, using a legal technicality, stuffed the total ballot count with blank ballots, thus inflating the number of votes needed to win an absolute majority. Somewhere in the system too, thousands of ballots were dumped and burned, and other mischief done to prevent it becoming known that Preval had triumphed and did not need a second round of voting, a run-off, to seal his victory.

As Concannon points out, the Electoral Council was shamed into making the right decision, but for the wrong reasons: "Although the negotiated agreement reaches the same result as a correct tabulation would have reached, it does so by changing the rules instead of correcting the violations of the rules."

As it was in the past, so it will be in the future. Concannon says:
"The deal provides leverage for those seeking to delegitimise Preval's presidency and block the progressive social and economic policies that he was elected to implement.

The election's also-rans are already crying foul, and they will be joined by more voices from Haiti's elite and the international community. Soon enough, invoking "the contested elections of February 2006" will suffice to justify an array of economic and political coercion against Haiti's elected government".

This is precisely what the sweatshop bosses, the American fundamentalist Republicans and the other criminal conspirators used against Aristide and Preval in the past. As I pointed out last week, one of them, a candidate for president named Charles Henry Baker, was, before the votes were halfway counted, preparing to try to annul the results of the election because of what he said were irregularities favouring Preval.

It was typical of these characters, who routinely accuse their opponents of doing what they themselves intend to do. We've seen it in Jamaica and we've more recently seen it in the last two US presidential elections.

The Resource Curse

In certain circles, among sophisticated journalists and coiffured statesmen and development 'experts', there is talk about a "Resource Curse", which is said to afflict Third World nations rich in natural resources.

This curse prevents these nations from developing as logic would suggest is possible. Instead, they are afflicted with corruption, huge income inequalities and persistent poverty. Their leaders frequently have large holdings in offshore banks and similar institutions, and the people are miserable, rebellious and usually unaware that they live in failed or about to be failed states.

Some people from states afflicted by the Resource Curse have other ideas; speaking in the early 1970s, Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, former Venezuelan oil minister and a founder of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), declared 'Ten years from now, 20 years from now, you will see, oil will bring us ruin. It's the devil's excrement. We are drowning in the devil's excrement.'

He was speaking of course, pre-Hugo Chavez, who seems to have exorcised the Resource Curse and turned the oil wealth of Venezuela into an engine for the development of Venezuela, educating and feeding the poor, bringing them drinkable water and affordable health services instead of enriching only the distant elites of colder climes.

Chavez' performance seems to suggest that the Resource Curse consists largely of intransigent elites and their foreign sponsors who refuse to believe that all human beings should have the right to sustainable development - development within their environments for the benefit of their communities and their nations.

In countries without a national elite the West will attempt to invent one - with the worthy and pure intention of improving governance and enhancing democracy as in Angola and the Congo. Political eugenics demand the removal or neutralisation of 'Populists" - highly dangerous vectors of virulent epidemics like liberation theology and socialism.

The diamond mines of Tanzania and South Africa, the gold mines of Angola, the uranium mines of the Congo and Niger, the forests of Liberia and Brazil and the enormous deposits of Western oil underlying such failed or failing states as Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Nigeria all witness to the potency of the Resource Curse. Haiti's sole resources, as far as we know now, are its people and its strategic position halfway between the United States and Venezuela and conveniently next to Cuba.

The Cubans are believed to have found promising undersea structures within their exclusive economic zone, which borders on Hispaniola and is part of the same geological formation.

In Jamaica, environmentally disastrous seismic exploration has been licensed by the government in the hope of finding enough oil to make the Doomsday Highway viable. Perhaps, as I suggested nearly two years ago, there may be oil in Haiti.
Whatever the truth of those speculations, Haiti's new president will begin with enormous problems.

The most dangerous problem is the Haitian elite, whose hatred and disrespect for the 'slum priest' Aristide and his barefoot followers know no bounds. Any leader of the poor is a gangster or 'chimere' in their words. Any attempt to say, raise the minimum wage is cause for immediate 'withdrawal of confidence", which is a time-tested way to get rid of unwanted and dangerous reformers.

The leader of the Haitian 'elites' is an American citizen of Lebanese origin called Andy Apaid, who owns what are politely called garment factories - sweatshops producing T-shirts for a Canadian company Gildan - for the Canadian and American markets. Charles Henry Baker, one of the presidential candidates swept aside by the Preval flood, is Apaid's brother-in-law.

The elite power structure is close knit and apparently absolutely agreed on one thing - to squeeze Haiti until the pips squeak. They have put nothing back into Haiti. The depredations of people like them have drained Haiti dry. When people are starving they have no money to save. Capital investments in Haiti consist simply of large prefab buildings with hundreds of sewing machines, ready to be transported at a moment's notice to the next failing state.

Apaid pays his workers 1,500 Haitian gourdes per fortnight or about US$3 per day or less than one-fifth of the Jamaican minimum wage.
No wonder that Gildan's CEO Glen Chamandy boasted "Gildan's labour costs in countries such as Haiti and Honduras are actually cheaper than those in China . the bulk of T-shirts heading to the US market are from the Caribbean" (Toronto Globe & Mail April 11, 2005, quoted by ZNet).

A report by a fact-finding mission from the University of Miami Law School in November 2004 quoted Apaid himself as admitting that he had ties to a notorious gangster named Thomas 'Labaniye' Robinson. The report said "During the investigation, investigators repeatedly heard reports from police and slum residents that Apaid pays a Cité Soleil gang leader to kill Lavalas supporters".

What Haiti Needs

So-called friends of Haiti like Roger Noriega, Luigi Einaudi and US Ambassador Timothy carney, all exponents of the State Department's policies toward us lesser breeds without the law, are full of advice for Preval.

The problem is that their advice is largely about the need for him to keep his distance from President Aristide and Lavalas. Einaudi, two years ago, said the only thing wrong with Aristide's Haiti was that it was run by Haitians. Defying logic and the evidence of their senses, they say Aristide is a man of the past.

Aristide had a pretty clear-eyed view of what Haiti actually needs. He was resolved to build "Utopia upon a dung heap" as he said, to build some kind of viable national community upon the detritus of the past.

To do this he needed money to educate and train his people, money for water supplies, for health services, for building and repairing roads and basically, for inventing a viable state on the ruins created by Haiti's friends from Thomas Jefferson and Colin Powell to Pierre Pettigrew and Dominique de Villepin, to say nothing of Kofi Annan.

Most of all, Haiti needs friends, people like Jamaicans who can lend support in agricultural extension and other basic skills which have been driven out of Haiti. And, most of all, Haiti needs to reclaim its real elite, the far-flung exiles driven from home by rapacious greed, mindless cruelty and the total disrespect for life and dignity which defines the Cuckoo Elite now roosting in Haiti.

The problem is that the Cuckoo Elite cannot help themselves. They are like the scorpion in the old fable, who seeks a ride across the river. He convinces a frog to ferry him across, promising upon his honour that he will not sting the frog.

The frog is doubtful, but agrees. As they begin to cross the river he again cautions the scorpion:
"Remember," he tells his passenger, "If you sting me, we both die!"
Those were his last words.

Copyright ©2006 John Maxwell
jonmax@mac.com

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/html/20060218T210000-0500_99068_OBS_NO_MORE_LAVALAS__THE_FIRE_NEXT_TIME__.asp

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