Last year, the United States spent an estimated $14 million to stage national elections in Haiti – even though over 45 members of Congress, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, strongly advised against it. They argued forcefully that the devastated country was not adequately prepared to run a free and fair election. They were right. The Nov. 28 elections were an embarrassment and the efforts to “clean-up” the mess that followed has been exacerbated by poor leadership across the board — both from Haitians and international actors.
The Organization of American States (OAS) - which officially observed the elections - submitted a report that contradicted the initial findings of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). They recommended that the March 20 election runoff should be between Mirlande Manigat and Michel “Sweet Micky”Martelly – and that the government-backed candidate Jude Celestin should be eliminated from contention.
President Rene Preval did not like the recommendations and dragged his feet on taking action, so much so that the US took aggressive steps— denying travel visas to members of Preval’s cabinet. Then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a brief trip to Haiti on Jan. 30 to persuade Preval to accept the OAS recommendations. A few days later, the CEP’s spokesman officially announced that it would adopt the international position and bump Celestin from the ballot. Troubling questions remain about whether Haiti’s election officials have actually approved this result.
In the meantime, former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier has returned to Haiti. He was arrested, detained and formally charged for crimes against the state, including stealing state funds. However, whether Haiti’s fragile justice system can effectively put him to trial remains to be seen.
Haiti’s other exiled leader, former President Jean -Bertrand Aristide, has just been issued a diplomatic passport and the US is so concerned about potential “disruptions” that our State Department has taken the highly unusual step of urging Aristide not to return home until after the March 20 elections.
High-level aides within Congress have told The Reporter that the present US position might be summed up thusly: It’s not ideal, but it’s “good enough” for Haiti. We beg to differ. The US helped create this crisis. We insisted on holding flawed elections in a traumatized country that still bans major political parties from participating. What was the result? Anemic turnout, widespread fraud and chaos in the streets. There is no evidence that this next round will bring any improvement.
The consequences of accepting “good enough” are not in our interest—or in the interest of Haiti. The chaotic month that has just passed created a vacuum into which a reviled despot—Duvalier —felt comfortable returning from 25 years of exile, despite widespread calls for his prosecution. That fact alone is an indictment of the current political situation on the ground.
Finally, our disjointed policy has been cherry-topped by the absurdity of injecting hundreds of deportees back into this fragile society from US detention centers. What a callous and chilling message this sends from our government, one that supposedly wants to aide a nation besieged by trouble on all sides.