DEMOCRACY IN HAITI: PAST AND PRESENT
Yesterday there were supposed to be a run-off election in Haiti, to decide the country’s next president. The problem is, there was only one candidate.
That’s Jovenel Moïse. He’s known as the “banana man,” for his role as head of Agritrans SA, a company growing bananas set up exclusively for export, destroying the lives of numerous peasant farmers in the process.
He’s also the handpicked successor of the current president, Michel Martelly. The Export Zone where Moise makes his fortune is one of the president’s pet projects. Sweet Micky is head of the PHTK- the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale – which means “bald head.” It’s a nod to Micky’s shiny dome, but Tèt Kale holds another meaning; to be bareheaded means to go “all the way,” to be pure of heart and thorough in head. When Martelly cried “Tèt Kale!” in 2011 he was calling for a sea change in Haitian politics, an end to the corruption and immobilisation of the past.
Martelly has been no tèt kale, by this measure. He declared Haiti “open for business,” to beaming smiles from the US State Dept., the Clintons, and the myriad of American capital that has looked with desire upon Haiti for over a hundred years. With the international kingmakers satisfied, Martelly has taken a neo-Duvalierist taste for power, cancelling a series of elections to the point that in 2015 there were just 11 elected figures in national politics. There are meant to be 130.
Essentially ruling-by-decree, Martelly welcomes tourists to Haiti’s private beaches and empty hotels, and gets his photo taken with Obama and Kerry whilst surrounded with rumours of corruption, intimidation and violence.
1987 –With ‘dechoukaj’ – the uprooting of Duvalierism – in full swing, the State Dept. decreed that it was time for democracy in Haiti. Reagan sent money in “military aid” to help the process. The guns were turned on Makout and uprooter alike. November would see a president chosen, but the Makouts were not willing to relinquish power yet. By the time the polls were open, two candidates were already dead, slain along with hundreds of demonstrators in a bloody summer. As Haitians lined up to vote, the Makouts and soldiers were waiting, and opened fire. Onlookers struggled to describe the horror. But elections must be held. Two months later, they restarted. The historian Leslie Manigat was the victor, in a poll where the wise stayed indoors. Some things are worth more than casting a vote. (See Michel-Rolph Trouillot – Haiti: State Against Nation)
Sunday became the latest poll to fall foul of Micky’s machete, but this one is a bit different. In November’s 1st round, Jovenel Moise won the day, predictably. The only surprise considering the electoral manipulation, ripped straight out of Dictatorship 101, is that he didn’t get more votes. In second was the centrist Jude Celestin, who recently confirmed he did not want his name on the 2-man run-off ballot. Why would he? The way his elections have gone before, he’d probably finish fourth.
The weeks prior to Sunday saw protests growing, bubbling in the capital, angry at the opaque process, at the lack of representation, at the limpet president clinging to power. There is outrage too at the meddling hands of the “international community. Haitians are mobilising on the streets of Port-au-Prince in support of democracy, and against the sham elections.
They want to restart the process, under a transitional government, without interference and with Martelly put out to pasture. Yesterday, veve of defiance were drawn, and songs of protest sung as Port-au-Prince took to the streets. Some bore the banner of Famni Lavalas, and spoke of finishing the work of Aristide.
1991 – After the drought, comes the flood. Lavalas swept the elections, bringing Liberation Theologist Jean-Bertrande Aristide to power. He was intent on disrupting Haiti’s cavernous inequality gap. But after the dance, the drum was heavy. The elites and the army were not to be disturbed so easily. They tolerated him for seven months, before General Raoul Cédras plucked him from power. If you took a blank piece of paper and drew an authoritarian General it would resemble Cédras. Cue three more years of repression. Whilst Aristide sat on the White House steps, placard in hand, Cédras collected CIA paycheques. (See Robert Fatton, The Roots of Haitian Despotism)
The USA, once again blinded by the belief that elections and democracy might be the same thing, have struggled to comprehend how pro-democracy protests could embrace a cancelled election. The State Dept vaguely urge Martelly to stick to the timetable, thinking an election with one candidate is surely more democratic than an election with none. Last week Ban Ki-Moon too decided to take a stand, and call for the elections to be completed, as he deleted kolera accusations from his @UN inbox.
In the meantime, the Banana Man waits silently for his coronation. East of his plantation lies the near-abandoned industrial park of Caracol, the brainchild of Bill and Hillary Clinton. They are busy up north on their own plans for coronation. Martin O’Malley decided to bring up Haiti in his campaign. He’s currently polling >1%.
1994 – It was called Operation Uphold Democracy. President Clinton had decided to bring Aristide back. He could ignore him no longer. The President’s economic embargos had only made things worse. He could no longer turn a blind eye to the hunger strikes at his door and the Boat People who continued to drift into Key West, dead and alive. The old ally Cédras would be removed, but it was ok, he’d be taken care of. Aristide was brought back to Port-au-Prince, triumphant, accompanied by the drone of Black Hawks and American army boots. Aristide addressed his supporters, declaring the return of democracy from inside a see-thru bulletproof box. A perfect display of powerlessness.
The protests bring back familiar words of the “resistance” and “resilience” of the Haitian people that have bounced around liberal commentaries since the douz janvye earthquake. Y’ap boule. But the image of demonstrations and burning tires are simultaneously deployed by those who wish to preserve the pseudo-democratic status quo. The Organisation of American States, influential in Martelly’s rise, condemned the “acts of violence,” urging a swift end to the crisis. That means swift elections. CEPR observer Jake Johnston wryly notes that here, “the past is prologue.”
“Remember: Martelly became president through riots,” warns Jonathan Katz. He’s seen it all before. Was Haiti ready for an election, less than a year after the devastation of the goudougoudou that ripped Port-au-Prince apart? No matter, President Preval’s time was up, elections must be held. Sweet Micky finished third in the first-round of elections, behind law professor Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin. (Famni Lavalas were banned from participating).
The OAS cried foul – insisting Celestin, an ally of Préval, had stitched up the election, and argued Martelly be parachuted into the runoff in his place. Micky sensed an opportunity, and his supporters took to the streets, promising to set the wounded city on fire if there will be not heeded. Who knows what chicanery had taken place in the backrooms, but it seemed the OAS was fed up of Préval’s unwillingness to play ball. Washington agreed. Hillary Clinton came to town to negotiate with Préval. Celestin’s name disappeared from the ballot. Martlly went on to win the runoff and the presidency. Haiti was now “open for business.”
(See Jonathan Katz – The Big Truck That Went By)
Yesterday, a familiar face returned, to announce that he was “ready for war,” against the “anarchists” on the streets. This man was Guy Philippe, a drug lord and soldier instrumental in the coup that felled Aristide a second time in 2004. Aristide had this time grown distant from the dreams of 1991, instead towing the neoliberal line and holding power increasingly through intimidation. The second coup saw the intervention of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). They’re still there, and along with “stability” one can credit them with the achievements of brutal repression of the slums and the introduction Cholera into the country in 2010. Over 1 million have been infected. 10 000 are dead.
It’s hard to see the way out of this storm of competing interests in Haiti. There is a quest for power involving the traditional elites, the US State Dept., the OAS and the rest of the “international community,” elements of the diaspora and remnants of the army that Tèt Kale were beginning to restore. The old Duvalierists are far from finished. The recent protests are yet another reminder that large swathes of the Haitian population would like to partake in the democratic process. After all, that’s what democracy is supposed to look like, right?.
Robert Fatton calls this “the unending democratic transition.” He continues to be right about that. The bird cannot build her nest.
February 1986 – “Those two weeks interim, when there was no infallible authority on Earth, were the happiest of my life.” David Nicholls resurrected these old words after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The protests, led by the ti legliz movement and moving to the sound of Radio Soleil, put the rotund dictator on shaky ground. Reagan decided to pull the plug, and Baby Doc was placed on a plane bound for exile. The monkey’s tail had snapped. Crowds flocked to the airport as old friends returned home after years away. They say that Christopher Columbus himself was uprooted in the flood and cast out to sea.