• Préval’s victory is just the first step in a 1,000 mile journey for a difficult transition to democratic rule.
• Intolerable to consider that the woeful Latortue government will be allowed to rule until March 29.
• Comprehensive audit must be done to establish whether tens of millions of dollars have been systematically looted by Latortue authorities – including drug profits and contract shavings.
• Préval may consider indicting arch miscreant and Latortue’s former Minister of Justice, Bernard Gousse.
• With Préval now president-elect, Latortue must release all political prisoners, nearly all of whom are being held on false pretenses.
• Préval not likely to play active foreign policy role in “pink tide” strategizing, but will look to CARICOM as a primary venue to make Haiti’s imprint on the region.
• Préval expected to show his gratitude to those few CARICOM countries who stood by Haiti, while others supported U.S. policy making.
The February 16 deal, which appeared to end Haiti’s election crisis by providing frontrunner Rene Préval with the necessary 50 percent plus one percent needed to avoid a runoff, brought what could later turn out to be only a glimmer of hope for the island. The reality, however, could be much darker. These elections, technically unconstitutional as they resulted from the Washington-orchestrated ouster of constitutionally elected president Jean-Betrand Aristide in February of 2004, now have come to a less than an airtight resolution. This could provide Préval ’s opponents with ample ammunition in the months to come, if and when they turn against him. Furthermore, the voting fiasco, which saw tens of thousands of ballots ending up in a dump, illustrated once again how unprofessional the UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) on the island has turned out to be when it comes to guaranteeing even the most basic requirements for stability and democracy. So while Haitians may celebrate today, the international community, lead by the U.S., France, Canada, the UN’s Kofi Annan, and the OAS, are largely undeserving of even the most grudging praise for their role on the island. They all, to one degree or another, conspired in a well-constructed hoax to lay the groundwork for the ouster of Aristide, as well as to later help legitimize the U.S.-imposed corrupt and feckless Latortue regime.
Indeed, even many of Haiti’s regional compatriots in CARICOM abandoned the nation in its time of need. Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados initially argued strenuously in favor of bringing the Latortue government back within the CARICOM fold even before free elections were held. Only St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, were among the stalwarts who resisted such efforts.
The agreement between members of the electoral council, Préval ’s Lespwa party and government ministers, arranged to discard enough of the highly suspicious blank ballots so that Préval ’s percentage would surpass the 50% mark. The arrangement was reached after three days of negotiations between representatives from the countries and entities mentioned above along with Brazil and Chile, a group which in their earlier wheelings and dealings had proved no friend of Haiti. Indeed, Brazil and Chile have more than a bit of self-interest at play: as chief players in MINUSTAH they have powerful reasons to avoid any prolongations of their less than brilliant stay on the island.
Additional impetus for the possibly tinseled solution came when MINUSTAH troops found bags of burned and discarded ballots, many marked for Préval, in a dump outside of Port-au-Prince. These fueled the growing intensification of the protests by Préval ’s supporters. Such discoveries, along with other discrepancies in the vote count, led Préval to declare that a massive attempt was underway to deny him the presidency. This forceful denouncement of the electoral fraud, which Préval was now was convinced had taken over the presidential vote count, persuaded him to do the unusual, given his retiring and conciliatory personality – to aggressively speak out against a now increasingly menacing status quo.
His fears were not unfounded: both the MINUSTAH mission and the wildly incompetent Gerard Latortue governing regime have proven not only incapable of assuring basic guarantees for the island’s citizens, but have at times grievously misbehaved when dealing with pro-Aristide forces. These actions have more or less been sanctioned by a blithely uninvolved international community, which has not only failed to follow through on its financial obligations to the island, but has also failed to condemn gross human rights violations and Latortue’s extreme ineptitude and misrule. This is graphically evidenced by the actions of now resigned Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse, a renegade to the law and order community. Gousse dragged such high-minded former collaborators of Aristide’s rule as Préval ’s former Prime Minister Yvonne Neptune and the towering person of Father Jean Juste as well as scores of other officials into the penitentiary while not presenting any evidence to justify the actions. The international community must now redress their outrageous neglect by demanding that Latortue release all such figures from his jails immediately.
Thus it was MINUSTAH and Latortue, which failed to create adequate conditions for a free and fair ballot prior to February 5, and thus were in part responsible for the chaos that followed. Haitians simply had no reason to trust either the international peacekeepers who disgraced their rightful task, or a regime that lacked all legitimacy, and so when allegations of fraud emerged, they were lent credence by a history of failure and abuse. Speaking of fraud, concerned nations would be wise to call upon some authority to thoroughly audit the financial records of the Latortue regime’s books, as rumors abound that millions of dollars in foreign assistance have been defalcated, including payoffs from the flourishing drug trade.
The current de facto agreement is perhaps the best possible solution to end the crisis, but it is far from a tenable long term answer. The total lack of regularity in the proceedings could provide Préval ’s opponents, both in Haiti and in Washington, with good reason to later undermine his government in the same way that those forces combined to topple Aristide. Sadly, this outcome would undoubtedly come to be tolerated, just as numerous past interventions have been, because after all, from Washington’s, Ottawa’s, and Paris’ perspective, it’s just Haiti.