The U.S. Government Supports a Haitian Return to a One-man-rule Regime

By: Clemént Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

After a number of interferences in the political life of Haiti, the U.S. government is trying to once again avoid bearing the responsibility for inheriting the catastrophic situation that is currently building up in Haiti. The current situation is a result of backing sometimes abusive executive branches at the voting booth. On Tuesday, January 13, 2015, the legislative branch officially ceased to fulfill its duties because it has become, not for the first time, nonfunctional. This is possible because after its six year term its mandate will have legally ended and no new elections have been scheduled. The situation is now largely the responsibility of incumbent President Michel Martelly, who wants to rule the country by decree, thus abusing his executive authority. But the Haitians alone should not be blamed: the U.S., French and Canadian governments–backed by the United Nations (UN), and the Organization of American States (OAS) –should be blamed for removing former elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice, and later supported a flawed ballot that has led to the current situation. Without multi-party negotiations, including the supporters of former President Aristide, no long-term solution will be found and the country will revert to one-man rule.

Constant Interventionism in Haiti Led to the Current Crisis

Since the end of the dynastic dictatorship of the Duvaliers (father and son) and the installation of democracy, Haiti has suffered constant interferences from the U.S., French, and Canadian governments, often with the backing of the UN and the OAS.[1] The French and the U.S. governments supported extreme right-wing groups, militias, and death squads in Haiti, and in 1990 threatened the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide –the first democratically elected authorities in decades. Aristide was overthrown by the military one year later in 1991.[2] As Haiti expert Paul Farmer once stated, “Aristide was seen as a threat in the U.S.”[3] Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide came back into office in 1994 –after three years of terror– to finish his term as elected President. Aristide abolished the Haitian army, and in 1996, he became the first elected civilian to the presidency to see another elected civilian, René Préval, succeed him as president. Préval himself became Haiti’s first president ever to serve out his term.[4] In November 2000, Aristide was reelected again for a four-year term.[5] The democracy in Haiti, at that time, was still fragile and without stability, but still very well alive and dynamic.

However, this was not the point of view of the U.S. and French governments, which years before chose to overthrow President Aristide. They financed and trained right-wing [militias, largely made up of former soldiers, leading to a destructive civil war from 2002 to 2004.[6] This extreme situation led the U.S. and French governments, on February 21, 2004, to “invite” Aristide to leave the country in order to bring “peace and security […] to the country.”[7] The Dissident Voice reported that after Aristide’s departure “a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and steps have been taken towards recreating the military.”[8] With the end of Aristide’s second presidential term, human rights violations have begun to rise again, sometimes at a meteoric pace.

A Terrible Human Rights Situation

These multiple interferences in the democratic life of Haiti have led to a lack of democratic legitimacy in the country, as well as a dramatic human rights decline in the country. Access to justice is brief, high crime rates go off the chart, and public lynching has become a deplorable commonplace.[9] Moreover, the situation of Haitian living abroad is also concerning because of a high-level risk of dangerous statelessness.[10] At no time these interferences led to an improvement in human rights in the country side to be anti-democratic. The Haitian people have been deprived of many of their basic political rights. Local and legislative elections, initially scheduled for 2012, have yet to occur. At this time there is still no date for these elections to be staged.[11] The long-overdue elections for the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate, along with local and municipal elections, were supposed to have occurred in 2014. The elections, initially scheduled for 2012, then 2013, and finally October 26, 2014, were finally delayed once again, and this time indefinitely.[12] The Haitian president has sought to appear as [fulfilling his duty by proposing a new electoral law. Citing the unconstitutionality of the process, the Senate refused to ratify the president’s draft. This has led to a situation where the legislative branch is now dissolved, with an ambitious president who wishes to legislate by decree in an aspiration to one-man rule style. Nonetheless, local actors cannot be seen as the only culprits in this difficult situation.

The U.S. Government Threatens to Back a New Turn to One-Man Rule

Those being held responsible for one-person rule on the island, [with no small amount of hypocrisylaid the blame on local actors. As stated by the Miami Herald, “the United States is calling on Haiti’s politicians to make the necessary compromises to avoid one-man rule by President Michel Martelly on Monday, and the country slipping deeper into political chaos.”[13] The State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator, Thomas Adams, also has stated that “we want to see elections happen, agreement on elections, and we also want to avoid rule by decree […] We think it’s better if all three branches of government are existing and functioning.”[14] The U.S. government prefers to favor flawed elections again rather than to build a positive, democratic future.[15] In its own statement,the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince declared the same thing: “Only through the participation of a broad spectrum of political parties can the choice of the Haitian people be accurately reflected on election day […] To that end, the USG already has in place a robust program to support the conduct of elections and the participation of the Haitian electorate, and pending approval from U.S. Congress, the U.S. government is prepared to support additional measures for democratic political parties to play their part and participate fully in the electoral process.”[16]

As COHA reported in December 2014, Haiti needs to hold elections, but not the type of flawed ones seen in 2010, with massive fraud and less than a quarter of potential voter participation.[17] Haiti, since these poor elections,has demonstrated that a country can have elections without resemblance to true democracy.[18] Why, in this case, does the U.S. State Department still push in this direction?

On January 8, 2015 opposition groups demanded the elected President’s resignation as a result of his constant actions to delay elections.[19] As The Miami Herald pointed out, “several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations (the so-called El Rancho Accord). In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly’s opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Électoral Provisoire, CEP) tasked with organizing the vote.[20] Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the President.”[21] In an official statement issued on January 11, 2015, the U.S. Embassy said it “strongly supported efforts by Martelly to end the impasse,” noting his “wide-ranging concessions,” including the “recent removal of his prime minister.”[22]

Through the same statement, the U.S. government made it very clear that it would back a one-man-rule regime if necessary, stating that if “a solution cannot be reached by January 12, the U.S. will continue to work with President Martelly and whatever legitimate Haitian government institutions remain to safeguard the significant gains we have achieved together since the January 12, 2010 earthquake. The Haitian people have the right to elect their leaders, and in these circumstances the U.S. would expect the President to use his executive powers responsibly to organize inclusive, credible and transparent elections, in an expeditious manner.”[23]

The U.S. government continues to follow a non-democratic path, backing a one-man rule regime in Haiti, a solution which has historically led to problematic situations.

An Agreement Among the Majority That Solves Nothing

After meeting with senators and opposition parties on January 7, 2015, President Martelly resumed meetings, Thursday, January 8, with the same actors. Former senator Edmonde Supplice Beauzile, head of the opposition party Fusion Social Democrats, declared that “an agreement had been reached about which sectors the nine members of a new CEP would be drawn.”[24] These negotiations have continued over the weekend. As reported by Al Jazeera on Monday January 12, 2015, “late on Sunday, just hours before the country marked the fifth anniversary of the earthquake that left some 300,000 people dead […] the president and some of the opposition politicians reached a long-term agreement [which] states to have elections organized before the end of 2015 for two-thirds of the senate and deputies, as well as for president.”[25] This agreement tried also to “improve faith in the system, a new nine-member electoral council will be created including representatives of the Catholic church and Protestant churches, as well as the local voodoo belief system, farmers’ associations, women’s and business groups, unions, the media and higher education.”[26]

However, this deal will probably not change the situation on the ground. The main opposition party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas, was not even able to run in the last elections for very questionable reasons, and it “was not part of Sunday’s last-minute agreement, which came shortly before the mandate of the sitting legislature […] was to expire on Monday.”[27] This new agreement, following that of December 30, 2014, and the agreement of El Rancho reached in early 2014, is still the same deal: a weak and cheap compromise, which will let the executive branch choose the rule and the date of the next elections, despite this being the provence of the legislature.[28] This new agreement which contains nothing groundbreaking, is merely part of an already long list of agreements which is bound to lead again to a blockage for several weeks or even many months.

The Parliament tried to reach a quorum of votes, on January 11, 2015, in order to legislate and subsequently legalize these agreements. However, no deal could be reached and the Haitian parliament is now little better than a dysfunctional body, without enough parliamentarians legally elected as members. Only 10 senators are currently still legally elected, and the Senate only seats one-third of its legal composition.[29] The Parliament has been therefore dissolved and a de facto Prime Minister, Mr. Paul Evans, took office, even if his appointment has not been ratified by the remaining legislators.[30] The future of the agreement is now more than uncertain.

The coordinator of the Orgnisation du Peuple en Lutte (“Organization of the Struggling People”), Mr. Sauveur Pierre Etienne, accused President Martelly of being responsible for this failure, saying that Martelly wanted to rule the country by decree. The agreement of January 11, 2015 was signed by 24 political parties, of which 21 had no elected representatives in the parliament, illustrating its inadequate mandate.[31]

For Mr. Pierre Etienne, the head of Haitian state is “only a puppet in the hands of the international community, specifically the United States, which are disposed to support him even without parliament.”[32] Since January 12, 2015, Haiti has been left with 11 elected representatives: President Martelly and 10 senators. Now, President Martelly is free to rule alone within Haiti, by decree,  reverting to a one-person regime. He is strongly supported by the “Core Group,” which includes the governments of Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, Spain, representatives of the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States.[33] This new one-man-rule will probably not lead to an improvement of human rights and civil rights in Haiti, but as has happened since 2004, to their deterioration.[34]

The only long-term solution is to speak with the real opposition -Fanmi Lavalas- to reach a deeper and sharper agreement that is as inclusive and fair to everyone. Haiti’s price of democracy may seem high, but that of authoritarian rule will be even more costly. Now the country is returning to a one-man rule format, which will most likely lead to political repression, censored media, and a worsening of the human rights situation resulting in enhanced migration to the Dominican Republic and to the United States. Is the United States willing to pay this high price? The U.S. Department of State and the members of the Core Group may not have all the answers.

By: Clemént Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Latest Version: January 16, 2015

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Featured image by: U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASecretary_Kerry_Shakes_Hands_With_Haitian_President_Martelly_(12325521394).jpg

[1] See François Duvalier, 1957–1971The Library of Congress, Country Studies, December 1989.  ; FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[2] DOLEAC Clément “Human Rights in Haiti” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on November 17, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/human-rights-in-haiti/ on January 12, 2015.; GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

[3] FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[4] FRENCH Howard W. “Front-Running Priest a Shock to Haiti” in The New York Times., December 13, 1990. Consulted on http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/13/world/front-running-priest-a-shock-to-haiti.html

[5] DOLEAC Clément “Human Rights in Haiti” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on November 17, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/human-rights-in-haiti/ on January 12, 2015.

[6] Ibid ; FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide ; The details of the meeting were reported by Michel Vastel in “Haiti put into trusteeship by the United Nations?”  L’Actualité, 15 March, 2003 or in ENGLER Yves, “Media Cover-up of Canada’s Role in the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide”, Part 1 of a 4 Part Series, Dissident Voice, January 30th, 2014 consulted on http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/media-cover-up-of-canadas-role-in-the-overthrow-of-jean-bertrand-aristide/ ; SDA-ATS News Service, 29 février 2004 “La Maison blanche appelle Jean-Bertrand Aristide à quitter le pouvoir” in Interet General, on February 29, 2004, Consulted on : http://www.interet-general.info/article.php3?id_article=543 on November 17, 2014.

[7] DOLEAC Clément “Human Rights in Haiti” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on November 17, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/human-rights-in-haiti/ on January 12, 2015.

[8] ENGLER Yves, Media Cover-up of Canada’s Role in the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Part 1 of a 4 Part Series, Dissident Voice, January 30th, 2014 consulted on http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/media-cover-up-of-canadas-role-in-the-overthrow-of-jean-bertrand-aristide/  ; DOLEAC Clément “Human Rights in Haiti” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on November 17, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/human-rights-in-haiti/ on January 12, 2015.

[9] GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

[10] GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council. ; According to his data, the number of Haitians living abroad would be about 4.5 million people. In 2007, the International Crisis Group estimated that a population of more than 3.71 million Haitians and descendants of Haitians residing abroad. The reference is International Crisis Group, “Construire la paix en Haïti: inclure les Haïtiens de l’extérieur”, Rapport Amérique latine/Caraïbes no°24, Port-au-Prince/Bruxelles, December 14 2007.

[11] DOLEAC Clément “Elections On Hold In Haiti: Stability Versus Democracy” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on December 08, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/elections-on-hold-in-haiti-stability-versus-democracy/ on January 12, 2015.

[12] Ibid.

[13] JACQUELINE CHARLES , « U.S. wants to avoid one-man rule in Haiti », Miami Herald. January 8, 2015. Consulted on http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article5650584.html on December 09, 2015.

[14] Ibid.

[15] DOLEAC Clément “Elections On Hold In Haiti: Stability Versus Democracy” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on December 08, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/elections-on-hold-in-haiti-stability-versus-democracy/ on January 12, 2015.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), “U.N. and U.S. Blame Haiti’s Opposition for Delayed Elections, Ignore History”, in CEPR, on September 16, 2014. Consulted on http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/un-and-us-blame-haitis-opposition-for-delayed-elections-ignore-history on November 24, 2014. ; DOLEAC Clément “Elections On Hold In Haiti: Stability Versus Democracy” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on December 08, 2014. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/elections-on-hold-in-haiti-stability-versus-democracy/ on January 12, 2015.

[21] Ibid.

[22] McFADDEN David, Associated Press, “Riots in Haiti, president agrees to hold election” in WPRI.news on January 12, 2015. Consulted on http://wpri.com/2015/01/12/riots-in-haiti-president-agrees-to-hold-election/ on January 12, 2015.

[23] “Haiti – FLASH : The United States alongside Martelly, even in case of failure of the agreement” in Haiti Libre, on January 11, 2015. Consulted on http://www.haitilibre.com/en/news-12920-haiti-flash-the-united-states-alongside-martelly-even-in-case-of-failure-of-the-agreement.html on January 12, 2015.

[24] CHARLES Jacqueline, “U.S. wants to avoid one-man rule in Haiti” in Miami Herald, on January  8, 2015. Consulted on http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article5650584.html on January 12, 2015.

[25] AL JAZEERA, “Haiti political crisis persists despite deal » in Al-Jazeera, on January 12, 2015. Consulted on http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2015/01/haiti-rival-leaders-seek-last-minute-deal-201511203231758694.html  on January 12, 2015

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Haiti – Politic : « The El Rancho agreement, a crisis within the crisis… » on Haiti Libre, on March 31, 2014. Consulted on http://www.haitilibre.com/en/news-10832-haiti-politic-the-el-rancho-agreement-a-crisis-within-the-crisis.htmlon January 12, 2015. ; « Haiti Reaches Political Agreement For ‘Consensus’ Government » in TeleSur, on December 30, 2014. Consulted on http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Haiti-Reaches-Political-Agreement-For-Consensus-Government-20141230-0009.html on January 12, 2015. ; JOHNSTON Jake, WEISBROT Mark, “Haiti’s Fatally Flawed Election” in Center for Economy and Policy Research (CEPR), January 2011. Consulted on http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/haitis-fatally-flawed-election, on December 04, 2014.

[29] Haïti – Politique : « C’est fini, le rideau est tombé sur le Parlement… », Haiti Libre, on January 13, 2015. Consulted on January 13, 2015, on http://www.haitilibre.com/article-12934-haiti-politique-c-est-fini-le-rideau-est-tombe-sur-le-parlement.html

[30] Reuters, “Haiti’s parliament dissolved after last-ditch negotiations to avert crisis fail”  in The Guardian., on January 13, 2015. Consulted on http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/13/haiti-parliament-dissolved-michel-martelly-crisis on January 14, 2015.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Le Nouveliste “Avec la communauté internationale à ses côtés, Martelly seul au pouvoir” in Le Nouvelliste, on January 13, 2015. Consulted on  http://lenouvelliste.com/lenouvelliste/article/140311/Avec-la-communaute-internationale-a-ses-cotes-Martelly-seul-au-pouvoir on January 14, 2015.

[34] GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

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