Haiti: Will Democracy Be Denied—Again? By Marilyn Langlois

haiti

Haiti’s next election is less than two weeks away. Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare public appearance before cheering multitudes on September 30, 2015 (anniversary of the US-backed 1991 coup d’etat), echoing their condemnation of serious irregularities in the August 9, 2015 parliamentary elections, and endorsing Fanmi Lavalas candidate Dr. Maryse Narcisse in the upcoming presidential race.

Haitians are in the streets demanding their votes be counted, their voices heard. International solidarity groups are demanding the same. US Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a courageous and consistent champion of the Haitian people, is demanding no less in her recent letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ironically, while formerly disenfranchised US citizens of African descent are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, top US officials continue to enable massive voter fraud in Haiti, in a thinly disguised effort to favor candidates friendly to the US imperial agenda but detrimental to the lives of ordinary Haitians.

The August 9 elections were marred by widespread voter suppression and violent disruptions as reported by the Haiti Action Committee. Yet the US, which is providing $30 million to support this year’s 3-part electoral process in Haiti, has failed to tie that aid to verifiable assurances that elections will in fact be free and fair. According to outgoing US ambassador Pamela White, the August 9 elections were “not perfect, but acceptable.” On an October 6 visit to Haiti, Kerry reportedly expressed “hope that the October 25 presidential election will be a smoother process”. His statement does not inspire confidence.

While the broader international community has been largely silent about this blatant travesty of justice, throngs of Haitians have hit the streets of Port au Prince and throughout the country, demanding the annulment of the fraudulent August 9 elections, and demanding safeguards for fairness and full enfranchisement in both the upcoming October 25 presidential election and the anticipated presidential run-off on December 27.

August 9 should have signaled a turning point in Haitians’ struggle to reclaim their democracy. Haiti’s last free and fair national election, inclusive of all legitimate parties and candidates, was 15 years ago, in late 2000, when Fanmi Lavalas candidate Aristide was overwhelmingly elected President for the second time (he was first elected President in 1990, only to be ousted several months later in the 1991 coup d’etat).

To US plutocrats and other global elites, the Fanmi Lavalas platform is unacceptable, as it was starting to allow Haitians to control their own resources and provide programs of social uplift to empower the poor and make them less easy to exploit. Aristide favored people’s well-being and right to self-determination over big money interests, so he had to go, again.

After the US-backed coup d’etat of February 29, 2004, Haiti’s electoral landscape became a wasteland. Throughout Aristide’s forced exile in South Africa from the 2004 coup to March 2011, the few elections that were held excluded Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s largest and most popular party, from participating, on flimsy technical excuses based on the party’s leader being out of the country. The last presidential election in late 2010 was riddled with irregularities, voter suppression and was boycotted by the vast majority of voters protesting this unjust exclusion, yet its illegitimate outcome received the full blessing of then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other world leaders.

When, in response to mounting pressure from international solidarity groups, South Africa defied explicit US preferences and allowed Aristide to return to Haiti in 2011, the former president focussed his efforts on building up a new university for low-income students just outside Port au Prince. The University of the Aristide Foundation opened in the fall of 2011 with 126 medical students, half women and half men, and currently enrolls about 1,500 students and growing in schools of medicine, nursing, law, physical therapy, and continuing education.  

With Aristide back in the country, excuses for marginalizing Fanmi Lavalas evaporated, and inclusive parliamentary elections should have been held in November, 2011. Haiti’s fraudulently selected President Martelly, however, with US backing and more deafening silence around the world, cancelled those elections and put them off for nearly four years, during which time many senators termed out, rendering the parliament incapable of functioning, while Martelly assembled his own private security force and proceeded to rule by decree.

Following sustained massive protests by the people of Haiti, the three-part elections of 2015 were finally calendared, with all parties set to participate. But hopes for a turning towards democracy were quickly dashed on August 9, as Martelly’s forces carried out intensive voter suppression and violent intimidation in precincts with strong Fanmi Lavalas support. In a country where people are well informed and civic participation is highly valued, only 18% of registered voters were able to get into the polls, and only a fraction of these votes were properly counted.

The people of Haiti are the world’s conscience. Their brutally enslaved African ancestors had the fortitude to rise up and cast off the dual chains of slavery and colonialism over 200 years ago, founding the first free republic in the Western Hemisphere. The ensuing backlash, with decidedly racist overtones, from global elites and successive US administrations, has shamefully sought to punish Haitians and return them to a state of mental enslavement and servitude to big capital. But Haitians won’t give up their struggle for dignity. If we don’t stand with them on October 25 and beyond, our humanity remains badly tarnished.

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Marilyn Langlois is a member of the Haiti Action Committee www.haitisolidarity.net and of TRANSCEND USA West Coast.