The Seattle Times today published a column by William Raspberry, Syndicated columnist, entitled, “The mess in Haiti demands our attention”. You can read his piece here before you read the following response, which I emailed to the writer and to the Seattle times just moments ago. I’ll let you know if I hear back…
Mr. Raspberry –
Regarding your column of February 17, 2004, “The mess in Haiti demands our attention”, could you please cite the sources that lead you to claim that the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide is “widely seen as corrupt”? I’ve done substantial research into current Haitian politics as background for a book I’m writing on Haitian history. There are several legitimate sources that challenge your interpretation of the facts.
There were two sets of elections in Haiti in 2000 – the legislative elections in May and the presidential election in November. Though there was some disagreement over the counting methods used to determine some of the winners of the May legislative elections, these elections can at worst be referred to as “flawed,” though even at that, the will of the people was widely felt to have been represented in the results. The Embassy of Haiti notes that the election involved 29,500 candidates vying for 7,500 seats. Only 8 of these seats were ultimately in question, and the question was only whether these candidates would be involved in runoff elections or win the seats outright. Aristide called for and received the resignations of the senators whose seats were in question (save for one not associated with his party who refused to step down), so he appears to have been responsive to charges of irregularities.
Other than that, Haitian elections went pretty well for a country with such a turbulent political history. Election observers such as the OAS and ICIO (International Coalition of Independent Observers) agree that about 60% of registered voters participated. The UN even stated that the elections on May 21, 2000, went “unexpectedly well.” (UN document a/55/154)
The November presidential election, as observed by the ICIO and KOZï¿½PEP, a Haitian peasant organization, was widely reported as fair and honest. The OAS and UN have agreed with this assessment, though their own representation at that election was limited. Even the United States recognized Aristide as the legitimately elected leader of that country. As you can read for yourself in the transcript of the State Department Daily Press Briefing for December 17, 2001, Richard Boucher said, “We have looked at the leadership in Haiti as being a legitimate, elected leadership, we recognize the results of the last election, and obviously we stand with people who are elected against those who would seek to overthrow them by force.”
I have put together an extensive review of Haiti election reports by the UN, OAS, ICIO and others at my website. I encourage you to take a look at http://www.stumax.com/tlp/tlparchives/cat_haiti_elections.html. There you will also find links to the relevant reports so that you can read them for yourself.
You are an intelligent man, and you know full well that to a public that knows little about Haiti, the perception that its president entered power by corrupt means allows them to turn their heads when his ouster is called for. But Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whatever his flaws, is the legitimate, democratically elected leader of Haiti, and his ouster by other than legitimate, democratic means would represent a serious blow to Haiti’s fragile republic, and would be a damning indictment of those who purport to love and defend democracy. Even the US government agrees: the Associated Press today quotes Colin Powell as saying, “We cannot buy into the proposition that the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect the law.”
If Reverend Fountroy, who you quote, believes that Aristide should be removed from power, who does he propose to put in his place? Andy Apaid, leader of the opposition alliance, as a holder of a US passport is ineligible to hold government office under Haiti’s constitution (and may in fact face prosecution under the US Neutrality Act). The Haitian majority have not put forth an alternative. Many of the individuals who are jockeying for power in Haiti at this point are ex-military. Do you mean to advocate for a return to military regime in favor of an Aristide democracy?
Your column further confuses the current issue by suggesting the “majority of protesters [in recent violent demonstrations] had voted for Aristide,” an assertion which I can find nowhere else in the press. Can you cite a source? If not, you must understand that this gives the impression that Aristide’s supporters are turning against him, which is clearly not the case. In fact, the AP reported on Sunday that only 1,000 people took part in what was to have been a major anti-Aristide rally.
Please, Mr. Raspberry; the situation in Haiti is very serious. I agree with you that Haiti is a mess, but Aristide is no Duvalier. Please don’t mislead the American people with unsubstantiated allegations. Please don’t advocate against democracy in Haiti. I beg of you, take another look at the facts and write another editorial correcting the wrong impressions you have left with your readers.