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Elections in Haiti in 2000, Part I

Tomorrow, I will return the focus of my research – and consequently the entries on this site – to Toussaint Louverture. I’m glad I’ve taken some time to know Haiti’s current situation a little better, but it’s time to get back to the whole point of this enterprise, which is getting to know the man himself.

There’s one bit of unfinished business I’d like to wrap up, though. I had written a bit about Haiti’s current situation in previous entries, and much of what I wrote seems to take a particular anti-US policy tone. My personal feelings aside, I didn’t really intend to present my views as one-sided or unsupported. As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, I asked the Haiti List for help in finding some objective resources, but the people who responded only confessed to being equally in the dark.

I had never considered before that I take a certain type of news coverage for granted. I think much of the news media in the US is… well, at best, useless for keeping me accurately informed of what’s going on in the world. But if there’s one thing I can count on, it’s that it there are at least a few places I can consistently find accurate reporting presented by responsible journalists. In my brief time of studying Haitian politics, I’m not sure the same can be said for that country.

(I am aware that there are brave and dedicated Haitian journalists risking their lives to get the truth out. My point is that their job is a lot harder and more dangerous and the general Haitian public and world audience are far less likely to hear their voices.)

So, look, I’m not a journalist. I don’t know Thing One about reporting. I’m an amateur writer who is depending entirely on secondary or tertiary or quaternary sources for information, and then I’m trying to synthesize it and spit it back out so it makes sense to me. It’s just that, in the interest of fairness, I felt I had to at least try to present the other side of the Haiti question.

In particular, I wanted to find out what the US and International community’s policy towards Haiti is, and what is the basis for that policy? And, since the elections of 2000 are often mentioned in relation to US policy, what specifically were the flaws in the 2000 election?

If I were a real reporter, I probably would have called or emailed the sources here directly, but in the end, part laziness and part desire to regain my focus on Toussaint drove my decision not to. Instead, I’ll present here a survey and summary of what I was able to find online.

Please keep in mind, that while I have devoted significant time to finding relevant information, I’m not in a position to analyze the motivations of various sources or the veracity of their claims. What I offer here are my summaries of what I read, along with links to the relevant documents so that others who wish to make up their own minds will have a place to start. I can’t promise 100% accuracy, though I promise I’ve done my best. Sources appear in no particular order.

Elections in Haiti in 2000, Part I

Summary of information found online relating to Haiti’s Year 2000 elections and the international community’s policy towards Haiti.

Some facts about the election that do not seem to be disputed:
  • The elections of May 21, 2000 were originally scheduled for November 1999. The delays were “due to logistical, technical, financial and political problems.” (ICIO)
  • The elections in May, 2000 were generally peaceful.
  • Most estimates note that 60% of the population voted in the May elections
  • The elections in May 2000 were disputed mostly on the basis of the methods used to count the winners.

    Source: The United States Embassy in Haiti

    The United States has taken the position at least as early as February 2001 that the Haitian elections of 2000 were ‘flawed.’ Quoting from Washington File article by Eric Green dated February 7, 2001, the US Department of State ‘said Haiti has ‘considerable ground to cover in developing an effective and inclusive electoral process.’’ Apparently, the Organization of American States and independent political observers cast doubt on the validity of ‘some seats won by Aristide-supported candidates.’ The United Nations was forced to call off its mission in that country the day before Aristide’s inauguration because of increasing security concerns.

    Because of the results of the election and Haiti’s continuing problems in the areas of security and human rights, the US has suspended direct aid to the government of Haiti, and has encouraged the international community to do the same. In a May 2002 speech, Lino Gutierrez, principal deputy assistant secretary of state put the US policy this way.

    “Corruption, drug trafficking, human rights abuses, increasing authoritarianism, and a declining economy threaten Haiti’s fragile institutions,” he said. In response, the United States has adopted a policy toward Haiti that “rests on four pillars, all equally important,” Gutierrez said. “We seek to support efforts to strengthen democracy and improve respect for human rights; provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable Haitians, and actively promote sustainable economic development; discourage illegal migration, which threatens maritime safety and the lives of those who risk dangerous sea travel; and stem the flow of illegal drugs through Haiti” to the United States.

    To read continue reading Part I, click the link…

    Gutierrez cites the failure of Aristide and opposition parties to reach an accord as Haiti’s greatest obstacle to renewed US-Haiti relations. He continues:

    “It’s quite simple—the government of Haiti has only itself to blame for its deteriorating economy. The international community wants nothing more than to give Haiti a hand, but access to external assistance and loans will remain limited because the government of Haiti refuses to adhere to the most basic principles of good governance.” Even so, “our assistance to Haiti is substantial,” he pointed out. “On a per-capita basis, Haiti is one of the largest beneficiaries of U.S. aid in the world. Overall, U.S. humanitarian assistance [to Haiti] for the past four years totaled almost $300 million.”

    US aid dollars are channelled through NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in order that the money will get to the people who need it most. In a fact sheet titled State Department Outlines U.S. Assistance to Haiti, the US Department of State points out that it has given Haiti more than $850 million in aid between 1995 and 2003. The money has gone to provide food assistance, health care, education, small business loans and to support programs which strengthen democracy. The US also “supports normal relations between Haiti and the international financial institutions,” which provide loans for infrastructure and economic development. As pointed out in this press release, U.S. Government Increases Humanitarian Assistance to Haiti, support for Fiscal Year 2003 was actually increased to almost $70 million.

    USAID continues to be the largest single donor to Haiti. The organization’s efforts to develop micro-finance in Haiti have been recognized by CGAP, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.

    Despite the recognizing the need to continue aid to the world’s poorest country, the US remains firm in its political stance towards Haiti. In a press release entitled U.S. Urges Haitian Government to Create Conditions for Free Elections, Carol Fuller, U.S. alternate representative to the OAS says the US “will not support elections in Haiti ‘unless they are free, fair, and reflect the will of the [Haitian] people.’” In order to ensure this, Fuller says Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide must follow the recommendations of OAS Resolution 822 to hold free and fair elections.



    UPDATE 2/4/04 12:31 PM PST
    Thanks to the resources of the Haiti List at Bob Corbett’s Haiti Page I was able to uncover the following transcript from the State Department Daily Press Briefing for December 17, 2001. Earlier that day, armed attackers had stormed the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince. (See Part IV for a link to the OAS’s investigation of the incident.) Here’s what State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher had to say:

    QUESTION: Richard, can you talk about Haiti and what your understanding of the situation is there?
    MR. BOUCHER: Well, it’s probably similar to your understanding of the situation there, because basically we have seen a lot of different reports, and we don’t have much confirmation.
    What we know is an unknown number of armed assailants attacked the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince early this morning. There are also unconfirmed reports of several casualties, as well as attacks on other government facilities. It appears that government security units have repelled the attacks, and that the police are actively searching for the assailants.
    That is not a lot of definitive information. What I will say is the situation in Port-au-Prince is tense. There are reports of roadblocks, tire burnings, shootings, mobs attacking political opposition members and offices. We would ask all Haitians to remain calm, urge the Government of Haiti to take appropriate measures to restore and maintain calm. The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince is closed. They have closed all the offices today following reports about this morning’s attack, and they have urged US citizens in Haiti to stay at home today and to monitor radio reports concerning the security situation.
    QUESTION: Do you want to say a word in defense of democracy?
    MR. BOUCHER: Defense of democracy. 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.
    QUESTION: Richard, just maybe 10 days ago, the Foreign Minister and the Finance Minister of Haiti were here and they were told in no uncertain terms that unless they got their act together that the US would continue to oppose multilateral assistance and basically all non-humanitarian assistance to them.
    That, I assume, is still the position. But now what you’re saying and what you just said to George, are you saying that you want the Haitian Government, as it stands now, to go after these people?
    MR. BOUCHER: We have had a lot of concerns about the election process in Haiti, particularly with regard to the Assembly elections, the legislative elections. We have looked to the Government of Haiti to carry out a series of steps to improve democracy. I don’t have any update on that. But, indeed, we have been quite critical of some aspects of the Government of Haiti’s performance.
    On the other hand, there is a considerable difference between that and allowing the overthrow of the results of a legitimate election by armed force. So I don’t think there is any contradiction in that today.

    So, according to Boucher, the US views the Aristide government as legitimately elected, yet no official aid will be forthcoming until Haiti improves its democracy.
    END UPDATE


    FOCAL – the Canadian Foundation for the Americas

    FOCAL provides an excellent overview of the issues in its paper Haiti After the 2000 Elections: Searching for Solutions to a Political Crisis (PDF). This June 2001 document briefly summarizes the election discrepancies, presents an overview of national and international reaction, and notes the ‘hostile’ attitudes of the US Congress and the current administration towards Haiti.

    The report also notes that the III Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, by adopting a stringent “democracy clause” that “reinforces the importance of democratic norms within the hemisphere,” put additional pressures on the Haitian government to reconcile with the opposition. It seems that the hemispheric community is putting a stake in the ground that democracy by legitimate means will be the rule in the western hemisphere. Haiti stands to be shut out from further hemispheric summits if it cannot restore legitimacy to its government. The international community stands firm in its demand that Haiti’s political situation improve before more aid money is granted. The intractability of both factions in Haiti in their dispute over the May 2000 elections, though, makes such improvement unlikely.

    The report stresses that reforms to the CEP, Haiti’s independent election council, will be a key part of any solutions.

    Something New I Learned from this Source: The opposition party in Haiti refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Aristide government and formed a parallel government with its own president.