Embassy, August 24th, 2005
By Jean Saint-Vil
All indicators suggest a fiasco for the scheduled fall elections in Haiti. The International Crisis
Group (ICG) observed that 18 months after former President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced out
of the country, Haiti remains insecure and volatile. On the part of much of the population
ICG saw "disenchantment, apathy and ignorance about the electoral process." Rightfully so, this
reputable Geneva-based organization concluded it is essential and urgent that those conditions be
Apathy and lack of familiarity with the electoral process is no surprise. Last April Ron Gould, a
consultant with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), wrote "the voter
registration process is technology driven as a result of a decision of the Organization of
American States." Gould, who openly worried about the "the high cost, high risk nature" of this
decision given Haiti's lack of infrastructure, concluded still "there is no turning back."
It is hardly surprising that ICG reported "a week before the scheduled close of registration, only
870,000 [of 4 million] potential voters had registered, and none had yet received the new
national identity card required to vote."
So, could authentic elections be held in today's Haiti? The answer is linked to the willingness of
powerful countries like Canada to let Haitians control their destiny and determine the political
fate of their leaders.
There are several critical developments that offer a basis for believing that a genuine
election remains possible. First, Aristide, the exiled president, confirmed he shall not defy the
Haitian Constitution to seek a third mandate. Second, Aristide's return to complete a botched
second mandate is being demanded by himself and by his supporters as part of a national
reconciliation process which they insist must include free elections. Thirdly, all members of
the interim government signed an agreement confirming they shall not seek political office
in the upcoming elections. And finally, the fully deployed UN mission (MINUSTAH) by far outguns and
outnumbers Haiti's armed factions and, consequently, has suffered minimal casualties. Provided adequate political direction, a MINUSTAH refocused on true peacekeeping rather than targeted political repression could easily secure
the country for elections.
Clearly, the challenge facing the foreign powers (Canada, U.S., and France) that supervised the
disastrous "regime change" in Haiti is political rather than military. The question, then, is
whether the necessary shift in political vision can take root in the minds of Martin, Bush and
Chirac. Will they recognize that the main problem is the illegal nature of the post-coup regime
they installed, which Haitians and foreigners alike find difficult to take seriously?
Meanwhile, it is generally recognized and even admitted by senior officials at Canada's Foreign
Affairs department that Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas remains Haiti's most popular party. It goes
without saying that an election without Lavalas would be considered a sham. Yet, the U.S.,
Canada, France, and the interim government have openly and actively sought to destabilize and
eliminate Lavalas from the running, by promoting a split within the party. Martin's Special
Advisor on Haiti, Denis Coderre, has gone so far as to name two individuals he deems suitable
replacements for Aristide. This ill-inspired strategy has served to irredeemably discredit
these foreign-blessed "moderates" who have lost the respect of Haitians. It has become such a
cynical farce that news broke on Aug. 4 that Guy Phillipe, the infamous paramilitary now
presidential candidate who headed the violent coup from the Dominican Republic, has announced
seeking an alliance with moderate Lavalas. As could be logically expected, Lavalas officials
reaffirmed that the condition of their participation in the elections remain unchanged:
release some 1,000 political prisoners, end political persecutions and return President
Aristide to complete his mandate.
What does Canada offer?
Despite the efforts of a growing number of Haiti solidarity activists, Martin shows no signs his
official policy is diverging from the course championed by Pierre Pettigrew, who continues to
openly embrace the character assassination of the exiled president. Most disturbingly, Pettigrew continues to dismiss the many reports from credible independent organizations such as the Miami School of Law, Harvard University, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and Amnesty International which indicate that post-coup
civilian killings and political assassinations have been primarily directed against Lavalas supporters. According to Pettigrew, the painstakingly documented horrors described in these reports are mere "Lavalas propaganda."
Consequently, the violations are ignored and the illegal regime committing them continues to enjoy Canada's unflinching complicity.
Claude Boucher, Canada's Ambassador to Haiti, told the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the
Americas on Dec. 9, 2004: "We hope that Aristide is going to disappear... I believe that he should
never come back. [...]We hope [an enquiry into alleged corruption by the Aristide government]
will show Aristide is guilty of so many criminal actions." Obviously, for Canada to play a
productive role in Haiti, official Canadian policy cannot be so partial and paternalistic.
Pettigrew and Martin must accept that Haitians have the final say in matters concerning their
nation's future, that CARICOM (Caribbean Community Secretariat) and South Africa are
important players whose peace-seeking role must be accorded due respect, and that voices of
moderation both from within and outside Haiti must be heard and listened to.
Canada is openly supporting the machinations of an economically powerful but unlawful minority in
Haiti. The just grievances of Haiti's impoverished, now humiliated, disempowered and
marginalized majority are still being ignored. What is urgently needed, as recommended by Thabo
Mbeki and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), is a genuine peace initiative
that actively and respectfully engages exiled President Aristide as well as his opponents.
Canada could play an active role in this, but only if a significant paradigm shift occurs in
its foreign policy towards Haiti.
Our fast growing movement of solidarity with Haiti shall not be detracted by opportunistic
political statements or symbolic appointments made to deviate attention from the real issues.
From Prince Edward Island to British Columbia, and certainly in Pierre Pettigrew's Papineau
riding in Québec, our cry will continue to resonate loud and clear: No to sham elections in
Haiti! Yes to genuine and fair elections, following the release of all political prisoners
and the return of Haiti's exiled constitutional president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
There remains one question: Does our prime minister, who recently shocked everyone with the
surprised nomination of Haitian-born Michäelle Jean as Governor General of Canada, have the
courage to do the right thing when there are few evident political points to gain even if
risking disapproval from Bush?
Mr. Prime Minister, won't you surprise us again, this time, by boldly taking a foreign policy
roundabout to embrace the rightful aspirations of the Haitian people to social justice, recovered
dignity and sovereignty?
Jean Saint-Vil is a founding member of the Canada Haiti Action Network: www.canadahaitiaction.ca
NDP Criticizes Canada's Haiti Policy
Fortunately, not all parliamentarians have bought Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre
Pettigrew's marketing of his Haiti policy. In a letter dated Aug. 3, 2005, NDP Foreign Affairs
critic Alexa McDonough informed Pettigrew that she has "serious questions about the legitimacy
of the current interim government and the acquiescence of Canada in the seemingly active
attempts by the interim government to ensure President Aristide's Lavalas Party does not
participate in the upcoming elections." Quite rightly, Ms. McDonough concludes that "Canada
must take stock of its role in the removal of democratically elected President Jean Bertrand
Aristide, evaluate its actions in Haiti since February 2004, and re-commit to helping end the
violence and restoring true democracy in Haiti." So far, the "stock-taking" called for by
McDonough appears unlikely. -- Jean Saint-Vil
Haiti's Constitution Pushed Aside
Since the violent overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's constitution has
been pushed aside. The very duration of the post-coup government is illegal given that
transitional regimes are constitutionally bound to last no longer than 90 days within which to
organize elections. Nonetheless, this 18 month-old regime mired in allegations of
corruption and extra-judicial killings is sinking ever deeper into lawlessness, illegally naming
ambassadors and signing international accords. Robert Tippenhauer, the regime's recently
appointed ambassador to Canada, openly admits being selected extra-constitutionally, on account
of a "special arrangement" reached with a fragment of the international community. -- Jean