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Occupation elections bound for trouble

From Haiti Progres,
Vol. 13, no. 1, 29 March to 4 April 1995

The first phase of the US military intervention and occupation of Haiti will draw to a close this week with the visit of President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to Port-au-Prince. Bows will be taken, backs will be slapped, and all the right sound-bites about the upcoming free and fair elections will be uttered. Unfortunately, many people outside Haiti believe US claims that the elections will be an opportunity for the Haitian people to freely choose their leaders. Indeed, some in the solidarity movement, who even opposed US intervention in Haiti, are preparing to monitor the elections, thus lending legitimacy to what many of Haiti's popular organizations consider a bogus electoral process and, more generally, tacitly endorsing the US military intervention and occupation of Haiti.

The grassroots groups Solidarite ant Jen (SAJ) and Konbit Veye Yo noted recently that the US is trying to control the elections. One of the biggest goals of the people's struggle today is to mobilize to denounce and block the 'pepe' American democracy project, said the groups in a Mar. 13 statement. (Pepe, or second-hand rejected clothes, denotes the worthlessness of the US-sponsored elections.) Other long-standing popular organizations like the National Popular Assembly (APN) point to a rather elementary principle - that it is impossible to have free and fair elections in any country which is occupied by thousands of foreign troops. The US government, with Haitian government approval, now supervises all the political and economic affairs of Haiti. Furthermore, the US government is the principal funder of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the main body running the elections, whose budget is about $12 million. This may explain why the CEP has not disqualified from the elections many well-known Duvalierists, who are explicitly prohibited from public office by the now-touted, now-trampled 1987 Constitution. In Haiti, the US wants to see the political process broadened. As in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia or Peru, the US aims to have the veneer of democracy in Haiti, not the reality.

But despite the hype from the US occupation forces and the Aristide government about the free and fair municipal and parliamentary elections slated for June 4, the electoral road show is heading for a thunderous crash. Candidates have to register by April 9 and voters by April 17.

At present, the two principal contenders of the so-called democratic sector are the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), headed by Gerard Pierre-Charles, and the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), headed by Evans Paul. Both parties are plagued by internal bickering in their hastily assembled opportunist-filled ranks.

Despite earlier calls for unity, OPL and FNCD are already elbowing each other for position, even before the official opening of the campaign season. Hostilities flared when OPL formed an alliance with two smaller parties, the Louvri Barye Party (PLB), founded in 1992 by Aristide confidant Renaud Bernadin, and the Movement for the Organization of the Country (MOP), built in the 1950's by the late populist leader Daniel Fignole. The three-way union has shunned the FNCD, which Pierre- Charles asserts was never really a part of the original Lavalas family of 1990.

The OPL's move may enhance the likelihood that Evans Paul's FNCD will become the horse that the US will back. Already the US government has contributed thousands to Paul's foundation FONDEM.

The Lavalas bourgeoisie's decision to embrace the occupation election is not surprising. It follows in the logic of riding the US military back to the National Palace. The OPL overestimates their capacity to sweep the elections on the basis of Aristide's personal popularity and the deep popular hatred of the putschists. The party also underestimates the influence the US can assert on elections in a country they militarily control.

But this week offered a taste of the trouble the OPL will face in the weeks ahead. The official opening of OPL's campaign on Mar. 27 in Port-au-Prince ended in acrimony. The meeting only half- filled the 1000-seat Rex Theater. Then, a group of young people, purportedly grassroots activists, made a ruckus during the event, decrying the absence of popular organizations and accusing the leadership of dictating candidates to the rank and file. The meeting ended as a fiasco. Whether the act of provocateurs or not, the incident reflects the vulnerability and disarray of the OPL.

Meanwhile, Washington is spending millions to organize the right wing into a coherent political force. Agents of the US campaign include former president Jimmy Carter, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the AFL-CIO, and the US Agency for International Development (AID), and the US-contracted International Organization of Migration (IOM).

The IOM seems to be the principal US tool. It has been running civic education campaigns around the country and claims to be working with more than 600 community organizations to teach about participation in a democratic form of government, according to the Mar. 11 issue of Haiti Info.

In addition to establishing the institutional mechanisms of control, and teaching the Haitian people about democracy, the US is also relying on the climate of insecurity and impunity to further its ends. The insecurity is always good to keep the democratic sector from coming out into the open too fast, notes Daniel Roussiere, of the Gonaives branch of the Justice and Peace Commission. Another control is exercised by the impunity because the justice system does not attack the military-macoute sector, which is always interested in the electoral level. Noting the activity of the IOM, which Roussiere says is everywhere, and the lack of organization and principled politics in the democratic sector, Roussiere adds: All of this confusion will increase the reflex of fear of elections...which will give carte blanche to the military-macoute and bourgeois sectors that will be massively present in the electoral process.

However, should this massive presence not produce the right results, Washington still has a last option: discrediting the elections. From Jesse Helms and Allen Weinstein's Center for Democracy to the editorial pages of the Washington Post, the prospect that the elections will not be free and fair has been bandied about. Writing in the Washington Post Mar. 13, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN Ambassador under the Reagan administration, asked, Will there be adequate respect for personal security to permit campaigning, opposition and an honest count? Not unless a vigorous preparatory campaign for the election is conducted by the United States. Similarly, Lawrence Pezzullo, President Clinton's former advisor on Haiti, raised this week in The Washington Post the specter of Aristide as dictator. The Mar. 22 piece predicted that there would be no private investment but instead political violence and even civil war, unless Lavalas creates a participatory political culture in which all Haitians have a voice.

If US election engineering does falter, Washington can always turn to Marc Bazin, the infamous American candidate of the Dec. 1990 presidential elections. Bazin warned that his party might boycott the elections. Echoing the claim of other putschist politicians like Duly Brutus, Bazin claimed that the CEP had too many Aristide supporters.

Meanwhile, hard-line Duvalierism will be working to repeat the terror and violence brought in the 1987 elections. Dozens of people have been killed by former attaches and putschists in recent weeks. And on Mar. 27, arsonists tried to burn down the election audit offices, where potential candidates must be approved. The same thing also happened in 1987. Though the US alleges that the attacks are launched by criminals, no serious observer of Haitian politics takes that claim seriously. Even the French Ambassador to Haiti, Philippe Selz, told a local TV network that the violence was coming from the right.