Haiti’s fight for democracy continues

February 4, 2016

Edna Bonhomme and Danny Katch report on the protests that stopped the plans of Haitian President Michel Martelly and his U.S. backers to ram through a sham vote.

WIDESPREAD ANGER over election fraud has forced Haiti's leaders--and their U.S. backers--to postpone the presidential runoff election that was supposed to take place on January 24.

The weeks of protests mark the latest chapter of the Haitian people's heroic resistance--often under horrible conditions--to a venal oligarchy propped up by American government and business officials.

The first round of elections, held on October 25, saw less than 30 percent voter participation, even though 75 percent told pollsters from Brazil's Igarapé Institute that they "would vote if they were confident the elections were free and fair," according to a report from Kim Ives of Haïti Liberté.

Haitians were right to be suspicious. During the October 25 election, exit polls conducted by the Igarapé Institute showed Jovenel Moïse, the handpicked successor of President Michel Martelly, coming in fourth place with just 6 percent of the vote. But the country's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) reported that Moïse led the first round of voting with 33 percent, 8 points ahead of Jude Célestin's 25 percent.

A mass march to protest corrupt elections in Haiti
A mass march to protest corrupt elections in Haiti

A report from observers with the National Lawyers Guild and International Association of Democratic Lawyers noted that over half of the 1.5 million ballots cast could have come from political party accreditations distributed by the CEP, many of which were openly being sold on the black market in the days before the election.

The major opposition candidates declared the vote a farce, and Célestin announced plans to boycott the runoff unless major changes were made. But despite widespread allegations of fraud, Martelly vowed to press ahead with the runoff, as did the Organization of American States and the U.S. State Department, which dispatched an official to Haiti in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Célestin to drop his boycott.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. government is even more outrageous, as Keane Bhatt pointed out in Jacobin, when compared to its regular denunciations of Venezuelan elections that international observers have found to be clean.

But this united front of the Martelly regime and its international backers carried little weight with the Haitian people, and pressure mounted as day of the runoff approached, forcing six of the nine members of the CEP to resign.

The unrest culminated with a mass march on January 22 that traveled 10 miles to the wealthy Pétionville neighborhood, forcing the remaining CEP members to indefinitely postpone the elections that were to take place in two days.

"The marching, chanting multitude scared the daylights out of Haiti's Pétionville elite," Ives wrote in Counterpunch, "loudly pouring into the narrow, tony streets of the wealthy mountain enclave while young men scattered large rocks and telephone poles across roadways and set aflame cars and columns of tires."

The cancellation of the elections has caused the mercenary and sometimes coup leader Guy Phillipe to emerge from the dregs and threaten "war" against the "anarchists" who led the protests.

February 7 marks the end date of Martelly's term, and the president has claimed that he might stay in power if an election is not held--which would be unconstitutional. Like Guy Phillipe, Martelly has also flexed his muscles by ramping up the Haitian National Police and the Presidential Guard and Security Unit to target demonstrators living in Cité Soleil and La Plaine.

IT SHOULD be no surprise that the U.S. is lining up on the side of crooks and killers like Martelly and Phillipe pushing for the elections to be held against the wishes of the vast majority of Haitians.

The electoral process in Haiti has consistently been disrupted by foreign (mostly U.S.) intervention. Following a mass movement that overthrew the murderous Duvalier family dictatorship, Jean Bertrand Aristide of the Fanmi Lavalas party was democratically elected in Haiti's first election in 1990, only to be ousted a year later in a coup backed by the CIA.

Aristide returned to win another election a decade later, but was again removed in a U.S.-backed coup, which led to a military occupation by the United National Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) that continues to this day.

The UN military occupation hasn't brought any stability to the Haitian people. On the contrary, the most notable "contribution" of MINUSTAH has been a terrible 2010 cholera epidemic--the first in the country in over a century--in 2010 caused by UN troops contaminating a river with a faulty sanitation system. The outbreak killed nearly 9,000 and sickened almost three quarters of a million Haitians and yet to this day, the UN has not apologized nor provided assistance to its victims.

And the UN certainly hasn't overseen legitimate elections, either this time or in the elections between 2009 and 2011 that originally put Martelly in power, which also saw widespread fraud, historically low voter turnout and the outright exclusion of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party from the ballot based on a technicality--all of which met with approval of then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Since then, Martelly's presidency can be characterized as nepotistic, if not dictatorial. There has been a lack of transparency with many of his executive orders and many of those that were published have favored individuals in his inner circle.

The Obama administration has reportedly spent $33 million on this year's elections, money has meant very little for the majority of the population who continue to suffer from natural and manmade disasters over the years.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA coverage of the election crisis has portrayed the widespread fraud and disorganization as uniquely Haitian problems, but it is the system imposed on Haitians by the so-called international community that is broken.

In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people and displaced two million more, Haiti became the site of the second-highest concentration of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the world, and yet all the foreign aid has not ameliorated the lives of most Haitians.

If anything, foreign NGOs have been pernicious in their corrupt use of funds. The Red Cross raised $500 million after the earthquake from Americans looking to help--and built a total of six homes in Haiti.

Similarly, the Clinton Foundation came under scrutiny when the $30 million it raised for Haitian relief was mostly funneled to private contractors with ties to the Clinton family--a shady process that was overseen by a State Department led by...Hillary Clinton.

As the Clintons, the Red Cross and others have siphoned off aid money, the daily struggles of poor and working class Haitians have continued. Inflation is on the rise, pushing up food prices, and the racist deportations by the government of the Dominican Republic of people perceived to be of Haitian descent forced one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere to reckon with thousands of people who must now be repatriated.

The North American and European media have pointed to the "violence" of protesters but failed to acknowledge that these protests emerge from desperation because the political edifice has shut the majority of Haitians out.

Today's movement bears similarities with the protests in 1986, 1990 and 2004, but the struggle for self-determination goes back even further than that.

Whether it has been a fight against French enslavement or Haitian authoritarian rule, collective resistance is part and parcel of Haiti's 212-year history. At the core of the protests is that everyday Haitians want the ability to determine their own affairs without foreign intervention.

Activists in the U.S. have an obligation to challenge the complicity of Washington in repressing Haitian democracy and stealing from its people. And when Hillary Clinton claims on the presidential campaign trail that she believes "Black lives matter," she should be held accountable for her miserable record in the country whose revolution gave birth to the international Black freedom struggle.

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