Haiti: Annul the elections

Charlie Hinto
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Feb. 3, Haiti’s Electoral Council announced in a decision signed by only four of eight council members, and without releasing any vote count, that Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly would participate in a “run-off” on March 20, although Haitian law requires that a majority of five members sign.

The decision eliminates Jude Celestin, originally announced as the runner-up to Manigat, and the favorite of current President Rene Preval. This “run-off” helps to explain the re-emergence of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, since both candidates have links to the Duvalier past.

Leslie Manigat, husband of the leading contender, made his political debut under Francois Duvalier’s tutelege, as part of the noirist movement whose goal was for elite black Haitians to become part of Haiti’s ruling, but mainly light skinned, elite. He founded the noirist Institute of Higher Learning in 1958 at the request of Duvalier.

Some say it was Manigat who advised Duvalier to create the private militia known as the tonton macoutes in order to counter the power of Haiti’s regular army.

Michel Martelly pledged that if elected, he will make Duvalier one of his advisers. Martelly’s ties to the former dictator can be traced to his youth – he joined the tonton macoutes at the age of 15. He later attended Haiti’s military academy, closed by Papa Doc to eliminate a potential rival, then reorganized and opened by Baby Doc.

Under the Duvalier dictatorship, Martelly ran the Garage, a nightclub patronized by army officers and members of Haiti’s tiny ruling class. After Baby Doc’s fall in February 1986, a mass democratic movement, long repressed by the Duvaliers, burst forth and became known as Lavalas.

Martelly quickly became a bitter Lavalas opponent, attacking the popular movement in his songs played widely on Haitian radio. Martelly “was closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” the Miami Herald observed in 1996, and ran with members of the infamous FRAPH death squads.

Martelly’s candidacy has significant backing from an anonymous Florida supporter who hired the Spanish public relations firm Ostos & Sola to manage his campaign. This same company secured Felipe Calderón the presidency in Mexico and worked on John McCain’s campaign.

These fantasy “run-offs” are the latest effort of the Haitian elites and the “international community” – i.e., the United States, France and Canada, operating through the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) – to eliminate the influence, and even the memory, of twice elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party, the largest and most popular party in the country.

Aristide put the needs of poor Haitians ahead of the demands of international bankers, though by doing so created powerful enemies. (See “We Will Not Forget! The Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti,” a publication available for free download.) Military coups overthrew his governments both times, instituting death squad reigns of terror, most recently on Feb. 29, 2004, when U.S. military and diplomatic personnel kidnapped Aristide and his family and flew them to the Central African Republic. They currently live in forced exile in South Africa.

U.S., French and Canadian troops occupied Haiti after the coup, until 8,000 U.N. troops, led by Brazil, replaced them. That number rose to the current 11,500 personnel on the ground – military and police – after the earthquake.

As revealed by Wikileaks in a Brazilian government cable, the U.S. “Ambassador and PolCouns also stressed continued USG [U.S. Government] insistence that all efforts must be made to keep Aristide from returning to Haiti or influencing the political process, and asked whether the GOB [Government of Brazil] also remains firm on that point.”

The “international community” has attempted to give an air of legitimacy to this occupation by holding sham elections. In 2009, the day after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haiti’s Electoral Council ruled that Fanmi Lavalas could not run candidates in the senatorial elections. This decision led to an electoral boycott that saw fewer than 10 percent vote in the first round, and far fewer in the run-off. Nevertheless, President Preval and the “international community” recognized the results.

For the November 2010 presidential elections, the Electoral Council ruled that over a dozen political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas, could not participate. Preval was reported to have said it would take only 4 percent of the vote to win, indicating that the suppression of voter turnout might be a campaign tactic.

The Obama administration spent $14,500,000 on these “elections,” funneled through USAID, despite 45 U.S. Congress members’ warning they would not be free and fair. The candidates spent millions of dollars promoting themselves, an insult to the potential voters they courted, still living in miserable tent and tarp encampments nearly a year after the earthquake.

Voting day was chaotic. Voter rolls contained the names of many of the 310,000 people who had died in the earthquake. People had no idea where to vote. One woman went to six polling places in Port au Prince, another to four, looking for their names on lists.

The number of polling places was reduced from around 12,000 in the last genuinely democratic election in 2000 to fewer than a thousand this time, helping to create the appearance of a large turnout while keeping turnout low. Official results claim that 23 percent of the electorate voted, but on-the-ground observers claim turnout was much lower.

By noon, 12 of the candidates, including Martelly and Manigat, had joined together to denounce the massive fraud, demanding the elections be cancelled. That evening, however, Edmond Mulet, head of the U.N. occupation forces in Haiti, called them both to say they were in the “run-off,” and they withdrew their opposition. Then the results were announced: Manigat first, Celestin second, with Martelly a close third.

Protests broke out all over Haiti. The media credited the outrage to Martelly supporters, but people from many political tendencies protested the phony elections, the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, the U.N. occupation and the introduction of cholera into Haiti by U.N. troops.

The “international community” sent an electoral commission from the OAS to “recount the votes.” A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research states, “The amount of votes not counted or counted wrong in this election is huge … Based on the numbers of irregularities, it is impossible to determine who should advance to a second round.” Nevertheless, the OAS decided the “run-off” should be between Manigat and Martelly, and Hillary Clinton personally went to Haiti to enforce the message, regardless of Haitian law.

These are “demonstration elections,” designed to isolate Fanmi Lavalas and prevent real grassroots democracy, put a “democratic” face on a military occupation, provide an illusion of “democracy” to ensure a stable investment climate, and “demonstrate” to the populations in the occupying countries that their troops and tax dollars serve a useful purpose.

The people of Haiti fear for their future. In spite of assurances by the U.N. and OAS that things would be better, they have only gotten worse in the seven years since the coup. A year after the quake, the corrupt Preval government, backed by an occupation army, has done nothing to support them, and now Baby Doc is back and busy reconnecting with past associates.

According to his lawyer, Duvalier would like to run for president in the future. “He is a political man. Every political man has political ambitions.” Jodel Chamblain – second-in-command of the FRAPH death squad after the first coup and a leader of the mercenary band that overran the North during the second coup, convicted murderer of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izméry and participant in the Raboteau Massacre – heads up Duvalier’s security.

When State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley dismissed the return of Duvalier saying, “this is a matter for the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti,” but opposed the return of Aristide with “Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past,” he disrespected the millions of Haitians for whom Duvalier literally awakens nightmares of the past.

State Department double-speak prescribes “what Haiti needs right now is a period of calm, not divisive actions,” but imposes sham elections and the exile of Haiti’s most popular and respected leader. These measures are more conducive to occupation, not calm; submission, not unity.

Preval, Manigat, Martelly and the “international community” carry on as if these pretend “elections” are completely legitimate and anyone who challenges them is being disruptive. What they are really legitimizing is the return of one of the worst chapters in the history of Haiti, the restoration of neo-Duvalierism as a serious contender for political power in Haiti.

The Haitian majority asks freedom loving people everywhere to join the Congressional Black Caucus to demand these “elections” be annulled, that the Duvalier Restoration be stopped in its tracks, that Duvalier be tried for crimes against humanity, and for President Aristide to return and be with the people he loves and who love him dearly.

Charlie Hinton wrote this story with editing assistance from Leslie Mullin. Both are members of the Haiti Action Committee. Hinton may be reached at ch_lifewish@yahoo.com.