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    the 'establishment' in foreign policy..., 2004-02-28 23:10:08 | Main | another victory for democracy..., 2004-02-29 15:06:21

    'unfair elections', etc.:

    when at least 80% of a voting population is determined to vote for a single candidate then I guess, in some meaningless sense, that elections could be called 'unfair'. While the EU, US and OAS withheld monitors from the presidential elections numerous other agencies, many from Washington, were on hand and overwhelmingly declared Aristide's election legit, whatever the fulminations of a marginalized opposition.

    I'm on a lazy sojourn through blogdom to see if anybody is saying anything about our slowly dissolving neighbor, but there's not much there. None of the libertarians I read mention it, a few liberals deign to mention that some Democrat was out of line calling Noriega a racist or some such, and, well, nobody else bothers with it, either. I'm almost beginning to feel lonely over here.

    So off to other peoples' blogrolls: the Black Commentator has some fine Haiti coverage, and angry too, and Dominion has good stuff, so does bodyandsoul. Not a whole hell of a lot. [update: add fellow lefty crackpots empire notes and karmalised to the list]. Everybody else must be suffering a bout of that "Haiti fatigue" that's been going around.

    So anyway, antiwar.com also has some articles on it, all urging against intervention of course, but along the lines of "The real problem is that the U.S. government, over almost a century, has done too much—not too little—in Haiti. ... the United States had previously undermined Haiti’s nascent democracy after the 1990 election and then restored Aristide in 1994 only after he agreed to adopt policies of the U.S.-backed candidate in the 1990 elections, who had received only 14 percent of the vote." Right on.

    But then this sort of bugs me:

    "Even though Aristide had originally been genuinely elected, he held an unfair election in 2000 and uses armed gangs to repress the Haitian people."

    Alan Bock goes a bit further, calling Aristide a "dogmatic leftist...brutal authoritarian..." and says the "2000 election marred by corruption and intimidation...it is possible he got a majority of the votes, but there were so many irregularities and threats that he has no real legitimacy".

    Well, you could try holding new elections but "believe it or not, if a vote was taken now, Aristide would get 85 percent". That Aristide wins any fair and free presidential election you hold is a given: you'd think that would lend him some legitimacy. The presidential election that year - as we've already been over - wasn't even monitored, and the opposition refused to run in it, more because Aristide would win regardless than because of the earlier parliamentary elections. The parliamentary elections were contested, how did the actual presidential election go? If we go back to, say, the Washington Post reporting at the time, there was violence: against poor districts prone to voting for Aristide:

    Voting took place mostly without incident, and few irregularities were reported after a deadly weeklong bombing campaign, which each side has blamed on the other. One homemade bomb exploded in the impoverished neighborhood of Carrefour, and there were reports that a church in the countryside that was serving as a polling station was burned. ... The divide was evident in voting patterns today, with turnout very heavy in the poorest neighborhoods, while polling places in wealthier districts were almost empty. Voter turnout was estimated at 60.5 percent.

    Of course the WP didn't note that the Senate seats that went to Aristides party with mere pluralities - and were thusly flawed, something they do mention - stepped down long before the presidential elections. Standard editorial practice. Another 'irregularity' has been of the sort where former Duvalierists have abandoned the electoral commission and other institutions, having worked with the elected government during a period where it was supported by Washington, coinciding with the growing tendency among an opposition to refuse to participate in democratic practices on the invitation of the Lavalas party. With the support they've gotten from Washington and Europe it's hard to see why they would bother.

    Aristide is only the sole problem in the sense that the political division between that 85% which has no institutional power but supports Aristide and the 15% that has institutional power and hates Aristide is intractable. It isn't easy to offer up a platform that shares the interests of both when their interests are so thoroughly divided. The opposition has thus far refused the offered 'power sharing' arrangements as well as all other political solutions that retain some vestige of plural democracy. It also has the support of major foreign powers, which want to push their economic agenda, something Aristide et. al. have performed a bad dance routine around during a high wire act, balancing stringent economic 'reform' demanded by foreign donors (like, say, these and these - Haiti would probably have been better off refusing the aid altogether and plotting it's own course, but then it'd still be under the control of a US backed military junta), odious debt servicing to foreign debtors, and trying (some people seem to think he's trying, I'm not so sure, ye ole 4-Int sure doesn't think so) to enact policies that are in the interests of the majority of Haitians. After coup attempts and other assorted political violence organized by the wealthy elite and former army the impovershed masses have moved to defend themselves and the government they elected, resulting in the opposition and US press to declare Aristide "authoritarian": were the majority not willing to defend itself against elite insurrection there would merely be another coup. A tyranny of a minority is less democratic than a tyranny of the majority. When Washington demanded that the opposition work with the elected government it did so, having no other choice - now that power has changed hands in Washington there is no longer any reason to continue to compromise it's position, and can simply oust Aristide with foreign support in an effort to break the leadership of the mass-based Lavalas party.

    There has been widespread violence between political factions, but nobody has presented evidence that Aristide is responsible for spontaneous mob actions - perhaps there is some in the context of cyclic political violence, but the reporting hardly bothers with such trivial details, preferring blanket and unquestioned accusations.

    What with the withdrawal of international assistance years ago it's unclear whether his weakened government is actually capable of doing what outside agencies have asked. See the AI background paper:

    Throughout the period following the 1994 return of Aristide to the country's presidency, an international mission of the United Nations and, until it pulled out due to lack of funds in 1999, the Organization of American States, monitored and provided support to the security forces, the judiciary and the prison system. Limitations and drawbacks notwithstanding, it was credited with helping to create a climate in which Haitians could work toward strengthening these key institutions and instilling institutional respect for human rights. In the wake of the marked deterioration in the human rights situation during the 2000 elections, in February 2001 this police and human rights support presence was withdrawn by decision of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Some limited work is still carried out with the justice and prison systems by the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and in April Haiti once again formally requested UN assistance in addressing the outstanding human rights issues.(8) The UN Human Rights Commission pledged to consider the request seriously, but has yet to publicly announce any decision.

    At the time this was written [9/2001], a reported US$ 500 million(9) in international aid, covering multi- and bilateral programmes from most governments who have traditionally given funds to Haiti, is frozen. The suspension was imposed by donor governments in 1997 following allegations of electoral fraud involving some Senate races and the resignation of the then-Prime Minister, as mentioned above.

    Things fell apart, after a period of steady improvement, when OAS assistance was cutoff in 1999. According to HRW's report in 1997 human rights abuses by the Hatian police were serious, but uncoordinated:

    Some HNP agents and officers have demonstrated an alarming tendency to adopt the abusive practices of Haiti's past security forces. Yet these abuses did not appear to be systematically ordered by police authorities. Police violence reflects insufficient training, inadequate leadership, inexperience, and lack of equipment. In some cases, deadly force appears to have been used in legitimate self-defense.

    So what you've got now is an elected government incapable of maintaining order largely because it doesn't have the resources necessary to do so, so far as I can tell. They've nevertheless attempted to protect opposition demonstrations:

    Despite shrill opposition cries that Haiti is a dictatorship, Haitian police vigorously protected the same march from forays by pro-government crowds who feared the opposition demonstration would storm the National Palace. Police shot dead two government partisans.

    Beyond severing aid, according to Rep. Maxine Waters, the US also has a ban on equipment for Haiti's force of 5,000 police (among a population of 8 million). Presumably this is to prevent the police from failing to prevent political violence initiated by failed coup attempts.

    The US has some obvious options short of military intervention, which wasn't either necessary or desirable: assisting the elected government and ending it's lopsided support for the rebel-friendly opposition might be a nice start. France could hardly be said to be in any better a position for taking a credible stance as the colonial ruler prior to US colonial rule, and they're still harboring a down-and-out Baby Doc.

    Aristide could be described, by now, as a dogmatic neoliberal; as 'autocratic' by a libertarian, one supposes; he's made the country dependent on foreign aid by following foreigners' economic policies; and his government doesn't have a sparkling record on human rights. How much of that can really be blamed on him isn't clear, but he's nothing compared to what's in store if trained militias come marching into the capital wielding modern arms against 5,000 poorly equipped police who are running short on tear gas.

    But then, all the US had to do to stop that from happening today was ask.


:: posted by buermann @ 2004-02-29 03:45:14 CST | link





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