Friday, November 26, 2010

Supporting a sham: The international community and Haiti’s elections

A statue of Henri Christophe, one of Haiti’s revolutionary leaders, surrounded by the Champ de Mars camp.

Supporting a Sham: The International Community and Haiti's Elections
By: Kevin Edmonds
The Straight

The normally bustling streets of Port-au-Prince are unnaturally quiet and tense today (November 26), as if the people are preparing in advance for the arrival of a storm. The upcoming elections in Haiti on Sunday (November 28) hold the potential to push Haiti over the edge, adding political fuel to the multiple crises the nation is already facing. Despite this, the international community has committed to supporting and spending millions on an election which has been widely criticized—both within Haiti and abroad—as illegitimate due pervasive allegations of fraud and the unconstitutional exclusion of 14 political parties.

The winner of the election will be responsible for the colossal task of rebuilding the nation’s shattered infrastructure and psyche after the January 12 earthquake and the ongoing cholera epidemic. To overcome these tremendous challenges, Haiti needs both an aggressive and progressive plan to move the country out of its present desperation through the building of strong state institutions and the development of widespread, basic social services. However, the current election is based on exclusion, clearly undermining the democratic process the Haitian people have sacrificed so much to obtain.

As pointed out by Dan Beeton in the Los Angeles Times, the hypocrisy of the international community in criticizing rigged elections in Burma but not in Haiti is highly troubling. Without a doubt it is due to the fact that international capital has yet to penetrate Burma, but has been given a blank slate in Haiti through the development of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Committee and decades of neoliberal policy implementation. The international community needs a leader which will rubber-stamp all of their lucrative and self-serving investment and development initiatives. At the time of writing, Haiti has the most privatized social-service sector in the Americas, with some 80 percent of the country’s basic services provided by the private sector through nongovernmental organizations.

The international community and the Haitian elite have successfully eliminated the most progressive and most popular political party—also their largest obstacle—through the banning of Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas was strong within Haiti’s most impoverished commu­ni­ties because they pro­moted the wide­spread build­ing of pri­mary social ser­vices such as health care and edu­ca­tion, attempted to halt the pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic util­i­ties, and worked to raise the country’s low min­i­mum wage—all poli­cies that should be res­ur­rected to help the Haitian people, but remain widely absent from any of the international community’s reconstruction proposals.

In addition to electoral undermining, the political climate has been very oppressive to popular protest—as the recent cholera protests in both Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince were met with violence from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Despite their declaration of peacekeeping, MINUSTAH has taken a political stance in the country, actively opposing the kinds of policies that Lavalas was promoting before their violent ousting in 2004.

The Haitian people deserve peace and stability in order to rebuild, but in their current form, the November 28 elections are an electoral coup d’état engineered by the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council with the support of the international community. The pathway to democracy for the Haitian people has been barricaded by the actions of MINUSTAH, the CEP, and the international community, leaving little institutional space for the Haitian people to express their voices. After all of the Haitian people have been through this year, to expect any more patience from the Haitian people is both naïve and dangerous. International support for the rigged election process may just be reaching the climax of how much the Haitian people can take before they collectively push back.

Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition in Hamilton. He is in Port-au-Prince with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

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