One Year After Aristide's Return
With a recently installed Parliament, the country is now receiving strong pressures to privatize everything in favor of a small group. In this moment when Haitians have finally managed to gain democratic control of their country, will they lose economic control over their resources?
Haiti-Latin America Encounter
One year after the constitutional government was restored by the United Nations forces, Haitians now have various concrete successes in their hands. Most important is the return of the government the people elected and, with it, the rule of law. Hand in hand with that is the end of the brutal murders and massacres by the military regime, and an opportunity to live in relative security. Haiti's historically repressive armed forces have been dissolved and a National Police that answers to civil power has been created. In addition, a new political space has opened up so that the millions of Haitians can freely associate, organize, express themselves and debate.
Two Major FrustrationsAt the same time, Haitians are experiencing serious frustrations in two areas: the application of justice and economic participation. Peasant, student, labor and grassroots organizations are mobilizing all over the country to demand a series of concrete actions from the government. They want an end to impunity and corruption and assurances that those who massively violated human rights during the three years of the military dictatorship will be brought to justice. They also want an economic model appropriate to Haiti to be implemented and developed, one that favors the poor peasant majorities and is open to national debate in an anti monopolistic context that allows for the diversification and democratization of property.
Yet another great concern of the people, given that Haiti's democratic future is threatened, is that the majority of the weapons that belonged to the armed forces and illegal paramilitary groups have not been collected. The Haitian government and both national and foreign human rights organizations continually requested the multinational UN forces and those of the United States to confiscate these weapons, but they never did it.
Problems with the IMFFor the Haitian people to have the economic model the country needs, Haiti must be able to negotiate its economic future with the international financial institutions. As in all impoverished countries, these institutions are now requiring implementation of their structural adjustment model.
In early October, the Haitian government refused to sign the letter of intent with these institutions before certain points were negotiated with them. With the signing of that letter, Haiti stands to receive $100 million from the IMF for balance of payments support and to import basic products such as petroleum and food to assure the country's functioning. In exchange, structural adjustment measures were required of the country, among them the controversial privatization of state companies. Haiti's new fiscal year began on October 1 and the government had to begin functioning without international financial support.
In a parallel move to force privatization, the US Agency for International Development suspended another $4.6 million that it had already committed to the Haitian government for balance of payment of support for the past fiscal year.
The privatization required in the letter of intent deviates from the proposals already agreed upon between the Haitian government and the international institutions. The government's main concern is to assure that any privatization of state goods be decided on using mechanisms of democratic process and that it be aimed at democratizing property, not concentrating it in few hands.
Which Privatization? The plan the government presented to international donors in Paris in January 1995 established that:
* The Privatization bill would be debated in Parliament;
* Privatization would be carried out in the framework of the anti monopoly regulations approved by the new Parliament;
* Special efforts would be made to assure the diversification and democratization of the state companies, making sure that they not end up concentrated in the hands of the small group of individuals that has traditionally monopolized the Haitian economy. Avoiding this concentration is Haitians' greatest interest.
The International Financial Corporation (IFC), affiliated with the World Bank, was contracted to make recommendations about the privatization of nine state enterprises. But the IFC, despite the priorities presented by the Haitian government in Paris and in other negotiations, has defined no clear mechanism that will assure democratization of the right to ownership of these enterprises.
Both Haiti's grassroots organizations and its new members of Parliament have criticized the privatization debate's lack of transparency, and have expressed concern about the contradiction inherent in the country's losing control of its national patrimony at the very time when Haitians have, for the first time in their history, achieved democratic control over their country.
The reality is dramatic. The recently installed Parliament has not yet had the opportunity to debate and approve either the privatization bill or the anti monopoly legislation, and has not even been able to study specific proposals regarding the state companies. Yet international pressure is getting stronger on Haiti to quickly implement the privatization program and other economic reforms that are in no way beneficial to this small Caribbean nation
The New ParliamentThe new Parliament that has this tremendous challenge before it was officially installed by President Jean Bertrand Aristide on October 18. It is made up of 27 senators and 79 deputies.
The Parliament's first priorities are ratification of the decisions taken by the executive branch while there was no legislative branch, ratification of Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh and her plan of action, decentralization of the country with the establishment of Casecs, or municipal councils, the formation of a Conciliation Commission charged with resolving differences between the executive and legislative branches, agreement on a National Budget, preparation of the organic laws of ministries and the official dissolution of the armed forces.
Fulfilling the forecasts made during the recent electoral process, the Lavalas coalition, which includes three political parties and various grassroots organizations, obtained the majority for its political platform in both chambers of Parliament. Eight other parties and several independent candidates are also represented, together with three other parties, represented by nine Senate members, that formed part of the previous legislature.
OAS: No FraudThere was confusion and disinformation about the parliamentary and municipal elections held in Haiti on June 25, and about the complementary voting that took place on August 13 and September 17.
A September 13 document by the Organization of American States' Electoral Observation Mission (OAS MOE) clears up the misunderstandings and false accusations about the first two elections. The OAS categorically states that there was no fraud in Haiti's elections: "To our faithful understanding, no type of organized fraud was carried out by the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP). Nor did we identify any attempt on the part of the CEP to favor any party in particular, either in the June 25 elections or in the complementary ones of August 13."
The OAS declares that the disorganization in the vote counting that could be seen in the departmental office of the West on the night of June 25 was not a sign of fraud, as Robert Pastor of the Carter Center suggested and declared to the media. "What we found on the night of June 25," says the OAS, "was a large number of electoral officials who were only trying to complete their work of counting votes and wanted to return to their homes after a long day with nothing to eat or drink. To an inexpert eye, there was disorganization and total chaos. But those with experience in Haiti's reality and who can speak Creole the OAS MOE observers, among others witnessed a creative effort by the electoral officials to conclude their task as efficiently as possible under difficult conditions. No OAS MOE observer reported having seen any incident of fraud that night. There were perhaps some technical problems, but there was no fraud."
The OAS also states that there was no significant boycott of the complementary August 13 elections or of the second round on September 17, despite the claims of some political party spokespeople. The Mission verified that only 6 out of 126 candidates decided not to participate in the second round. The other candidates developed electoral campaigns and sent party representatives to the voting tables. OAS observers monitored the candidates' participation and based their conclusions on the candidates' own campaign declarations and on the presence of candidates' representatives as observers at the voting tables.
The Parties: Three FamiliesThe OAS document analyzes the 27 Haitian political parties that participated in the elections, classifying them in three categories or "families":
* The family of September 30, 1991, the date of the military coup. It is made up of 20 "Duvalierist, neo Duvalierist and Macute parties, or those with rightwing conservative tendencies, which fomented, organized and approved the state coup that overthrew the constitutional government of President Aristide." All national and international observers predicted the electorate's firm rejection of parties that supported the coup regime.
* The family of October 15, 1994, the date of President Aristide's return to Haiti, which fought peacefully for the restoration of the constitutional order and for Aristide's physical return. According to the OAS analysis, the FNCD and KONAKOM which, together with the Lavalas coalition, make up this group were frustrated by the June results, which massively favored Lavalas. Both joined forces with the parties in the September 30 family to demand that the elections be annulled.
* The family of June 25, 1995, the date of the first round of elections. In this group are the parties whose members were elected to the new Parliament.
The OAS document was prepared before the final results were known, but it predicted a sweeping victory for the Lavalas coalition. It also forecast a possible victory of FNCD and KONAKOM candidates in certain districts, a probably total failure of the Duvalierist candidates and a victory for independent candidates, who would then be free to make alliances.
The document ends by making a strong point about the democratic and organizational capacity that the Haitian people have demonstrated in spite of so many years of dictatorships: "With respect to commentaries made or suggested by international observers about Haitians' incapacity to democratically organize themselves and accept the rules of democracy, it must be recalled that these people, 80% of whom are illiterate, have developed a notable social and political awareness during the past 15 years.
The Transcendental CasecsIf the Parliament is new, the newest and most significant of the political changes is the installation of new municipal governments. In the past, the only state presence in the provinces was the tax office and the military post, which reflected the government's only functions: repress the population and absorb its resources. The section chiefs acted like local dictators, employing para military personnel to terrorize the population. They were generally the owners of the regional lands and totally centralized all power: administrative, judicial and military, dependent only on the maximum national military authority.
Today the newly elected local representatives are seeking to establish a local power that responds to local needs. The municipality is for the first time administered by a municipal council known as a Casec, made up of three members elected by universal suffrage for a four year term, and headed by a mayor. The implanting of the Casec system for rural administration is surely the most transcendental action of all those taken to build democracy in Haiti.
The new Casecs have already assumed their functions across the country. They face enormous challenges in carrying out the changes that are indispensable to improving the national situation and favoring the participation of the citizenry. They also lack financial and material resources, technical and administrative training and infrastructure. They do not even have public archives.
Virtually no municipality collects enough taxes to cover even a minimum of its operations. It is now necessary to channel financial, technical and human resources to the rural zones to resolve local needs. It is also indispensable to establish mechanisms so that the national government can collect funds and disburse them to the municipal governments and also develop technical training programs in planning, administration and agricultural extension at a local level.
Parliament should debate and approve a law regulating the organization and activities of the new Territorial Assemblies, to which power and public services can be decentralized. This law should clearly define the new relationship between the state and the municipalities and should assure regional autonomy.
Doesn't the US Want Justice? Even though financial and technical resources were agreed to for supporting Haiti's judicial reform, according to various sources the United States has not provided effective support so that those responsible for the 5,000 murders and other massive human rights abuses that occurred during the three years of the coup government can be judicially processed.
An article in the October 4 10 issue of Haiti's Creole newsweekly Libhte (Liberty), titled "Who Is Blocking the Judicial Apparatus?" points out that the US government is responsible for the fact that the principal coup leaders Raúl Cedras, Michel Francois, Emmanuel Constant, Louis Jodel Chamblain, Marcel Morissaint, Gros Fanfan and others have not been brought to justice. Its presumed aim is to keep under wraps US government involvement in the plot that surrounded the coup.
In addition, an October 10 Inter Press Service article states that the Pentagon refused to turn over 60,000 pages of documents seized from the offices of the paramilitary group FRAPH by the US troops that invaded the country in 1994. The FRAPH, created in 1993, organized and participated in a large number of assassinations, tortures, illegal detentions and rapes during the military regime.
According to Michael Ratner, a US lawyer who specializes in human rights, these documents could contain crucial information about who financed the FRAPH and about the numerous acts of torture and murder its members are accused of. Such information would be of great help to the National Truth and Justice Commission that is examining what occurred during the three years of the coup regime.
Haiti Is No Garbage DumpThe United States has another pending responsibility in Haiti. It is still refusing to remove the 2,000 4,500 tons of toxic ash from Philadelphia's municipal incinerators that were deposited in Gonaives eight years ago. On October 2, US troops moved into Gonaives, where an open concrete dump contains this dangerous waste. But they did not go to remove the ashes, as the government and all environmentally concerned Haitians expected. They went to study the possibility of building a new dump. They insist that these ashes do not contain toxic materials.
The cargo ship Khian Sea, after spending a year searching for some place in the Caribbean to dump its poisonous load, deposited it on Gonaives' beaches in December 1987. The military government of General Henry Namphy permitted the unloading, even after Greenpeace and even the US Environmental Protection Agency had analyzed the ashes and concluded that they were extremely dangerous. Haitians have been suffering the effects ever since, as have the zone's marine life and animals such as goats that graze in the contaminated area. The ashes are endangering the health of the 5,000 residents of the place chosen as a garbage dump. The zone's inhabitants are prohibited from using the salt from the local dryers and cannot fish for either their own consumption or commerce.
Haitian national and local organizations, together with international ones, have pressured the US government. Some 40 such organizations took out a full page ad in a Haitian newspaper during President Clinton's visit to Haiti, asking him to keep his commitment to the environment and procure the removal of the toxic ashes through an executive order. The organizations are also demanding that the United States ratify the Basel Convention, which prohibits countries of the North using the countries of the South as garbage dumps for their own toxic waste.