A Population Still Unsatisfied
The Haitian people are still unsatisfied with their democracy. There is much disappointment, but also much reflection. The new local authorities play a responsible role. There is a pause, but the people remain active.
If Haitian President René Preval were to run again for election right now against the same opponents he had in December 1995, he would still win but only as the "lesser evil." This is the conclusion of various members and cadres of the grassroots movement questioned by SICRAD after five months under the new government.
Elected on December 17, 1995, under the banner of the Lavalas Political Platform (PPL), 53 year old agronomist René Preval took office on February 5, 1996. Five months later, the first impression is that the vast majority of the population is unsatisfied. It is enough to eavesdrop on conversations in the streets of Port au Prince to realize that controlled disappointment prevails.
"The Preval government is characterized by an absence of social intervention," commented one grassroots cadre. "The current leaders are more worried about the macro. For them, reform isn't understood as social services. They prefer to dedicate their efforts to laying the basis for the development of capitalism in Haiti, accepting that today it is the dominant system in the overall framework of neoliberalism. With Aristide, on the other hand, we felt a social concern, even if it was demagogic."
Some members of grassroots organizations underscore that "our leaders accept the orders from abroad without vacillating." The selection of Rosny Smarth as Prime Minister gave a grassroots nuance to Preval's government, since this 56 year old agro economist who comes out of the popular education camp seemed close to the grassroots sectors. Nonetheless, on April 15, only a few weeks after her appointment, Smarth headed up the Haitian delegation in negotiations in Port au Prince with the international financing institutions aimed at establishing the economic reforms.
The projects submitted for parliamentary consideration were the result of these negotiations, and reflect the government's true priorities: public administration reform (with the layoff of 7,500 employees), privatization of the state enterprises, reform of the financial system and fiscal reform. In exchange, the international institutions will guarantee Haiti around a billion dollars in aid over three years.
The chosen economic road is risky and the Lavalas legislative majority is in crisis. At the beginning of July, bickering in Congress; mid July, Senate vice president Samuel Madistin (of Lavalas) resigned on the grounds of disagreement over the procedures for presenting bills. The Chamber of Deputies could not pull together the quorum needed to hold a session.
In this laxness, explained Madistin, the parliamentarians were supposed to push through laws on reforms, even though the thousand page report on the situation of Haiti's state enterprises prepared by the International Financial Corporation--linked to the World Bank--had not been made available to them.
Prior to that, 38 organizations, among them socio professional and human rights NGOs, asked the legislators to stop passing laws and agreements for the implementation of the structural adjustment program. In an open letter to the parliamentarians on May 20, another dozen peasant, union, socio professional and youth organizations expressed their rejection of the law to privatize certain public enterprises. The letter stressed that the privatization program could cause the loss of 15,000 state jobs.
Lavalas: the Real OppositionThe situation created by the economic options the new government took has turned the Lavalas movement into the real political opposition. "The government will have to modify its policy and even its objectives, although the rightwing opposition won't get any better," commented one intellectual.
The heads of parties and other organizations grouped in the Lavalas Platform--the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), Louvri Bayre Party (PLB), Organizational Movement of the Country (MOP), Grand Anse Resistance Committee (COREGA)--have a lot of trouble coordinating their parliamentary representatives. This lack of control, however, is less serious than it might be were the context not marked by the weakness of the other political sectors. Observers believe that during the government's first five months, the Duvalierist opposition has not managed to resurface.
A victim of its balkanization, lack of vision and legacy of a strongly rejected past, Duvalierism has no weight in the population. The defenders of this tendency, now hiding in the shadows, have always been inept at participating in democracy. During the Preval government, former President Prosper Avril, a retired general, has been hounded by conspiracies. And at the end of July, retired general Claude Raymond was arrested for subversive activities.
As for the other opposition sectors, they are only able to maintain some limited presence. Roundly defeated by Lavalas in the elections, the economic negotiations have at least given them a good opportunity to speak up in the public debates. Victor Benoit of the National Congress of Democratic Movements (CONACOM) demanded government transparency in the economic programs, and Evans Paul of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), a party affected by internal divisions, called for popular mobilizations against the government's economic program, as did Reynold George, a partisan of the military coup makers. Marc Bazin, former de facto prime minister and number one in the Movement for the Installation of Democracy in Haiti (MIDH), declared that "not all privatizations are good."
For all that, the speeches and attitudes of these political leaders have very little impact on the population. "All of them would be worse than Preval and Smarth," summed up a member of one feminist organization.
Grassroots ResponseThe grassroots sectors are going through a certain demobilization, if one compares their current vitality with that of the period before the September 1991 coup. "Many dropouts, disappointments and disillusionments have been registered," said one social worker.
"The grassroots sectors are in a phase of updating their programs and struggle strategies," added another organizational member. The multiple disappointments haven't produced generalized discouragement, but have obliged some reflection. One can observe a pause. The people remain active."
The social worker stressed that "one example is that the local powers are beginning to assume more responsibility. The organized sectors are taking over the Territorial Collectivities as genuine spaces of control."
People are waiting for local elections to implement the Territorial Assemblies, first at the level of the communal section, the country's smallest administrative unit. After that will come the Communal, Departmental and Interdepartmental Assemblies. This process should culminate with the formation of the Permanent Electoral Council.
Security and InsecuritySecurity is another important issue for the Preval government. A climate of security is indispensible for foreign investments to take off in the country, as the head of state and his prime minister reiterate constantly.
Initiatives are multiplying to assure this security. The new National Police of Haiti (PNH), which currently has 5,300 agents, has been deployed all over the country. By the end of 1996, the number of PNH agents could reach 6,000.
At issue is the consolidation of a police force that could take over from the United Nations Mission, whose mandate has already been extended twice at the Haitian government's request. The foreign troops should pull out of the country at the end of November 1996. In both the capital and the most distant corners of the country today, "everyone can recognize a progression of the insecurity," Father Daniel Roussière said in June. Roussière is a high level member of Justice and Peace, the human rights defense organization of the Catholic Church.
The population is still being threatened by terrorist activities. On July 7 and 8, four people were killed, 11 houses were burned, crops were destroyed and the throats of cattle were slit in a series of actions that the police were unable to control.
"How will the police be able to guarantee the security of the citizenry if they can't even guarantee it in their own organization?" queried a member of a youth group. Several murder and kidnapping cases have been registered in recent months, among them those of six policemen and the mayor of Chansolme, Erla Jean François. The police agents' killers have not been found.
Pressures coming from human rights organizations have led to a progressive cleansing of the PNH, which has removed from its ranks a number of former military officers suspected of human rights violations. By June 173 agents had been punished and 15 were expelled for serious violations.
The Judicial Branch: "Rotten Oranges"As human rights defenders have verified, the judicial reform is at a standstill. These groups believe that the failure of the United States to return the 160,000 pages of files on the Front for Haitian Advance and Progress (FRAPH) and the old army is "one way of encouraging insecurity and impeding the good functioning of the Haitian judicial system."
That system is still waiting for the kick off of a serious reform. Meanwhile, some "rotten oranges," as Father Roussière calls corrupt judges, should be removed. Other observers stress the fact that the Justice and Truth Commission's final report, turned over to President Aristide as he was ending his term, has still not been published.
Neither Demagogic Nor CorruptOne good thing done by the Preval government has been its relations with Cuba and the conversations it is maintaining with China. A real foreign policy, however, is yet to be defined.
Another good thing about the new government, according to some analysts, is its "honesty and seriousness." This means that the current leaders cannot be pinned with either demagogy or corruption. In this regard, arrest orders were issued in May against 45 individuals running a network of scam artists operating with forged checks in public administration, including the Ministry of Finances.
In addition, a vast operation to collect unpaid taxes has considerably increased fiscal and customs income. In April, both categories added up to over $8 million.
When asked in July to assess the first five months of the Preval Smarth experience, former President Jean Bertrand Aristide responded, "I prefer to continue observing." Opinions are divided about his own political future, but there is agreement that Aristide, who is only 42 years old, still has significant influence over the evolution of events. He continues calling Haitians to "unity, dialogue, the good sense that the democratic spirit cultivates."