The resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille three days ago is a blow to the legitimacy of the political regime carefully put into place by the dominant foreign powers in Haiti during the months following the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
Conille’s appointment last September ended a political stalemate between the neo-Duvalierist forces grouped around President Michel Martelly and an elected legislature unwilling to accept a nomination from that quarter to prime minister. Under Haiti’s constitution, the prime minister is appointed by the president and it is he or she who then forms a government, appoints ministers, etc. The constitution empowers the legislature to accept or reject the president’s nominee.
Much of the time and attention of the regime of President Michel Martelly during its ten months in power has been consumed by jockeying for a greater political role than its meager electoral support allows. Twice last spring and summer, the Legislature rejected Martelly’s first two appointments, both prominent rightists during the two years of illegal government following a coup d’etat in February 2004. Now it is back to square one for the neo-Duvalierists.
But time is running out because the political paralysis created by yet another search for a prime minister will have serious consequences for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the earthquake still waiting for a promised reconstruction of the country and renewal of their lives. They are unlikely to remain patient and quiescent. They are, in fact, increasingly raising their voices against the political direction of the country.
Canada’s hypocritical concerns
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird issued a statement on Conille’s resignation that said, “Canada deeply regrets the resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille… The absence of a prime minister causes further instability at a time when the Haitian people face serious hardship in rebuilding their livelihoods and their country.”
The statement concluded, “Haitian leaders need to demonstrate a firm and unwavering commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law.”
Most Haitians will find the latter sentence insulting, if not laughable. Canada backed the paramilitary coup of 2004 against the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide that was elected by an overwhelming majority in late 2000. The coup was preceded by a three-year embargo of aid and development loans to the government.
Canada has been a leading force, along with the U.S. and Europe, in the UN Security Council police and military occupation regime that has effectively run Haiti ever since.
The foreign powers were the architects and financiers of the two-round election of 2010/2011 that brought President Michel Martelly to power and which has caused much of the current paralysis.
The dust from the earthquake had barely settled when the foreign powers in Haiti began to press for national elections. Once again, these would exclude representatives of Haiti’s poor majority from taking part. Fifteen political parties were excluded, notably the Fanmi Lavalas party of the exiled Aristide.
As Wikileaks documents that were published last year in Haiti Liberté newspaper and The Nation magazine reveal, plans for exclusion elections were in motion prior to January 12, 2010. They went ahead as planned in November 2010 despite stiff opposition by Haitians and by many international observers who opposed the exclusions of political parties and said the infrastructure to allow voters to register and cast ballots was inadequate. 1
Wikileaks revealed that Canadian and U.S. representatives in Haiti expressed reservations during discussions in late 2009 and again in 2010 about electoral exclusions decided by the country’s provisional electoral commission (appointed by the outgoing president).2 But as Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives reported in an article in Haiti Liberté dated June 8, 2011, reservations were set aside and the election went ahead. Coughlin and Ives wrote,
“(U.S.) Ambassador Merten urged a minimal donor reaction to the (Fanmi Lavalas) exclusion, saying they should just ‘hold a joint press conference to announce donor support for the elections and to call publicly for transparency’ because ‘without donor support, the electoral timetable risks slipping dangerously, threatening a timely presidential succession.'”
The foreign powers, explained the authors, decided to support the holding of elections despite concerns that the country’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), “almost certainly in conjunction with President Préval,” had unwisely and unjustly excluded the country’s largest party, the Lavalas Family.
“The meeting of representatives from the European Union and United Nations with ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, Spain and the U.S., decided to knowingly move ahead with the flawed polling because ‘the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections,’ in the words of the EU representative, according to U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten’s cable…
“This history made Canadian Ambassador Gilles Rivard worry at the Dec. 1, 2009 donor meeting that ‘support for the elections as they now stand would be interpreted by many in Haiti as support for Préval and the CEP’s decision against Lavalas.’ He said that the CEP had reneged on a pledge to ‘reconsider their exclusion of Lavalas.’
“‘If this is the kind of partnership we have with the CEP going into the elections, what kind of transparency can we expect from them as the process unfolds?’ Rivard asked. The donors were concerned only about appearances in the case of the Lavalas exclusion, the cable makes clear. But they were mostly worried about strengthening ‘the opposition’ (code for ‘right-wing’) which, for them, Préval had ’emasculated.’ The EU and Canada therefore proposed that donors ‘help level the playing field’ by doing things like ‘purchase radio air time for opposition politicians to plug their candidacies.’ Otherwise, the right-wing ‘will cease to be much of a meaningful force in the next government.'”
The election was funded entirely by Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Political interference only deepened after the first round on November 28, 2010. Michel Martelly finished third and was therefore ineligible for the second-round runoff. But the second place finisher, Jude Célestin, was favored by the outgoing president, René Préval, who had fallen into the bad books of the U.S. because of his good relations with Venezuela.
The Organization of American States (an agency that Cuba terms Washington’s ‘Ministry of Colonial Affairs’) was then brought into the picture to pressure and cajole the electoral council to change the results and award second place to Martelly. The council’s president bowed to the pressure. His decision was never approved by a majority of the council, as required by law. 3
Michel Martelly handily won the second round of the presidential election, on March 20, 2011. But it was a pyrrhic victory for the neo-Duvalierists, for their political ambitions exceed their mandate and credibility among Haitians.
Their political standing is also wearing thin among international backers, though likely not enough to overly concern them. Canada, for example has criticized the slow pace of earthquake reconstruction under Martelly and says it does not support his project to re-found a Haitian army (abolished by Aristide in 1995).
A prescient warning of the harmful consequences of staging an undemocratic election was written by Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and published two weeks prior to the first-round vote. His article also reminded readers of the letter written one month earlier by 45 members of the U.S. Congress to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warning that supporting flawed elections “will come back to haunt the international community” by generating unrest and threatening the implementation of earthquake reconstruction projects.
So Haiti now waits in suspense as the ‘stability’ created by the foreign powers following the earthquake sits deeply shaken. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in unimaginably difficult conditions while the Martelly administration dilly dallies. Stirring in the background of this spectacle, the Haitian people are mustering their will and resources for a renewed battle to win back the government of sovereignty and social justice that was stolen from them in 2004.
Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and can be reached at rogerannis (at) hotmail.com.
1. For a recent article on the shelter crisis, see article here.
2. For the full archive of ‘WikiHaiti’ articles, see http://canadahaitiaction.ca/wikileaks (in French at http://canadahaitiaction.ca/wikifrancais)
3. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is of dubious legality to begin with. The 1987 Constitution of Haiti provides for a permanent electoral council to be representative of the different regions and social classes of the country. It has never been formed; instead, successive presidents have appointed a provisional council.