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Haiti’s Descent to Electoral Authoritarianism

By Henry (Chip) Carey

Haitians rioted violently in the capital Port-au-Prince and across the country on Monday to protest fraud in this past autumn’s elections and in this Sunday’s presidential vote. While the opposition candidate continues his boycott of the elections he credibly calls a “farce,” the U.S. still supports the results.

Writing in this blog four years ago, I warned that President Michel Martelly was beginning to transform Haiti back into the Duvalier dictatorship that lasted from 1957 until 1986. This time, however, the autocracy has a democratic façade. With the rigging of the first rounds of the presidential and legislative elections and continued delays in holding local elections—now five years overdue—that process is nearly complete.

The second round of Haiti’s presidential election, currently scheduled for Jan. 24, 2016, will be boycotted by opposition parties. Jude Celestin, who is challenging the ruling party’s candidate Jovenel Moise, leads the boycott. Because of international pressure, Celestin was eliminated from the final round of presidential voting in March 2011. Now, Celestin holds that the first-round presidential election in October 2015, which he lost to the ruling party’s candidate Jovenel Moise, was plagued by voting fraud, which also produced a new parliament without even a single female. The second round election, originally supposed to take place on Dec. 27, 2015, was postponed despite an apparent constitutional mandate to inaugurate the president by Feb. 7. Postponement of elections is all too common in Haitian elections, and the delays can last months, or even years.

In October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefly visited Haiti before the first round of presidential elections. Kerry insisted to Haitian officials that the massive chaos that prevailed in the legislative elections in early August not be repeated. The electoral process during the day, while Kerry was watching, was credible. However, after the polling closed and the voting began, the lack of neutrality and independence from the incumbent president in the electoral commission became evident.

Independent audits by journalists of voters’ tally sheets show that upward of 70 to 80 percent were irregular or otherwise altered. A survey of 1,770 tally sheets for the Oct. 25, 2015 first-round presidential election revealed that 57 percent lacked the required signatures; 30 percent of the ballots had the wrong identity numbers; 46 percent of the numbers on voters’ lists were false; 73 percent of the electoral disputes that occurred during voting were not reported on the official reporting forms; and only 26 percent of those of voting age were registered to vote. Even by Haitian electoral standards, this was brazen robbery.

Notably, besides Kerry’s brief visit to Haiti in the fall, there has been barely a word of U.S. criticism of this year’s electoral fraud, also known as magouille. The U.S., which has largely funded Haiti’s recent elections, has enormous influence on the country's electoral process. Each election costs about $40 million, more than what the U.S. provides in foreign aid to about half the world’s countries.

This silence is atypical of U.S. foreign policy towards Haiti. In the 2010 presidential elections, held less than a year after the nation’s catastrophic earthquake, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended her overseas trip to Cairo during the momentous Arab Spring to travel to Port-au-Prince. Clinton made her presidential preferences clear, having the candidate from then-incumbent president Rene Preval’s party, Celestin, removed based on flimsy evidence of magouille. Because votes were subtracted from Preval’s disqualified candidate, U.S.-favored Michel Martelly, who had actually finished in fourth place in the first round, qualified for the run-off of the top two finishers, after the second-place finisher, Celestin, was deemed to have cheated and the third place finisher mysteriously withdrew. Martelly won the run-off election in March 2011.

With the incumbent party refusing to implement electoral reforms necessary for a credible final round of elections, an opposition boycott, a tiny voter turnout, and the assertion by the ruling party that Moise now will have a national mandate for consolidated power, supported by U.S. recognition of this election process as legitimate, will return the country to the chaos surrounding the previous elections in 2010-2011. When the last boycotted vote occurred in December 1995, the incumbent president Jean Bertrand Aristide began a process of authoritarian consolidation, calling the shots behind the presidential throne for his figurehead successor until he was able to return to power five years later in 2000.

In 2004, Aristide was, depending on one’s viewpoint, either overthrown in a popular uprising, a U.S.-backed coup, or some political theater. He was confronted by violent elements supported by the International Republican Institute, a quasi-nongovernmental organization financed by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. However, this quasi-coup d’état occurred only after years of assassinations, armed intimidation, and arson against critics from opposition political parties, mass media, and advocacy organizations. Additionally, Aristide had used his rule to avail himself and his wife of opportunities for kickbacks, embezzlement, and extortion.

This time, incumbent President Martelly has his own figurehead, President Jovenel Moise, who will do his bidding over the next five years while Martelly calls the shots. In five years’ time, Martelly or his son Olivier will be in a position constitutionally to try to re-assume the presidency. Even if the family gains power, they will be able to protect their corrupt wealth from investigation and prosecution.

Martelly has made mincemeat of the constitution. Instead of holding local elections, he has been appointing cronies and party hacks to mayoral offices nationwide since 2011. These officials are often replaced yearly after making their money, giving them barely enough time to learn the job. The constitution requires that elections be held for mayoralities, but five years of negligence has not stopped the hypocritical demand of the U.S.-backed Martelly that presidential elections be held now, despite much worse electoral conditions than in 2010.

Enforcers in the Haitian Presidential Palace, often called the  “White House,” including security guards for mayors, hire former Macoutes and Zinglindos, colloquial names for the armed extortionists dating to the Duvalier militia to make sure that opposition movements do not become too prominent. Those who protest this corruption suffer the consequences with loss of property, or even life. An example of this political cycle of corruption is illustrated in the story of the Tabarre mayorality, a commune in the capital near the massive U.S. Embassy. Martelly has changed the mayor of Tabarre four times since 2011. After each mayor accumulates personal wealth through political rule, Martelly brings in another incumbent. Thugs linked to Martelly continued to work for each mayor as security guards or chauffeurs, lest any opposition arise. The ruling party has also sought to encourage splintering in Aristide’s leftist Lavalas movement in Tabarre and across the country. One opposition advocate in Tabarre, Jean-Claude Joseph, was murdered in the street in August after speaking out in public protests.

Martelly is surrounded by the children of the Duvalier elite, with whom he attended racially segregated schools and who have since become cabinet officials. The former compa musical performer, “Sweet Mickey,” has done whatever is needed to keep power: employing selective assassination, rigging the vote, and intimidating the opposition.

The U.S., Canada, France, and Venezuela, as well as the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, have been actively involved in Haiti’s elections since 1990. At this point, these states and organizations need to acknowledge the lack of credibility of the presidential and legislative elections so far. They should offer to mediate the participation of opposition presidential and legislative candidates by requiring a credible voter registration process; provide sufficient credentials for opposition party and neutral observers at all stages of vote; help count and verify tally sheets; and provide ink, which has been used in the past to prevent multiple voting.

Barring the Haitian parliament refusing to recognize Moise’s election (which is conceivable), the international community’s choice to ignore the boycotted election shows that it is only interested in keeping Haiti off its front pages.

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Henry (Chip) Carey is a professor of political science at Georgia State University. He has been present for most of Haiti's national elections since 1987, and is the author or editor of numerous academic articles on Haiti.

[Photo courtesy of Cancillería del Ecuador]

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