By Kevin Edmonds
Kevin Edmonds is a PhD student, at the University of Toronto and is affiliated with the Center for Critical Development Studies and the Caribbean Studies Program. He is also a member of the Campaign to end the Occupation of Haiti
Since Michel Martelly came to power in an election which was deeply fraught with inconsistencies and irregularities in early 2011, he has demonstrated his contempt for the democratic process by consistently subverting elections for domestic posts within Haiti at every available opportunity.
After a string of delays, on October 26, 2014, the Haitian people were supposed to vote for 20 new Senators, the entire lower house of parliament and numerous local officials. It did not happen. As a result, this means that the Haitian Senate and lower house is no longer functional, and when it comes to mayoral elections, 130 have been politically appointed over several years by the President as “municipal agents”.
The fallout from the crisis eventually led to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe stepping down on December 14, amid intense anti-government protest. Under Lamothe questions have also been raised about widespread fraud, as significant amounts of money have disappeared under his and Martelly’s watch.
Replacing Lamothe is the former mayor of Port au Prince, Evans Paul. According to the Haitian constitution, the Prime Minister must be approved by the Parliament – which has since dissolved as of January 12. For all intents and purposes it appeared that Martelly was going to begin a period of rule by decree.
On January 16, Martelly kept true to his unconstitutional pattern of behaviour and used his executive powers to appoint what he has termed a “consensus government”. Announcing the new government via Facebook, it is dominated by pro-Martelly appointments – leading many to question what consensus Martelly had in mind.
Among Martelly’s appointments are Carel Alexandre, as the new head of public security – who was removed from his post in 2012 due to pressure from human rights groups. The new planning minister, Yves Germain Joseph, was a senior official with the Duvalier regime. Simon Desras, the former Senate president stated that “There is not a real opening as promised… This isn’t solving the crisis and, worst, it’s bringing more problems.”
In an address to the nation Martelly tried his hand at political humour, stating that “The weakness of our institutions and in particular the failure of the … legislature, cannot and should not last. It is urgent to correct these deficiencies as soon as possible because the big loser in this crisis remains our Haitian nation.” The fact that he had been responsible for repeatedly delaying elections and undermining numerous government institutions seemed lost on Martelly.
On the same day that the “consensus government” was announced, US Vice President Joe Biden called Martelly. Given the increased investment in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, in which over US$10 billion was pledged, it would have been natural to expect greater scrutiny of the government’s action. This was not the case.
A press release from the White House stated that “The Vice President commended President Martelly for his efforts to reach a negotiated agreement with the Haitian parliament and political parties to allow Haiti to hold elections… The Vice President recognized that President Martelly made several important concessions in order to reach consensus, and expressed disappointment that Haiti’s Parliament did not pass an electoral law before lapsing on January 12.”
The message of support and sickening praise from Vice President Biden shouldn’t surprise many familiar with Haiti’s history, as the international community’s relationship with Haiti has been dominated by inconsistencies and hypocrisy.
The 2010 elections were the first to be held in post-earthquake Haiti, with many commentators considering them to be most important in Haiti’s history. Despite the fact that fourteen political parties were banned from participating in the election, the international community gave the process their stamp of approval – in addition to footing the bill. It was clear that whoever emerged out of this deeply flawed exercise, fraught with irregularities would have to submit to the demands of the numerous international investors and governments which were leading the neocolonial reconstruction process.
While the United States did warn Martelly that US$300 million in aid would be withheld if elections were not held back in April, Vice President Biden was much more conciliatory than his predecessors when it came to Haiti. While one should be wary of international pressure, sanction and intervention, the fact is that it is never implemented consistently.
Contrast this to the very vocal warnings given to the Preval and Aristide administrations after legislative and presidential elections in the year 2000 by both the United States and Canada. In January 2001, after the opposition boycotted the November 2000 presidential elections, the European Union cut off US$100 million in aid to Haiti.
During the May 2000 legislative elections – which the opposition had boycotted largely for economic and ideological reasons – there was a consolidation of Fanmi Lavalas’ control over local and national government, with clear majorities in the Chamber of Deputies (72 out of 83 seats) and nearly two thirds of 7,500 local positions. This led Orlando Marville, the chief of the Organization of American States mission in Haiti to remark that there were no grounds to challenge the validity of the vote, “Although deplorable, they were isolated incidents and cannot affect the results in any definitive manner”.
The United States quickly followed up by blocking US$500M of development loans to the country which played a major role in destabilizing the Aristide administration leading up to the 2004 coup (orchestrated and carried out by the United States, Canada and France). The International Community’s issue with Haiti was due to the methodology in which the votes were counted. Compare this to the soft reaction to Martelly’s outright refusal to hold elections for 3 years.
Without a doubt organizing legislative and senatorial elections will take time – and the date for the 2015 Presidential election has not been announced. It could very well be that Martelly is strategizing for an exit plan – as according to the Haitian constitution he cannot run for two consecutive terms. A major reason why elections have been repeatedly postponed is because a functioning democratic system in Haiti would allow for Martelly, his administration and his immediate family to be held accountable for the numerous accusations and allegations of fraud, financial mismanagement and political repression.
Arguably without the backing of the United States and the occupying forces of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Martelly’s administration would not have lasted this long. The international community was quick to rush in to Haiti after the earthquake, only to leave in place a political disaster which has created more scandals than schools, more pillaging than progress.