Haiti: Crisis Upon Crisis

By Fulton Armstrong

Haiti OAS

OAS Secretary General Almagro visits Haiti. Photo Credit: OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons

Haiti is stumbling, again, from one crisis into another, but the timing of this ongoing mess puts the United States and other international partners in a particularly bad position.  The country’s political institutions are dysfunctional, without an elected executive nor fully legitimate legislature, and efforts to rebuild them continue to be haphazard.  Under Interim President Jocelerme Privert (formerly leader of the Senate), the government has missed another deadline for resolving disputes over the first round of presidential elections held last October and re-running them or scheduling the second round.  Instead, Privert, who assumed the Presidency in February, on 28 April formed a five-member “verification panel” to take yet another look at allegations of first-round fraud and determine which candidates should participate in the runoff, with a 30-day deadline.  The deadline for Privert to step down passed on 14 May.

  • The move coincides with growing perceptions that Privert is enjoying the perquisites of the job and may be dragging things out on purpose. Both sides to the contested elections – supporters of Jovenel Moïse, former President Martelly’s hand-picked successor, and the opposition party’s Jude Célestin – are mobilizing crowds, some numbering thousands, for almost-daily protests.  Calls for Privert to resign are growing intense as suspicions of his own ambitions and imputed bias for or against one of the candidates surge.  Several dozen gunmen, allegedly directed by an enemy of Privert, shot up a police station in the southern city of Les Cayes earlier this week, resulting in six dead.
  • International reactions to Privert’s delays have been mixed but predictably of frustration.  The former leader of an official OAS mission to Haiti in early April supported the verification process, and OAS Secretary General Almagro said recently that elections “shouldn’t be rushed.”  But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month condemned “this process of delay” and urged Haiti’s “so-called leaders” to act.  His Special Coordinator for Haiti Affairs, veteran diplomat Kenneth Merten, called the new verification process a “black box” and said it was “opaque and non-democratic.”

The political mess coincides with other serious challenges.

  • The World Food Program (WFP) is increasingly concerned about hunger caused by a three-year drought, aggravated by El Niño, and the country’s economic situation. Some 3.6 million Haitians (one third of the population) face “food insecurity,” including 1.5 million who are “severely food insecure.”  A U.S. program to send Haiti surplus peanuts, which is one of Haitian farmers’ most successful crops, has deflated prices and further hurt local food production.
  • Shortages of medical supplies, worsened by corruption, have prompted doctors to conduct strikes. High-profile cases, including the death of a bleeding pregnant woman at the entrance of the Port-au-Prince General Hospital, have led to dramatic demonstrations, on at least one occasion parading around a victim’s corpse.
  • Fear of spread of the Zika virus is rampant. The University of Florida recently confirmed that Zika was present in Haiti before the outbreak in Brazil last year.  (Carried by the same mosquito, Aedes aegypti, it was mistakenly identified as chikungunya, which has almost identical symptoms except microencephaly.)  Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which has killed 9,200 people since 2010, continues to claim about 50 lives a month, according to some estimates.

The usual threats by the United States and Haiti’s other international partners to suspend aid if the government doesn’t resolve the political impasse have been muted presumably because they’re unlikely to be credible while such major threats to Haitian citizens’ wellbeing loom large.  Haiti’s political and economic elites assume that the outsiders will care for the Haitian people and continue bailing the country out while they pursue their internecine struggles.  Former President Martelly, who is not free from blame for the elections impasse, has been in Miami these days to promote his autobiography ($50 a copy) and reestablish himself as a naughty boy Kompa musician.  The international community is, once again, in a lose-lose situation.  A previous caretaker government, headed by Gérard Latortue, lasted two years (2004-2006).  The United States and others can ill afford a deeper humanitarian disaster, so while Haitian elites fiddle, outsiders will try to put out the fires.

May 19, 2016

Haiti: Postponed Elections, Ever-Deepening Crisis

By Emma Fawcett*

Haiti Elections 2016

Photo Credit: mackendy mentor, Kurious, and KeshtoKar (modified) / YouTube, Pixabay, and Wikimedia Commons / Licensed for noncommercial reuse

Postponement of Haiti’s protracted electoral process has triggered a seemingly existential crisis.  The January 24 vote, a runoff to select a president, was postponed indefinitely in the face of violent protests challenging the legitimacy of the first round in October.  Those elections trimmed the field of 54 presidential candidates down to two: President Martelly’s hand-picked successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moïse, and opposition candidate Jude Célestin.  While that round was mostly peaceful and the vote tallies were upheld by most outside observers (including the OAS), Haitian human rights groups and dissidents cited widespread cases of fraud and other irregularities.  Célestin disputed the count and boycotted the runoff, which he says Martelly rigged to install Moïse.  Martelly has dismissed the accusations, and the embattled Provisional Electoral Council has been unable to assuage the opposition alliance’s concerns.  Last week’s postponement of the runoff was the second, but the clock is ticking louder now because Martelly is scheduled to, and reaffirmed his intent to, step down on February 7.

  • The postponement triggered international pleas for a speedy resolution. The U.S. State Department condemned “electoral intimidation, destruction of property, and violence”; while the OAS, the UN, and the EU all issued calls for Haitians to come together to end the crisis.

International efforts to foster elections as a means of laying groundwork for political and economic stability in Haiti have repeatedly stumbled, even when stretching the rules to accommodate Haitian reality.  The OAS and the State Department intervened on Martelly’s behalf in the 2011 election by pushing him into the runoff and asking opponents to stand down.  In addition to providing up to $4 billion dollars in economic and reconstruction aid, the United States has since spent more than $30 million on the elections, and continued to push for them to go ahead as recently as January 21.  But these efforts have backfired, as members of opposition parties, the Haitian private sector, and the Catholic Church regard the electoral process as illegitimate and increasingly resent what they feel is U.S. interference.  The political crisis also jeopardizes economic development that Washington has encouraged.  Royal Caribbean, a cruise line that leases a recreational area on Haiti’s northern coast, skipped its port call in Labadie several times over the past week because small boats of protesters approached its ships. Protesters also threw rocks at the windows of the new Marriott hotel in Port-au-Prince.

Haitian democracy is – yet again – at a perilous juncture.  Martelly’s departure from office on February 7 will be disruptive, but his strong-arm tactics and entourage of shady characters threatened a peaceful transition of power anyway.  (His critics point out that an extension of his term in office is what he has sought all along.)  U.S. officials have spoken publicly of a transitional government emerging, but selecting one and imbuing it with credibility will be a massive task.  Business leaders have proposed that a “consensus” prime minister head an interim government for six months, during which a new Electoral Council would coordinate new elections, but the negotiations lack transparency.  If the government, the protesters, and the business community are unable to reach an agreement – as seems likely at this point – Haiti will face a power vacuum with increased violence that will be even more difficult to resolve. 

January 28, 2016

*Emma Fawcett is a PhD candidate in International Relations at American University.  Her doctoral thesis focuses on the political economy of tourism and development in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Mexican Caribbean.

Haiti: Elections Better than Expected?

By Emma Fawcett*

Photo Credit: Haiti Innovation / Flickr / Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Haiti Innovation / Flickr / Creative Commons

Security and logistics for Haiti’s October 25 elections went much better than expected, but the results – preliminarily announced this week but likely to face challenges – will probably leave many Haitians disappointed.  With 54 presidential candidates and 6,000 other candidates for legislative and local positions, party monitors outnumbered voters at some polling stations.  The Observatory for Institutionalizing Democracy estimates that turnout was about 30 percent.  Despite sporadic demonstrations leading to the arrests of 234 people, the process was fairly peaceful.  Allegations of ballot stuffing persist but remain unsubstantiated – perhaps because the fraud has been better organized this time, according to some observers.

  • These elections were in sharp contrast to the long-overdue August 9 elections – the first round for legislative seats – which were disastrous. In August, 13 percent of voting centers were forced to close because of shootings, vandalism, and voter intimidation, while the Haitian National Police stood by.  Dozens of police officers failed to report to work or guard candidates (for which they were later suspended).  Voter turnout was a dismal 18 percent, as the chaos discouraged Haitians from voting.  Twenty-five of 119 first-round deputy races had to be repeated on October 25 because too many votes were thrown out due to violence and fraud.  Only eight deputies (out of 119) and only two senators (of 20 open seats) won races outright.

Electoral results are released more slowly in Haiti than practically anywhere else in the world because the ballots must be trucked to Port-au-Prince to be counted, and then the Provisional Electoral Council must process requests for re-tallies from 166 political parties.  Preliminary results won’t be known for several more days, and final results, which will reveal the names of the two candidates in the December 27 runoff, are expected in late November.  But the international community wants to declare the October elections a success, apparently eager to end the country’s stagnation since the parliament was dissolved earlier this year.  The newly arrived U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Peter Mulrean, said in an interview that Haiti “really can’t afford to have that kind of stalemate” and expressed approval for the electoral process within the first few hours of voting.

Polls going into the October election showed, however, support divided among many candidates, and the results are likely to upset many Haitians.  Tough talk by four main candidates suggests difficult scenarios ahead:

  • If President Michel Martelly’s chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moïse, wins, widespread protests are possible from Haitians angered by the current administration’s corruption. They will continue to claim U.S. interference. 
  • Jude Célestin, former head of the government’s construction ministry who was bumped from the 2010 runoff by an OAS recount, has vowed to ensure he makes it to the final round this time. Mid-October polls showed him with a considerable lead, commanding at least 30% of the vote.
  • Another major contender, former Senator Moïse Jean-Charles, has alleged that ballots with his name on them have been destroyed, and called for “either elections or revolution” at a rally with his supporters.
  • Fanmi Lavalas candidate, Maryse Narcisse, received a boost from former President Aristide in the final days before the vote when he joined her to campaign in downtown Port-au-Prince. Although Narcisse has struggled in the polls, her party was barred from the ballot in the 2010 elections, and so it remains unclear how they will fare this time.

Even assuming the transfer of power is peaceful, Martelly’s successor will face a number of critical challenges in addition to Haiti’s perennial ills, including a deportation crisis with the Dominican Republic, a cholera outbreak, languishing earthquake recovery, and a drought which has increased hunger. 

November 2, 2015

*Emma Fawcett is a PhD candidate in International Relations at American University.   Her doctoral thesis focuses on the political economy of tourism and development in four Caribbean case studies: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Mexican Caribbean.