Cablegate: Haiti in 2008: Four Years After Aristide

DE RUEHPU #0341/01 0601759
O 291759Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2018


Classified By: Ambassador Janet A. Sanderson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d

1. (C) Summary: Four years after the resignation of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti now enjoys a degree of
stability not seen here in almost a decade. A democratically
elected President and Parliament, a growing national police
force, strong international support, led by the United
States, and the presence of a UN peacekeeping force, are
primarily responsible for this positive development. Haiti's
progress, however, remains fragile, and much work remains to
be done. Executive-legislative relations have improved but
still are marked more by confrontation than by productive
cooperation. Key judicial reform legislation has passed, but
other parts of the government await modernization. With
security improved, the chronic misery suffered by the
majority of Haitians is emerging as the main challenge for
the government. This issue, if left unaddressed, could
galvanize potentially disruptive forces, including grassroots
organizations linked to the party of former President
Aristide. Exogenous factors such as the death or
incapacitation of the President could likewise upset Haiti's
fragile recovery. Haiti's democratic institutions are taking
hold but their roots are still shallow. We assess that
Haiti's receptivity to Aristide's return or the rise of an
Aristide-like messiah-figure remains low, but could rise if
Haiti's institutional consolidation falters or if the economy
suffers a major downturn.

2. (C) Summary Continued: Consolidating Haiti's political
institutions - key to the nation's future - will require
building the capacity of weak GoH institutions plagued by
systemic corruption, including the parliament, political
parties, and government ministries. President Preval has
proven capable of structuring a working consensus on issues
of national interest, although he has failed to meet key
constitutional benchmarks, such as the holding of senatorial
elections. Political parties, motivated more by strong
personal agendas than by political ideologies, still struggle
for greater involvement in the government and political life.
A young parliament coping with inexperienced lawmakers and a
bloated and ineffective staff, needs to buckle down in order
to earn the respect of the citizens and the Executive Branch.
Prospects for continued stability through the next
presidential transition remain good, but by no means assured.
A protracted political crisis, the death or disability of
President Preval, or a perciptious departure by MINUSTAH,
could call into question that transition. Haiti's continued
democratic evolution will require that the GoH and its
international partners remain focused on long-term
institution-building. The U.S. leadership role in this
process is critical, demanding our continued political and
financial engagement for the long term. End summary.


3. (C) Since Jean-Betrand Aristide's departure, four years
ago today, Haiti has made important progress in shaping a
brighter future for its citizens. With a democratically
elected president and parliament and a constitutionally
mandated/consensus government in place, an emerging civil
society, an improving (albeit imperfect) security
environment, and progress on the macroeconomic front,
today's Haiti is a long way from that of 2004. However,
these changes have been hard won and it is, as of yet,
unclear if the fragile advances we see on the ground here are
indeed irreversible. At very least, they will require much
reinforcement and care. That being said, remembering the
violence, political crises and instability, and social
disruption that marked Haiti four years ago, Haitians - and
their friends - can take pride in the accomplishments of the
past few years.

Executive Branch

4. (C) Rene Preval came to the presidency in an election that
was seen by most observers, both within Haiti and without, as
being generally open, free and fair. Following two years of a
maladroit, generally unpopular interim government, Preval
made no claims of omnipotence, telling his countrymen he
would roll up his sleeves and get to work. His
passive-aggressive leadership style (low key and passive in
public but aggressively managing the smallest details in
private) has so far served him reasonably well. His main
accomplishment - achieved with a quiet and cautious approach
largely behind the scenes - has been to defuse the deep
political tensions that threatened to engulf the country at
the time of Aristide's resignation on February 29, 2004. He
has achieved a degree of broad cooperation with his political
agenda. For example, he successfully gathered interested
parties to resolve heated debates over contentious issues
like justice reform and the formation of a new Provisional
Electoral Council (CEP). However, Preval refuses to take to
the bully pulpit to advocate his consensus policies. He
rarely appears in public and refuses to use the power of the
presidency to rally the nation. At the same time, Preval
exhibits a dogged unwillingness to delegate. His failure to
give autonomy to an enthusiastic Prime Minister or share
power with Parliament has resulted in the need to build a new
working consensus issue-by-issue. His over-involvement in
the workings of GoH institutions stifles government
initiative, as everyone waits for Preval to make decisions
and very few are prepared to tell him "no."

5. (C) The lagging development of government capacity impedes
development on all fronts. Government ministries, more flush
with funds than anytime in recent years, lack the capacity to
spend the money in their budgets. Like all Haitian
institutions, ministries are vulnerable to corruption.
Passive in his approach to capacity building, Preval has done
virtually nothing to identify, recruit, promote, or otherwise
reward capable government workers. The functioning of entire
ministries continues to depend on one or two key members of
the permanent staff, whose careers lack the protection of a
civil service system. Haiti is still a long way from having
ministries with the institutional capacity to outlast changes
of directors, staff, and political changes at the top:
ministers and the President of the Republic.

6. (C) The current government is fragile and faces periodic
assaults by an irresponsible legislature, either chamber of
which has the power to sack one or more ministers or the
entire government. Rumors of an imminent cabinet shakeup
surface periodically. Minister of Public Works Frantz
Verella and Minister of Commerce Maguy Durce top a long list
of ministers whom civil society representatives, political
parties, and the private sector argue should be replaced.
Parliamentarians frequently remind Prime Minister Alexis that
they have the power to dismiss the government, and threaten
votes of no confidence periodically. In the latest example of
this, the Prime Minister was summoned to the Chamber of
Deputies February 28 to defend his government's economic
policies (septel). Although he easily won beat back a vote
of no confidence, the political uncertainty the debate
engendered has stalled movement in key areas, including

7. (C) Preval has taken a sometimes lax attitude toward
Haiti's constitutionally mandated electoral schedule
(although on other issues, such as amending the constitution
by executive fiat, he has been more doctrinaire.) The
successful elections of 2006 were a solid milestone on
Haiti's path toward a stable democracy. However, the GoH
missed the next crucial benchmark: elections to renew
one-third of the Senate should have been held in November
2007, but even now the GoH has yet to announce an election
date. Interruptions in the election cycle and a capricious
attitude of the executive toward parliamentary elections were
one of the major factors undermining the democratic process
during the Aristide era (which includes Preval's first term).
While Preval is right in arguing that the current electoral
calendar, as mandated by the 1987 Constitution, is burdensome
and expensive, it is crucial that the electoral process
continue to consolidate the initial momentum and enthusiasm
for elections generated by the 2006 national elections.

8. (C) Preval's thus-far successful leadership style is
running up against a non-cooperative economy. The Haitian
economy has stabilized, but the lot of Haiti's
poverty-stricken majority is hardly better, and expectations
the government should do something to help the poor
immediately are beginning to grow. In opening weeks of 2008,
Preval made several public appearances emphasizing local
production to combat suffering from the high cost of living.
However, the GoH has taken no direct steps to combat the high
cost of living and demands for action are mounting (ref A).
(Note: Post will report septel on Haiti's economic landscape.
End note.)


9. (C) Most parliamentarians are wholly inexperienced and
indifferent to their constitutional role as legislators and
counterweights to the Executive. Parliamentarians' interest
in playing the role of "development agents" in their
representative districts takes precedence over legislation,
as they spend much time lobbying GoH ministries and
international donors for project funding. Absenteeism is
chronic -- aggravated by frequent foreign trips legislators
seek for the handsome per diem they are awarded. When in
session, members often prefer posturing on diversionary
issues -- such as the double nationality of many legislators
-- to focusing on substantive political issues. The
resulting dearth of legislative action provides fodder to
skeptics who question Parliament's utility. Despite the
legislature's poor performance, cooperation between the
Executive and the Parliament has improved over the last two
years, with dialogue between the ministries and the
Parliament occurring frequently.

10. (C) Parliament has abdicated legislative initiative to
the Executive, where nearly all bills originate. When the
legislature receives bills from the President, neither
chamber has an established system to consider, debate, amend,
or vote on the bills. The process for tracking the
whereabouts of and changes to proposed legislation is
haphazard and disorderly. Members often show up to vote on a
bill having never seen the text. There is no prioritization
of the "legislative menu" by either parliamentary leadership
or the executive branch. The major success in the last year
was the passage in the Senate and Chamber of major judicial
reform legislation establishing a judicial council and
defining the role of magistrates (ref B).

11. (SBU) The Parliament faces a severe shortage of human and
material resources. It operates with a limited number of
qualified technical staff, and only members of the two
chambers' executive bureaus have offices and compuers.
Space for committee meetings is limited to ne or two rooms
in each chamber, so several commttees cannot meet
concurrently. Advancement in 008 will require reform of the
internal regulatios of both chambers and the passage of a
statute overning the roles of parliamentary staff.

12. SBU) The election of Kely Bastien as new Senate
resident (ref C) is an encouraging sign for the mauration
of Parliament. With an agenda focused onrestructuring both
legislative houses, and with ajority support from his
Senate colleagues, Bastien may just be the leader Parliament
needs to curb its inefficiencies and lack of reliability.
Bastien has promised to improve the current state of
Executive-Legislative relations, institute decentralized and
inclusive leadership in the Senate, and seek resources to
properly train qualified Senate personnel.

Parties and Civil Society

13. (C) Although Haiti's democratic institutions are
beginning to take root, the country has not yet developed
cohesive political parties that democracies require. Party
leaders and elected officials remain a disparate group of
demandeurs focused on leading individuals and on procuring
government resources for themselves and their constituencies.
Haiti's plethora of political parties remains largely
personality-based. Most parties lack an ideology or
organizational structure. Among the most popular parties,
OPL (Struggling People's Party) is still the most structured
and organized, though Senator Youri Latortue brings a great
deal of discipline to his Artibonite in Action (LAAA) party.
The two coalitions that took home the biggest wins in 2006 --
Fusion and Lespwa -- both find themselves in tenuous
situations, with internal bickering and lack of consensus
threatening to break them apart. Aristide's departure left
his once-mighty party, Fanmi Lavalas, fractured and bereft of
clear leadership. Continued infighting harms the party's
credibility and undermines the party's main message --
Haiti's redemption through the return of Aristide.

14. (C) Civil society remains an important sector that has
been included in all the major debates of the last year, from
justice reform to elections. Although no longer banded
together under the Group of 184 (the loose coalition of
political parties, businesses and civil society organizations
that played a leading role in ousting former President
Aristide), civil society organizations still influence public
opinion and are thus able to exert political pressure.
Student groups and grassroots organizations mount periodic
protests calling for GoH action to combat poverty, hunger and
unemployment. Post assesses that these groups do not pose a
threat to Haitian stability, as they are not interconnected
and have no charismatic leader to rally around. More
centrist groups, such as the Civil Society Institute, the
Open Society Institute of Haiti, and Women in Democracy bring
more sophisticated pressure to bear on the government.

Local Government and Decentralization

15. (SBU) Local government officials lack the basic
administrative, managerial and leadership skills to fulfill
their constitutional mandates. Local government budgets are
too small and taxing authority too limited to take care of
community needs, so they rely heavily on international aid
and scant central government financing. The bulky,
multi-tiered framework of local government, designed to
create a decentralized state, thus far has only created
confusion over roles and responsibilities of local officials.
Even with increased USG and international focus on
supporting local government, there is still a general lack of
confidence in local government among Haitians, hampering the
decentralization process. Presidential inaction has halted
the indirect elections process, leaving a large part of the
decentralized structure incomplete.


16. (SBU) Haiti's weak organized labor sector lacks the
initiative and organizational punch to make itself a
significant political factor. Both private and
government-owned enterprises dismiss union workers and
organizers at will, but with little social echo. There have
been a few demonstrations, numbering in the hundreds, of
workers laid off from the bloated state telephone and
electricity companies, but these have failed to merge with
the more frequent street protests and parliamentary actions
criticizing the government for inaction on inflation and job
creation. Preval however has recently urged the private
sector to follow the GoH's public sector initiative and
increase the minimum wage. The GOH in its 2008 budget
implemented a 20-35 percent wage increase for the public
sector (ref D).

Security and Justice Reform

17. (C) For the foreseeable future, MINUSTAH's presence in
Haiti as an armed peacekeeping force will be essential for
the preservation of stability and security in the country.
Haiti's own law enforcement capability continues to expand
but clearly has a long way to go. Haitian National Police
(HNP) numbers have increased, and residents of Port-au-Prince
now see the police as a positive presence in their daily
lives. There is a semblance of law and order at the street
level. Slums like Cite Soleil continue to experience gang
activity, albeit at a much lower level than a year ago (ref
E). Citizens are slowly regaining trust in the HNP and are
venturing out more often, even at night. No significant
force in Haiti has the means or inclination to challenge
legitimate authority. (Note: Post will report septel on
Haiti's security environment. End note.)

18. (C) No matter the progress on the policing front, the
inability of Haiti's weak and corrupt judiciary to
effectively investigate and prosecute crime has created an
atmosphere of impunity that threatens consolidation of
Haiti's security gains, and hence, Haiti's stability.
Despite gains in its capabilities, the HNP lacks the
training, equipment, and mentality to pursue serious
preliminary investigations to transfer to investigating
magistrates. The Ministry of Justice, like every other
ministry, lacks a competent staff, and is unable in the great
majority of cases to produce cases that can hold up in court.
Judicial personnel lack basic knowledge of the law as well
as case processing and management skills. Cases move
erratically through the system, with legal deadlines in the
penal chain overwhelmingly ignored. Prisoners are dumped in
overcrowded jails for prolonged period awaiting trial, often
with no scheduled dates for judicial hearings. Criminals and
their cohorts can easily buy off or intimidate judges. Drug
trafficking adds a vicious twist to the security problem,
with police sometimes participating in and benefiting from
drug trafficking. Particularly in the southern regions,
deeply entrenched drug trafficking networks have infiltrated
local police ranks and defied MINUSTAH efforts to uproot them
(ref F). With the judicial system overwhelmed and unable to
pursue prosecutions, prisoners released due to lack of
charges often return to a life of crime, including

Looking Forward: Movers and Shakers

19. (C) With Parliament beginning to assert itself more
aggressively against the Executive, Senate President Kely
Bastien (Lespwa) and Chamber of Deputies President Eric
Jean-Jacques (Lespwa) are rising in prominence. Haitians are
already thinking about the race to take the Presidential
Palace in 2011. Obvious candidates so far include PM
Jacques-Edouard Alexis and his archrival, Senator Youri
Latortue; several senators and political elites; and hip-hop
star Wyclef Jean, who is perhaps the best positioned to
motivate large portions of the lower class in his favor.
Among the class of possible Presidential hopefuls, we see no
one who mimics the politics or style of, or who is as
dangerous to Haiti's democratic consolidation as, former
President Aristide.


20. (C) Four years beyond Aristide, Haiti can point to
important steps forward. We have seen marked progress in
security, continuing prospects for which remain good through
the next presidential transition - as long as MINUSTAH
remains in-country with a robust security force. President
Preval's guiding principles of consensus building likewise
enhance the prospects for political stability. However, there
is a sense here that more could have been done during
Preval's first two years. Lack of progress on employment and
cost of living are causing discontent with the government. A
prolonged political crisis - such as the failure to move
quickly to put a government in place should the Alexis
government fall or the passing from the political scene of
President Preval - could undermine the development of a
political culture of compromise for the common good that
Haiti's stability and long-term development desperately
needs. It could also increase Haiti's susceptibility to the
return of Aristide or the rise of an Aristide-wannabe, a
probability we now assess as low. A serious effort to
address the immediate economic concerns of the population is
crucial, as is getting elections back on schedule, and the
continued maturation of political parties and parliament.

21. (C) Comment continued: The U.S remains at Haiti's
indispensable partner at this critical stage of its
development. Our leadership and our support, both bilaterally
and in concert with our international partners, is key to
Haiti's success over the long term. Yet we remain a source of
some resentment and occasional friction here which we will
have to weather. Our assistance and policies directly affect
the daily lives of nearly every Haitian, but our ability to
influence outcomes in this sovereign country is limited. We
must remain engaged, nimble, and imaginative, nurturing
allies in Haitian society where we find them, and maintaining
the current consensus within the engaged members of the
international community that Haiti must stay on track.
Success in Haiti - a democratic, prosperous, and secure Haiti
- demands that we continue our strong policy focus and
commitment into the next Haitian presidential transition
(2011) with intensity equal to that of the past four years.

© Scoop Media

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