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Much To Do About Nothing

Immediate Release
Thursday, July 13, 2000

Much To Do About Nothing:

Two-faced OAS Refusal to Observe Second Round Haitian Balloting Taints a Relatively Fair Election Process

* OAS Permanent Council scheduled to denounce Haiti vote today, marking the apogee of hypocrisy

* OAS and U.S. remain bent on deliberately discrediting Lavalas Party and Aristide, despite their overwhelming support among Haitian people

* While hardly even administering a slap on the wrist against Fujimori, OAS slanders Haitian elections, confirming the regional organization's irrelevance and unabashed hypocrisy

* Clinton had previously validated independence of CEP, whose regulations couldn't be overruled by Haitian government

* OAS and U.S. actions driven by their old fears of Aristide returning to office as a result of next November's presidential elections

* Current policy echoes era of Lawrence Pezzullo and Dante Caputo, when the U.S. and UN negotiators pressured then-exiled President Aristide to power-share with brutal military junta

Squabbling over a technicality in Haiti's May 21 parliamentary elections-the reversal of which ultimately would not have resulted in any major difference to the winners of the 19 Senate seats in contention-the OAS refused to observe last Sunday's second-round balloting, once again exposing the regional organization's shrinking stature and spotlighting its inconstant commitment to democratization. In contrast to the recent withdrawal of the observer mission to Peru, where the OAS barely tried to prevent President Alberto Fujimori from cheating and bullying his way into a constitutionally-illegal third term, its decision to pull out of Haiti was far less justified. Not only is the economic and political situation in Haiti much more dangerous, given the country's precarious economy and bankrupt Treasury, whatever infraction that might have taken place was of negligible proportion. Even worse, the action to humiliate the Haitian government, led by President René Préval, amounts to an unprincipled scheme to discredit a relatively free and fair election process, given the island's impoverished circumstances. In lockstep manner, the OAS is effortlessly following U.S. policy objectives, which in Haiti consist of preventing at all costs the fulfillment of the will of the vast majority of the country's citizens: the return of former President Aristide to office as the result of next November's presidential ballot. Blackballing the Lavalas Party After Lavalas' resounding triumph in the May 21 elections, which was violence-free and enjoyed a 60 percent voter turnout (significantly greater than that of recent U.S. congressional elections), the State Department, the OAS and much of the international community couldn't help but bestow congratulations on the Provincial Electoral Council (CEP), the Préval administration and the Haitian people over their impressive achievement. But instead of continuing to provide Haiti with the support it so badly needs, and after praising the election process, the OAS and U.S. suddenly reversed themselves and began to belittle the positive results of the election with excessive and unjustified criticism.

The malevolence of the OAS and U.S. stand can be fully appreciated when the following facts are taken into account. Under the Haitian constitution, the CEP is an entirely independent agency and the executive branch, even if it was anxious to do so, could not interfere with its operations. This fact was validated last year by President Clinton, who stated, in a letter to Congress, that the CEP was practically an entirely independent entity.

On May 31, the OAS mission head in Haiti, Orlando Marville, distributed a letter to the media, accusing the CEP of only counting the ballots of the top four vote getters-a practice established by precedent-rather than the entire field. The State Department pounced on the announcement, quickly throwing its support behind the OAS, and ignoring the fact that this was a minor procedural point which had nothing to do with the substance of the dispute. Their position was later strengthened by the sudden departure for the U.S. of Léon Manus, the CEP president, after he refused to validate the election results, but not before he wrote a strong letter to Marville rejecting that body's position on the counting of the ballot. With the murder of two Aristide supporters by an emboldened opposition immediately following last Sunday's second-round elections, the destabilizing consequences of international policy towards Haiti's already precarious political atmosphere was readily apparent. The question was also being asked whether this was all part of an orchestrated script.

Unfortunately, Manus' compromising action of leaving the country belied the well-intentioned efforts of election officials to tally the ballots as fairly as possible, and also represented a sharp about-face from the position he had staked out just a few weeks before. He responded aggressively in a June 5 letter to the OAS's charges, berating Marville for interfering prematurely in the process and explained that the CEP utilized a method it considered less distorting than the alternative model offered by the OAS. To accommodate for Haiti's debilitatingly high eighty-five percent illiteracy rate, which not only makes the electorate exceedingly susceptible to misinformation and deception, but more directly caused a large number of voters to incorrectly complete their ballots, the CEP chose to gauge support for the Senate candidates in such a way that would arguably provide the most honest reflection of the public's will.

Whether the CEP entirely held steadfast to the letter of the law under the torrid conditions in which the balloting took place might be open to debate, but the spirit of its young constitution was without a doubt fulfilled. What's more, Manus explained in his letter to Marville that the electoral council had only repeated the same vote-counting method employed in the 1990, 1995 and 1997 elections, all of which had been observed and approved by the international community. In addition, the OAS was purportedly aware of the method that would be utilized on this latest vote count well before the elections were to take place, thereby providing it with an opportunity to constructively address any perceived difficulties with the technical ambiguities, rather than ferociously condemning the process after the fact. The question now can be asked, what kind of game is Marville playing? If the Lavalas party's candidates swept the polls, their triumph represented the actual will of the Haitian people, and was not the result of the connivances or chicanery of election officials. And for all their bombast, not one of the CEP's critics have uttered an audible word in defense of the advantages of any alternative procedures over those ultimately used.

The difference between Haiti and Peru Peru's President Fujimori suffered a kinder fate than Haiti only weeks before. After the Peruvian leader refused to accept some modest changes in the voting procedure called for by the OAS, its election mission decided to withdraw after it had accepted a massively tainted first round election. The end result was that after several meetings in Washington and Windsor, Canada, the OAS eventually validated Fujimori's fraudulent re-election to an unconstitutional third term by its de facto action. Several weeks later, during a visit to Lima by a special OAS mission led by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria (an old chum of Fujimori, who was the first to nominate him to his OAS post in 1994), the irony could not have been thicker when the OAS officials had to be protected in their five star hotel from pro-democracy protesters in the streets below, who were driven off by Fujimori's riot police firing tear gas. In light of the Peruvian president's flat rejection of the conditions that he follow a timeline to institute reforms, the OAS delegation's call to strengthen Peru's democracy will result, at best, in only cosmetic and token changes to his despotic rule. Flying in the face of international criticism is nothing new for Fujimori, who has never hidden his contempt either for the OAS or the principle of democratic rule. In 1992, he dissolved congress and shut down the Supreme Court before rewriting the constitution, while all along ignoring the OAS's empty threat of economic sanctions. After championing free trade and grudgingly participating in Washington's regional war on drugs for a decade, Fujimori knew that he would suffer no serious repercussions from the OAS, much less from the U.S., which he continues to proclaim is his closest ally (in practice, an observation which may not be far from the truth).

State Department's selective indignation The State Department unsurprisingly has taken no action against Fujimori despite the pleas of Peru's opposition presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo, who was almost certainly robbed of an outright victory by the Peruvian despot in first-round balloting. But it seemed to go out of its way to defame Haiti's electoral process last Friday, when a State Department spokesman said that by only counting the top four vote getters in each race "the Senate election certainly calls into question the credibility of the entire Haitian election process." Haitians, who vividly recall CIA involvement in the 1991 coup and its resulting longstanding relationship with a number of brutal senior Haitian military officials, in addition to Emmanuel Constant, the rightwing extremist who headed the professedly anti-U.S. FRAPH (which served as a civilian auxiliary to a murderous and corrupt military dictatorship), were justifiably outraged by such statements. After the State Department voiced its criticism of the first round elections, scores of protestors burned the American flag in Port-au-Prince outside the U.S. embassy. Without Washington's support, Haiti has little chance of receiving desperately needed development funds promised by the international community (which have been put on hold with the help of Haiti-phobe Senator Jesse Helms) until a new parliament is seated. The flag burning did not arise out of an irrational hatred of this country, but from a growing resentment based upon a long-practiced U.S. policy that could once again stand in the way of Aristide being elected, or make the island ungovernable, if he does assume office after next November's elections.

After Argentine foreign minister and OAS/UN emissary Dante Caputo and former State Department official Lawrence Pezzullo tried to pressure then-exiled President Aristide into agreeing to come to a power-sharing agreement with the country's harsh military dictatorship (whose leaders had overthrown him and instituted a reign of terror on the island after 1991), Haitians discovered that neither the OAS nor the U.S. were interested in seeing a strong and entirely independent democratic government installed in their country, particularly one which had a leftist vision of social development. Today, Washington's intentions for Haiti are no different from what they were then because the Clinton White House still feels that Aristide would be far less amenable to U.S. policy objectives for the island than a government headed by the political opposition. Just as the OAS and Washington countenanced the military regime in the early 1990s, it is by no means certain that the U.S. will not once again act to stamp out Haiti's nascent democracy before it can bud, should Washington grow to feel that its national security is being threatened.

U.S. and OAS maintain indefencebly harsh position on Haitian elections While the election process in Peru was reduced to a charade by Fujimori's dictatorial antics, the Lavalas candidates who won their Senate seats were clearly the overwhelming and bona fide choice of Haitian voters. Whereas in Peru, Alejandro Toledo might well have won the first round elections outright had Fujimori not resorted to fraud, controlled a venal press, bullied the opposition and bought votes with last-minute public works projects, in Haiti, counting the entire field of candidates instead of the top four vote getters would not have prevented a Lavalas landslide. While some political analysts have alleged that opposition candidates would have fared better had the OAS system been followed, the opposition, splintered into more than sixty political parties, has a miniscule number of followers-many of them who supported the military junta and have taken bribes from various sources-and even united would not have come close to challenging the overwhelming support for the highly organized Lavalas party. In any event, the OAS' differences with the CEP were methodological and not substantive, in contrast to Peru, where outright vote rigging was the issue.

In light of the ease with which the OAS closed its eyes to the tainted Peruvian elections, its disapproval of the CEP lacks all sincerity and exhibits the mentality of a bully sulking away from the transgressions of the big guy while pouncing on the innocuous shortcomings of a weakling. Secretary General Gaviria's bottom line apparently was that Haiti was a no-account marginal black nation with no political clout and which could do nothing for his career, in contrast to Fujimori's Peru, which provides the currently volatile Andean region with something of a model of stability despite the mortal costs in terms of the country's trampled democratic institutions.

The Clinton administration is also reluctant to validate the results of last Sunday's unassailably fair elections because Washington policymakers look upon them as one more precursor of Aristide's return to power. Instead of throwing their support behind a government that is taking every step possible to strengthen its institutions and ensure a smooth democratic transition, Washington and the international community cried foul over a meaningless technicality, robbing Haiti of the very resources (from money to materials to human expertise) without which it can hardly hope to right the wrongs for which this very aid has been withheld. By attempting to disillusion Haitian voters and by arming the opposition with dangerous delusions that they had been defrauded, Washington and its allies are only further enflaming the majority's well-merited mistrust of international intervention, and thereby alienating the country from the very community that could one day help it realize its democratic aspirations.

The indomitable democratic spirit of the Haitian people, who flocked to the polls last May 21 despite a pre-election ambience marred by violence, should have driven the U.S. and the OAS to adopt a more understanding and patient policy toward Haiti and encourage the speedy transfer of the development funds so badly needed by the people of that nation. Instead, the Clinton administration added one more chapter to a lamentable history of U.S.-Haiti relations which has featured duplicity, double standards and unqualified patronization. While seldom stressing democratization, U.S. policy towards Haiti continues to be driven by abiding hostility against the social vision of Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Reed Lindsay and Zsombor Peter, Research Associates

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and tax exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers."

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