Haiti Archives 1995-1996
25/04/95 THIS WEEK IN HAITI April 19 – 25, 1995 Vol. 13 No. 4

From: Haiti Commission <haiticomm>

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ELECTORAL COUNCIL BESIEGED

The Easter holiday week saw no slowdown in the bitter political battles surrounding June's "occupation elections." Pro-putschist and "democratic" parties alike continued to hammer away at the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the body organizing the elections. The composition of the CEP-selected regional voting bureaus is totally unacceptable, the parties say. Their offensive comes despite the CEP's timidity toward Duvalierist and pro- putschist politicians, who have been welcomed into meetings to plan and evaluate the elections.

In fact, under the US-led occupation, the pro-putschist sector is gaining in strength and strategic position. The US military is actively preserving the Duvalierist infrastructure, especially in the countryside, and US-funded "civic education" campaigns are active throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the 1990 Lavalas alliance has been blown to smithereens. This "democratic" sector, which comprises parties which at least nominally opposed the coup, has three principal formations – the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD) and the social democratic KONAKOM. Today, the FNCD and KONAKOM have been joining with the pro-putschist parties to charge that the CEP and voting bureaus are controlled by the OPL, which represents the Lavalas bourgeoisie assembled around President Aristide.

The alliance of the FNCD and KONAKOM with pro-putschist parties has exerted so much pressure that the CEP's Secretary General, Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, took an indefinite leave of absence to Belgium this week, citing "hyper-tension" and other health reasons. In an Apr. 17 radio interview, Lassegue accused the FNCD and KONAKOM – without precisely naming them – of "targetting" her and issuing "a call for murder." "You tell the Macoutes you can have her, you can fire on her," she reproached her erstwhile democratic allies. "The worst is that certain political parties should be considered almost in the same political family," Lassegue said.

Moreover, the "crime" wave, the lack of justice, the high cost of living, US-control over the "new" security forces, and almost total US-funding of the elections are enabling Washington to exert virtual veto power over the Haitian political process.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the US-funded electoral process is producing US-welcomed results like the assault on the CEP. Emboldened by the three-week postponement of the municipal and parliamentary elections to June 25 and the CEP's call for "suggestions," pro-putschist political parties, and their "democratic" allies, signed an Apr. 11 resolution alleging that electoral offices were stuffed with OPL supporters. The parties want the offices re-staffed. Their proposal: the 60-odd political parties lined up for the elections would each designate representatives to a pool of electoral bureau officers, which would then be appointed to regional bureaus by a lottery. Such an arrangement would give great advantage to the pro-putschist sector, which has the largest number of parties, even though they lack any popular support.

The CEP has rejected the proposals for wholesale changes, at least for now. But Anselme Remy, the president of the CEP, agreed to boost the number of voter registration offices which only number 3,000, down from 12,000 in the Dec. 1990 presidential elections. "We are not ready to participate in elections, such as they are being prepared," retorted Serge Gilles the head of the National Progressive Revolutionary Party (PANPRA), a pro-putschist social democratic party. "Does the electoral council really think it can hold elections without political parties?" he added, repeating his threat to withdraw from the elections entirely, as Gille's 1990 running mate Marc Bazin, threatened earlier this month. The same line has been echoed in the chambers of the US Congress and the pages of US newspapers. Bob Dole, a Republican presidential candidate and leader of the US Senate, said Mar. 31 that there are "disturbing indications that President Aristide or his supporters are subverting the democratc process."

Duly Brutus, the deputy secretary of PANPRA, is also emerging as an important PR man for the pro-putschist sector in this period. Instrumental in organizing Jimmy Carter's visit to Port-au-Prince this past February, where the former president attempted to organize the right-wing parties into a coherent bloc, Brutus clearly has some powerful friends in Washington. This week the Wall Street Journal spelled out his, or more likely his Washington handlers', complaints in an op-ed. Brutus repeated the charge that the election is being rigged by Aristide. "Without a strong and independent judiciary, without a functioning parliament that can give voice to the many disparate views and visions of a nation's future, and without institutions that can guarantee fair and free elections, there can be no democratic government," he said. The key words here are giving "voice" to the "many disparate views," the very same line used by Lawrence Pezzullo in a recent Washington Post article. (Pezzullowrote, "a participatory political culture in which all Haitians have a voice.") It is also the same logic used by the US Embassy when pushing for "reconciliation" – code for preserving the military-macoute sector and ensuring impunity for those who murdered more than 5,000 people during the coup regime. ("We could go to Washington and say the US system is not fair because there are no Nazis in the Congress, or that it would be more democratic if the Ku Klux Klan was represented," responded one senior Haitian government official in February.)

In fact, Brutus and PANPRA are prominent coup criminals. They were part of Marc Bazin's coalition, the ANDP "Alliance," in the Dec. 1990 presidential elections and supported the Sept. 1991 coup by taking part in the government of Marc Bazin when he headed the civilian facade for the coup's military leaders. While this history was not mentioned by the Wall Street Journal, at a recent Socialist International meeting in Port-au-Prince, Serge Gilles was booed because of his support for the coup, although the International has judiciously refrained from expelling PANPRA for its ignominious collaboration.

GOVERNMENT PROMISES GROW AS RIFTS WIDEN

Amid a rising tide of anger over the high cost of living and chronic unemployment, President Aristide traveled this week to the northern town of Port-de-Paix, promising jobs and food. Aristide told the crowd of some 10,000 people that new roads would be paved, that the port would be renovated, and that irrigation projects would be started. He also promised 5,000 bags of rice and 2000 bags of sugar and distributed 5 soccer balls and a generator, among other trinkets. US Ambassador William Swing, UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Gen. Joseph Kinzer, the head of the UN military operation, and Chief Supt. Neil Puliot of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the head of the UN Civilian Police kept an eye on Aristide during the April 12 visit.

While Aristide's promises and knickknacks may get a short-lived welcome by the people of Port-de-Paix, they're emblematic of the "checkbook" politics that has come to characterize his presidential style since his return on Oct. 15. The old Lavalas chant, "Se pa lajan, non, se volonte, wi" (We're not doing it for money, it's of our own free will) has been left in the dust-bin of history. But the crumbs from the presidential table are proving to be little consolation for an increasingly hungry and poor people. And to deflect some of the criticism, Aristide has been pointing not so subtle fingers at the administration of his appointed Prime Minister Smarck Michel. Aristide told a mass on Easter Sunday that failures of his government are due to the obstructionist practices of some of his ministers. "The Haitian people are carrying a cross," he told parishioners at the Croix des Missions Catholic Church on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. "The crossbar is insecurity and the otherone is the high cost of living."

Aristide's reliance on victimology, as expressed by the analogy to the silent but stoic suffering of Jesus, stands in stark contrast to a combative sermon he gave ten years ago on Easter Sunday. "And every fifty years they held a strike," he told parishioners at St. Jean Bosco in Port-au-Prince, citing from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. "And the people who had land had to partition their land with the slaves: they obliged the landlords to redistribute the land. And this year was called the jubilee, the year of grace. Thus we who are slaves must one day share the land — we can feel it in our gut. Because the land is not for a little fistful of gluttons, but for us all."

But instead of people's politics, Aristide is now involved in palace politics, and the crisis between Aristide and Michel boiled over into the public arena this week. At an Apr. 17 press conference, Michel defended himself, saying that his government doesn't have a magic wand to deal with insecurity and the high cost of living (even though the Aristide/Michel policies of reconciliation and neo-liberal reform are responsible for both problems).

Michel also brandished constitutional considerations. Haiti's parliament disbanded in late January when the terms of representatives expired. Since parliament must approve the prime minister, a new government could not be installed until some time after the June/July elections. Furthermore, the constitution only gives the Parliament, not the President, the right to dismiss the Prime Minister.

With Haiti under foreign military occupation, it is doubtful that Aristide will force Michel's resignation and rule by decree. First, it would incur US wrath. Secondly, Aristide would now be directly responsible for the policies of his government and have no scapegoat on which to blame the national crisis. For the time being, then, it appears that Michel is in a stronger position, thus auguring a growing feud between the President and the Prime Minister and an even more dysfunctional government.

One option the Haitian people are choosing to escape the US-imposed austerity in the country is to pick up and leave. The US Coast Guard this week intercepted another ship jammed with people fleeing Haiti. Some 115 refugees were found April 16 hidden in a ship about a mile off the coast of Miami. The US Coast Guard reported that they were hidden in a 20 by six foot secret compartment aboard the cabin cruiser. All the refugees were brought to Miami.

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