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Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch
CEPR is a non-partisan think tank focused on providing data based analysis of the most important economic and social issues.
Updated: 2 hours 5 min ago
Days before the June 14 end of provisional president Jocelerme Privert’s mandate, a coalition of political parties close to former president Michel Martelly formalized an alliance and began advocating for Privert’s removal. Led by former de facto prime minister under Marelly, Evans Paul, the “Entente Democratique” (ED) or “democratic agreement” as they have called themselves, have denounced the “totalitarian tendencies” of Privert and categorized the possible extension of his mandate as an illegal power grab.
Haitian parliamentarians were expected to vote earlier this week on extending or replacing Privert, who was appointed provisional president in early February after Martelly’s term ended with no elected replacement. The vote was delayed, as it has been previously.
The creation of ED has formalized an alliance between Martelly’s political movement, PHTK, and Guy Philippe, a notorious paramilitary leader who is running for a seat in the Senate. Philippe was the head of a paramilitary force that helped destabilize the country in the run-up to the 2004 coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From its bases in the Dominican Republic, the group mounted numerous attacks targeting police stations and government supporters. According to Human Rights Watch, Philippe also oversaw extrajudicial killings while a police chief in the late 90s. Facing a sealed indictment in the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking ties and money laundering, Philippe remains a DEA most wanted fugitive.
Philippe appeared alongside Martelly’s chosen successor Jovenel Moïse at a December political rally and has voiced his support for Moïse’s candidacy in radio broadcasts, but the formal alliance is an indication that those ties are now deepening. Philippe, a former police chief who received training from U.S. military forces in Ecuador, found an ally in Martelly, who made the army’s restoration a central plank of his presidency and his party. The army was disbanded under Aristide after a long history of human rights abuses and involvement in coup d’états. “The army has always been a part of our policy…There is no way to have Haiti without an army,” Roudy Chute, a PHTK party representative, stated during an August interview.
In February, Philippe warned of a “civil war” if Privert did not hold elections in April. The political accord that brought Privert to office called for elections in April, but after an electoral verification commission recommended scrapping the entire first round due to fraud, new presidential elections have been scheduled for October.
Last month, Philippe was allegedly tied to a paramilitary attack on a police station in the rural town of Cayes that killed 6, though he has denied involvement and refused to appear for questioning. Philippe had previously been prevented from running for office due to his ties to drug trafficking, but certain regulations were removed last year, allowing a number of candidates with criminal pasts to register. In 2006 Philippe ran for president, garnering less than two percent of the vote.
A DEA spokesperson confirmed that Philippe remains a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. A spokesperson for the Marshalls contested this, saying the DEA has “solid information about the subject’s whereabouts,” so there was no need for them to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its responsibility for apprehending Philippe, but would not confirm if any active efforts to do so were underway.
Though the DEA has been involved in a number of high profile arrests in Haiti during the last five years, Philippe remains free.
In the meantime, the ED has called for an uprising against Privert. In a June 12 letter, the group called on Haitian National Police director-general Michel Ange Gédéon to disobey “any illegal order coming from a person stripped of legality and legitimacy,” referring to Privert. The ED also called on the international community to withhold recognition of Privert’s government after June 14.
These calls have largely fallen on deaf ears. The international community has urged parliament to meet to decide Privert’s future and U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten offered a tepid recognition of Privert on a call with reporters last week. Anti-Privert protests planned for last week failed to materialize.
Haiti’s electoral council announced yesterday that new first-round presidential elections would be held in October after a commission found widespread fraud and irregularities in the previous vote. The prospect of the new vote — to be held alongside dozens of parliamentary seats still up for grabs, has raised questions about how it could be funded. The previous elections — determined to be too marred by fraud and violence to count — cost upward of $100 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from international donors.
But now, donors are balking. Last week the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten said that if elections are redone “from scratch” than it would put U.S. assistance in jeopardy. It “could also call into question whether the U.S. will be able to continue to support financially Haiti’s electoral process,” Merten added. In a separate interview, Merten explained:
We still do not know what position we will adopt regarding our financial support. U.S. taxpayers have already spent more than $33 million and that is a lot. We can ask ourselves what was done with the money or what guarantees there are that the same thing will not happen again.
So, what was done with the money? Could the same thing happen again?
To begin with, that figure seems to include money allocated in 2012 – years before the electoral process began. Local and legislative elections, which former president Michel Martelly was constitutionally required to organize, failed to happen. A significant share of this early funding likely went to staffing and overhead costs as international organizations or grantees kept their Haiti programs running, despite the absence of elections. It’s also worth pointing out that many millions of that money never went to electoral authorities, but rather to U.S. programs in support of elections.
In April 2013, USAID awarded a grant to the DC-based Consortium for Elections and Political Processes. In total, $7.23 million went to the consortium before the electoral process even began. An additional $4.95 million was awarded in July 2015, a month before legislative elections. The consortium consists of two DC-based organizations, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). In a January report to Congress, the State Department explained further what some this money went towards:
1. “the creation and implementation of twenty-six Electoral Information Centers (EICs) … to provide information to the general public on the electoral process”
2. “training more than 100 journalists in several departments on topics such as the international standards for elections …”
3. “Funding through INL supported election security.”
4. “USAID also supported the creation of a new domestic election observation platform that helped build greater transparency into the electoral process by establishing a grassroots coalition of reputable and well-trained domestic observers …”
Some funding also went to increasing women’s participation in the electoral process. But it’s questionable what the return on that $12.18 million really was. Not a single woman was elected to parliament — though it now appears as though at least one was elected, only to have her seat stolen through the bribing of an electoral judge. In terms of providing information to the public about the elections, participation in both the legislative and presidential elections was only about a fifth of the population. The money spent on local observers may have been more successful, but not for U.S. interests. The local observer group, the Citizen Observatory for the Institutionalization of Democracy, led by Rosny Desroches, agreed with other local observation missions that a verification commission (opposed by the U.S.) was needed to restore confidence in the elections. The U.S. spent millions training local observers, only to later ignore their analysis. Instead, the U.S. has consistently pointed to the observation work of international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU. The U.S. also provided $1 million to the OAS for their observation work.
This Sunday the month-long verification commission that is analyzing Haiti’s elections is expected to release its results. No matter the outcome, Haiti and the international community are bracing for the worst. The U.S. embassy warned yesterday that protests are expected both on Sunday and on Tuesday, when the electoral council said it will announce a new electoral calendar. Rosny Desroches, who led a U.S.-financed local observation mission, predicted a “climate of tension and pressure” after the verification report is released, according to Miami Herald journalist Jacqueline Charles.
Provisional president Jocelerme Privert, who took office after ex-president Michel Martelly’s term ended, created the verification commission after widespread condemnation of fraud following August’s legislative elections and October’s first-round presidential elections. After virtually all of Haiti’s opposition political parties and civil society organizations denounced the continuation of the electoral process without such a commission, Privert said it was needed to restore confidence and credibility to the elections. The U.S. and other actors in the international community, after first trying to prevent the verification, have largely accepted it, while still trying to limit the possible outcomes.
"We hope it is very, very quick and does not change the results of the election," State Department Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten said on a trip to Haiti in late April.
Though little information has come out about the verification commission’s work, it has been analyzing records at the Central Tabulation Center, where tally sheets and other elections materials were counted and archived, for the last few weeks. The Organization of American States (OAS), previously the most vocal proponent of the election’s credibility, is monitoring the commission’s work.
While the exact outcome is unknown, there are three main scenarios which could result from the commission’s work. It could largely confirm the findings of a previous evaluation that found widespread irregularities and fraud, but recommended moving forward with the cancelled second round between PHTK’s Jovenel Moise (the hand-picked successor to Martelly) and Jude Celestin of LAPEH. It could exclude one or more candidates due to fraud, opening the runoff to third-place finisher Moise Jean Charles of Pitit Dessalines or it could determine that due to the magnitude of the problems a new first round election should be held. Either way, certain political factions and their supporters are bound to be aggrieved, fueling the expectation that the commission’s conclusions will provoke “tension and pressure.”
If the first-round is simply ratified and a second round between the top two finishers in the October vote is called for, the same actors who took to the streets and denounced widespread fraud will likely remobilize. On the other side, PHTK will try to resist either a first round rerun or, more importantly, the exclusion of its candidate due to fraud. From the beginning, PHTK has denounced the verification as a smokescreen to oust Jovenel Moise.
For the international community, led predominantly by the U.S., there remain a few primary objectives; containing any widespread violence and political instability, especially with U.S. presidential elections upcoming and blocking a return of Lavalas to the presidency. After helping to overturn the 2010 election results and ushering Martelly into the presidency, then backing him and his PHTK party for the last five years with billions in aid and diplomatic cover, the U.S. has invested quite a bit in the party’s political success. Still, the threat of similar protests to what occurred in late 2015 and early 2016 from opposition parties and civil society also weighs heavily.
“It seems the primary concern [of the U.S.] is Pitit Dessalines and Fanmi Lavalas…they are seen as a greater danger because of presumed popular support,” an international official involved in the elections recently told me. The U.S. has consistently maintained they favor no particular candidate or party.
Interim President Jocelerme Privert has announced his intention to move forward with the creation of an electoral verification commission. But the commission faces significant pushback from both international actors who provide the bulk of the funding for Haiti’s elections and Haitian politicians connected to former president Michel Martelly.
Responding to the “unanimous expression” of civil society and political leaders, Privert declared on Monday that a new round of consultations would be held this week, aimed at establishing common terms of reference and identifying potential members for a verification commission. The body, which has yet to be formally organized, would be tasked with reviewing previous election results and electoral court decisions before moving forward with the as-yet-unfinished electoral process. A verification process is necessary, Privert said, to establish confidence and encourage “players to trust the [electoral council] and to participate in the upcoming elections.”
Political and civil society leaders have long demanded a verification commission, after earlier elections in 2015 were marred by violence and widespread reports of fraud. Official results from the first round of voting put then-President Martelly’s handpicked successor, Jovenel Moise, in first place, followed by Jude Celestin in second place. Celestin joined with other opposition candidates, demanding a verification and other changes to the electoral system before agreeing to participate in a runoff. On April 6, the coordinator of Celestin’s party LAPEH told the Haitian press that they would not participate in any second-round election without a verification commission first being established.
In response to Privert’s announcement of the commission, supporters of Moise have taken to the streets to denounce the move. They argue that the process will be used as a smokescreen to remove their candidate from the race. Moise’s hostility to a verification is shared by the U.S., the European Union and United Nations, all of which have come out against the verification commission and have urged Haitian authorities to complete the electoral process as soon as possible. “That’s one reason why the U.S. did not want to hear about verification … they know it will create fears” among Martelly’s supporters, an international official involved in the electoral process told me last week. Last week, some 60 leaders and organizations in the Haitian diaspora wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the U.S. to support a verification.
“We believe … a new assessment, or even verification, is not necessary,” U.S. Ambassador Peter F. Mulrean told the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste last week, adding that additional financing for Haiti’s electoral process would be reassessed after seeing how the question of a verification commission was answered. “The last card to avoid a verification: no money,” said the international official. International donors have also withheld budget support from financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.
The stance of the international powers leaves many in Haiti puzzled. Pierre Esperance, the director of a prominent human rights organization and head of a local electoral observation mission team, wondered, “how can Haiti go to the second round without a verification?” Trying to push forward without a verification is likely to lead to a repeat of the street protests that rocked the capital almost daily in late 2015 and early 2016, and that contributed to the election’s cancellation in the first place.
“The verification process must take place. There is an awful lot of suspicions that there was fraud in that election process, and it would not suit any government that is elected without a verification process because there would always be that suspicion,” Sir Ronald Sanders, an Antiguan diplomat, told the Miami Herald last week.
On Sunday, in what had increasingly become inevitable, Fritz Jean, the provisional president’s choice for prime minister, was rejected by Haiti’s chamber of deputies. Needing 60 votes to gain approval of his governmental program, only 38 voted in favor; 36 voted against, one abstained and more than a dozen stayed home. 60 votes would be an absolute majority in the Chamber, but more than 20 seats are empty, awaiting reruns of flawed elections.
Appointed by Haiti’s temporary leader, Jocelerme Privert over three weeks ago, Jean’s rejection has all but eliminated any chance that elections can be held next month. Privert, who came to office on February 14 with a mandate of 120 days, has yet to form a new government or a new electoral council.
Why was Jean’s platform rejected and where do things go from here? It’s as much about political control as it is about elections.
The opposition to Fritz Jean’s approval as prime minister was led by the pro-Martelly bloc in the chamber of deputies. Deputy Gary Bodeau explained to Reuters after the vote that “We rejected the program of Fritz Jean because his nomination by President Privert did not meet the consensus requirements which should characterize the prime minister.”
The political accord signed on February 5 called for a “consensus” prime minister, to be chosen after consultations with both chambers of parliament as well as civil society. After 10 days of meetings, Privert chose Fritz Jean, who was promptly sworn in while awaiting parliament’s approval of his government program.
Despite having broad support among the main private sector actors, the pro-Martelly bloc (including former PM Evans Paul) almost immediately signaled its rejection of Jean.
There are a few theories as to why.
Privert, who is a member of former-president Rene Preval’s political party and was a minister under Aristide in the early 2000s, chose a prime minister from a similar political current; Jean was head of the Central Bank under Aristide.
Though much of the criticism, such as branding this a Fanmi Lavalas “coup,” was clearly classic red-baiting, the pro-Martelly lawmakers had reason to worry.
After benefitting from the deep pockets of running a campaign while controlling the presidency, the Martelly bloc saw itself being excluded from the government. The provisional government would exert control over the continuation of the electoral process; whether or not there would be an electoral verification commission and the composition of the new electoral council.
Pressure was continuing to build from civil society and many political parties for an independent verification commission. Privert has signaled his opening to such an endeavor. The only political movement that has opposed such a commission is the one supporting Jovenel Moise, Martelly’s handpicked successor. Official results showed Moise in first place, but he has been dogged by allegations of fraud ever since.
If the pro-Martelly bloc failed to maintain some control over the government, the likelihood of a verification commission taking place, and either removing Moise from the race, or calling for entirely new first-round elections, would be significantly greater.
But it’s not all about the elections.
When Privert was sworn in as provisional president, very few political actors in Haiti believed he would be able to accomplish all that was needed in just 120 days. Many saw, from the beginning, that there would need to be either a new provisional leader after 120 days, or a new political agreement that would extend the mandate.
Both sides have accused the other of wanting to stall the process so as to force this next move. The pro-Martelly bloc accuses Privert of purposely choosing a prime minister that had little chance of success, in order to avoid any possibility of having elections in April and to extend his mandate. On the other hand, those supportive of Privert accuse the pro-Martelly bloc of blocking the prime minister in order to run out Privert’s 120 days, with the hope of taking control of the provisional presidency for themselves.
While the prime minister post remains unfilled, so too does the presidency of the Senate. When Privert resigned his senate seat to become provisional president, it left an opening at the top of the institution. The fight for that seat provides important context. Youri Latortue, who tried and failed to become Senate president in January (Privert got the votes), still aspires to the leadership position. If Latortue presided over the Senate, and with his political ally Chancy Cholzer leading the lower house, the pro-Martelly bloc would be in a stronger position to determine the next provisional president. The accord states that if the mandate expires, “Where appropriate, the National Assembly will take the necessary decisions.”
If Latortue had been given the Senate presidency, it’s likely that Jean would have been approved as prime minister. But, the provisional government refused, recognizing the threat that Latortue could pose in that position. The usual horse-trading didn’t work, though accusations that Jean’s backers tried to buy support in parliament have emerged. If they did, it wasn’t a great investment.
Controlling the government also includes control over demands for an audit of the finances of the Martelly administration. Privert and Jean at times indicted they were favorable to such an audit, and at others said it was best left to an elected government. The economy is stagnant and public finances have deteriorated to a dangerous level. Whether legitimate or not, calls for an audit have only heightened the political tension; some of those supporting it are clearly interested in political revenge, while some opposed clearly are trying to protect themselves from greater scrutiny.
The following post is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections blog.
Senate candidate and former paramilitary leader Guy Philippe has threatened a “civil war” if the Privert government fails to hold elections on April 24. Efforts to restart the electoral process have been stalled by a stand-off between interim President Jocelerme Privert and pro-Martelly legislators, who insist on quick elections without a verification of the vote. Philippe’s threat to resolve Haiti’s electoral crisis through violence would seem very real, given the recent parade of militiamen sympathetic to PHTK on February 5. Despite his bellicose comments and his name appearing on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, the international powers do not appear concerned by Philippe’s political involvement or his repeated threats of violence.
In a February 29 radio message commemorating the 12th anniversary of the 2004 coup d’État, Philippe accused President Privert of wanting to hold on to power beyond his 120-day term limit and warned of “a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to bring the country directly into a civil war.” Philippe called for “vigilance” on the part of former soldiers and others who had fought against the “dictatorship” of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and declared that “there are people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.” Philippe concluded by saying:
Once more, we say no coup, no Machiavellian plan will pass. No one in power will be able to be my enemy. There’s an election that needs to happen, and it will happen. And if it doesn’t happen, neither Parliamentarians, nor the provisional president, nor anyone with any repressive force they know and have in their service, no one will be able to hold back this people, no one will be able to hold back these honest citizens, no one will be able to hold me, Guy Philippe, back. Thank you.
In a subsequent television interview at his home in Pestel, Philippe reiterated this message, stating that a civil war would break out if the “Lavalassian tendency” tried to stay in power. “I believe Privert has no choice; he must organize elections or he must leave power May 14.” Philippe also denounced Prime Minister Fritz Jean’s appointment as contrary to constitutional norms.
Philippe’s political position mirrors that of Youri Latortue and other PHTK-aligned figures, who have alleged that Jean, a former governor of Haiti’s central bank, is too close to Lavalas and is thus not qualified to handle the resumption of elections. At issue is whether or not the interim government will conduct a verification of vote on August 9 and October 25. Pro-Martelly candidates, including presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse, are widely suspected of having benefitted from fraudulent votes in previous rounds.
Philippe ran for Senator of the Grand’Anse, finishing first with 22.5% of the vote on October 25. Violence, confrontations and allegations of ballot-stuffing were rife in the Grand’Anse during the first-round legislative elections on August 9. These disruptions meant that for the constituencies of Pestel, Anse-d’Hainault/Les Irois, Jérémie, Corail and Roseaux (5 out of 9 in the department) only 70.7% to 75.9% of tally sheets were received by the CEP’s Tabulation Center. The CEP ultimately decided to withhold publication of first-round results until after October 25, when Senate voting was re-run in Jérémie and Pestel (Philippe’s hometown). Philippe’s party, Consortium, ran candidates in the region and has two deputies in the new parliament. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a notorious leader of the death squad FRAPH during the 1991-1994 coup, ran under the Consortium banner as a candidate in Les Anglais-Chardonnières, Sud. Chamblain served as Philippe’s lieutenant during the 2004 paramilitary insurgency and was acquitted of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in a widely-denounced retrial after the coup.
Haitian human rights groups, election observers and opposition parties continue to call for a verification commission as an indispensible step before resuming the electoral process, even if this means extending the term of the transition government. Moïse and his parliamentary allies, on the other hand, insist that the elections be held on April 24, as called for in the political accord, and on the basis of the current results. They strongly oppose any verification commission. Philippe’s statements clearly place him in the latter camp. The political party he leads, Consortium, is reputed have had close relations with former President Michel Martelly. During the presidential campaign, Jovenel Moïse was photographed with Guy Philippe when he toured the Grand’Anse.
Philippe’s threats of a civil war may be a bluff to frighten the Privert government. But the danger cannot be lightly dismissed, given the apparent influence Philippe has over recently-mobilized paramilitaries seen in Port-au-Prince and other towns on February 5. After the cancellation of second-round elections by the CEP on January 22, Guy Philippe had denounced opposition protesters as “anarchists” and declared that he and his men were “ready for war.” Days later, nearly a hundred armed men in green military fatigues claiming to be members of Haiti’s disbanded military paraded menacingly through the streets of several Haitian cities, as negotiations over the creation of an interim government were unfolding. Clashes between the paramilitaries and anti-Martelly protesters left one paramilitary member dead.
The international community has been surprisingly silent on Philippe’s calls to arms. U.S. representatives in Haiti have made no comments about the threat of armed rebellion by pro-Martelly paramilitary forces or the inflammatory calls to insurrection made by Philippe. When opposition protesters committed acts of vandalism in late January, however, State Department envoy Kenneth Merten reacted by strongly denouncing these incidents as “electoral intimidation” that was “not acceptable.” The UN, for its part, merely "noted with concern the organized presence of several dozen people in green uniforms, some armed."
The complacency of the U.S. is all the more intriguing, given that Philippe is wanted by U.S. law enforcement for involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Philippe has been on a DEA fugitive list for years and has escaped numerous attempts to arrest him. A DEA spokesperson confirmed he remained a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that the U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. However, a spokesperson for the Marshalls replied that this was not the case, stating given the “solid information” possessed by the DEA “about the subject’s whereabouts,” there was”no reason” to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its sole responsibility for apprehending Philippe. Despite his rising public profile, however, Philippe has yet to be arrested.
Interestingly, the DEA has had the cooperation of the Martelly administration in other high-profile cases. In an interview with the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson, a DEA informant said that no one was particularly concerned about allegations that Martelly’s associates were involved in drug trafficking or corruption, because "whatever else Martelly had done, he complied with the DEA’s local operations."
Human rights groups worried prior to the start of the 2015 elections that Haiti’s next parliament could become a redoubt of drug dealers, criminals and human rights abusers. The political involvement of Guy Philippe, who is on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, and his political party Consortium underlines how real this concern is.
On Friday, March 4, 2016 representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and State Department joined two visiting Haitian human rights leaders and two U.S.-based academics in a discussion on Haiti’s current electoral crisis. Organized by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) and sponsored by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), the discussion focused on the causes of the postponement of the electoral crisis, the selection of Provisional President Jocelerme Privert and efforts to move the electoral process forward.
The five panelists made opening remarks and then moderator, Dr. Robert Maguire of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, directed an open discussion among the speakers.
The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here. Following are excerpts from the panelists’ opening remarks and the subsequent discussion.
Professor Robert Fatton, University of Virginia
Professor Fatton opened the discussion by providing some useful background on the current situation, noting that President Martelly agreeing to step down on February 7 when his term ended and the subsequent selection of Senate president Privert as provisional president had “temporarily eased political tensions.”
Fatton noted that the accord, signed by Martelly, Privert (as Senate president) and Chancy Cholzer, the president of the Chamber of Deputies had tasked Privert with forming a new consensus government, reforming the electoral council and finally, implementing the recommendations of an evaluation commission formed in late December 2015.
“While Privert may succeed with the first two tasks, he will be hard pressed to accomplish the third,” Fatton argues. He explains further that the crisis stems from the “perceived illegitimacy of the whole electoral process,” and that without a verification commission – as has been demanded by many in Haitian civil society – “Haiti will not extricate itself from the current quagmire.”
In the clip below, Fatton makes these points and expounds further on sources of opposition to a further verification.
Believing that altering the results of the election or scrapping the process entirely will be politically untenable, Fatton instead puts forward an “extraconstitutional” approach that would see the second-round runoff opened up to the top four candidates. Privert will need the “Midas touch” to move Haiti out of the current political impasse.
Fatton ridiculed each side in Haiti for calling for the intervention of the international community when it serves their particular interests. But added that, on the other hand, the international community must “stop customary interferences and allow Haitians to devise their own history and make their own mistakes. Barring this Haiti will continue to be in a permanent state of crisis.”
Gerardo de Icaza, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, OAS
Gerardo de Icaza, in his opening remarks, addressed criticism of the OAS and its role as an election observer in Haiti. “Without a doubt, don’t be surprised, you will be disappointed with what I say today. I know this. And I know you know it,” he opened. Icaza said that the OAS did see many irregularities during the election, but that they “were not a determining factor in the results that were presented.”
“What you expect from us is to come out and say there was a massive fraud, the results should not be accepted, everything should be scrapped and we should start from zero. Well, I cannot say that,” de Icaza continued.
De Icaza addressed the concerns around the issue of mandataires, political party representatives who have been recognized as one of the largest sources of fraud and irregularities during the election.
“Now, 900,000 mandataires. Who are registered by whom? By the political parties. Plural. By one political party? No. By many political parties. Plural.” Did they all vote and did they all vote only once, de Icaza asked rhetorically. “We do not know,” he answers, adding that OAS observers saw safeguards in place to prevent multiple voting.
“Did they all vote for the same candidate? I seriously doubt it. Because that would mean that there was a fraud that was so well orchestrated… that we would have detected that. And we did not see that.”
Kent Brokenshire, Deputy Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State
As opposed to other panelists who focused on the current situation, Brokenshire used his opening remarks to harken back on his first tour in Haiti, during the early 90s. He discussed the connection he felt towards Haiti and how it has captivated so many others throughout the years.
Brokenshire pushed back on the idea that Haiti has not seen progress in recent decades, noting that while Haiti still is facing many political challenges, “the difference is beautiful.”
“These challenges are being addressed around tables, by politicians, by elected leaders. This was not the case before, you had people hanging on to raw power through military means.”
Pierre Esperance, Director, National Human Rights Defense Network of Haiti (RNDDH)
Esperance, who led a local electoral observation mission that was present in more than half of all polling centers in the country on election day, contrasted what the OAS observed with what his local group found and stressed the need for an independent verification commission before moving forward.
“Haiti needs the support of the international community…I think there needs to be a minimum respect for Haiti,” Esperance said. “When I say minimum respect, what do I mean by that? When we talk of democracy, what democracy are we speaking of? There should not be two levels of democracy – one for those that are advanced and one for those less advanced.”
Pointing to the high-level of violence, irregularities and “massive fraud,” Esperance noted that while the international community came to observe the election and make some recommendations, “they did not go to the lengths that we went.” But, Esperance added, “We are not the people who have the proof.”
The evidence of what Esperance alleges is, according to him, “sitting in the tabulation center and we are asking for that information to be verified.”
“If you put together an independent commission of evaluation, they will see that. The proofs are there. That is why we didn’t get a president elected on December 27 or January 24. So, when we ask for a commission of verification and evaluation, we don’t have in our head that a particular candidate will be expelled from the process. And it would be very difficult to put one particular candidate outside the process. And I don’t think that will change the results of the 4 or 5 at the top of the race but it will help us end impunity and corruption in the country. If you find the truth and seek the truth then we can organize acceptable elections,” Esperance explains.
Esperance, in a message to the international community, stated that “you cannot ask the Haitians to accept the unacceptable,” adding that “we are not seeking perfect elections, we want acceptable elections.”
Marie Frantz Joachim, Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA)
Marie Frantz opened by moving the discussion to a different aspect of the electoral process: the lack of women in parliament and how that happened.
Despite 23 Senate candidates and more than 120 Deputy candidates, Marie Frantz pointed out that there is “not a single woman inside parliament.”
She discussed the role that Martelly has played, particularly by publicly and verbally abusing a woman at a campaign rally last summer. “Basically, he said that women are just there to satisfy men sexually, therefore women do not have a role in parliament or politics.” Therefore, she added, it is “not surprising that today we don’t have a single woman in the parliament.”
Another cause was the “the corruption that existed within the electoral system.” According to Marie Frantz, many women candidates, who were expected to advance to the runoff, faced electoral contestations at the electoral courts. But, she continued, “the people that they were facing had more money and they paid and they went through.”
“The person with the most money is the person that gets elected.”
Marie Frantz then addressed the question of a verification commission, stating that “we need to know the truth.”
“It’s when we have that truth that we can truly say we have people that have been elected legitimately. We need people who are elected through credible elections so we can have peace in the country. We need to establish a sense of trust between the population and political authorities.”
Finally, Marie Frantz concluded, “without women there is no democracy.”
Dr. Maguire, the moderator of the event, opened up the panel discussion by asking about the proliferation of political parties in recent years, which contributed to the problems with mandataires on election day.
Esperance responded that while Haiti has already had many parties, it is “during the Martelly government that we see a surge in political parties.” The explanation, he continued, was that Martelly wanted additional parties to strengthen his negotiating position with the opposition.
Marie Frantz then added that according to the law on political parties that was passed in 2014, it only takes 20 people for a party to be officially recognized. She added that, “a lot of those political parties were selling their mandataires to other parties … it was strategically thought out.”
Esperance added that it was not just political parties who received accreditation passes for mandataires, but that observer groups also received these passes, sometimes up to 17,000 of them, which were then turned around and sold to political parties. “That’s what we saw and that’s what we said. That’s why the international community is not supporting a commission for verification and evaluation because that’s where the proof lies,” Esperance concluded.
De Icaza first responded to accusations that the OAS had a double standard when it came to elections in Haiti. “Without a doubt the OAS does not have a double standard. No. We have 34 different standards. Not one, not two, 34 different standards.” That is because there is no one recipe for what makes an election free and fair, adding that that is “why the work with national observers is so important.”
De Icaza clarified that the OAS has “never asked the Haitian people to accept these results,” but has only “stated our position and what we’ve seen.” “We have said, over and over, that whatever the solution is, it has to be a democratic solution and it has to be a Haitian solution. We have not gone any further than that,” he said.
“The problem that we have, for a certain sector of the population, no result unless we reach the cancelation of the results, will be acceptable.”
Fatton fired back, noting that there was a “fetishism” of elections in Haiti. “Every election that is fraudulent is acceptable, so at the end of the day, fraud becomes the new norm. And when fraud is the new norm, there is a breakdown in the electoral process, this is inevitable.”
Fatton discussed the recent history of “ad-hoc” electoral solutions in the 2006 and 2010 elections, and noted the current disagreement between local and international observers. “Let us not try and be nice and diplomatic, there is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the international community and Haitian civil society organizations.”
“One says it was a farce and the other says, well, it wasn’t that bad, it was acceptable. And the problem is the more you accept elections that are fraudulent, the more the system literally decomposes and that’s what is happening in Haiti.”
Fatton concludes: “But I guarantee you that if you have another election, a runoff between two candidates, whoever they may be, without the commission on verification, an independent one, the new government elected will be in deep trouble a few months afterwards because it will have very limited legitimacy … this is a recipe for another crisis.”
Esperance then addressed the OAS representative, de Icaza, noting that while the situation in each country is different, their work in Haiti is based on what is contained in the electoral law. “There are many people who voted many times, particularly the observers and political representatives. That’s fraud. Help us construct democracy, help us end impunity and corruption.”
Kent Brokenshire, the State Department representative, who remained relatively quiet throughout the panel, then chimed in to underscore that “this is a Haitian process” and the U.S. doesn’t “favor any candidate at all, what we favor is democracy.” Though not directly addressing the calls for a verification commission, Brokenshire expressed the U.S.’ desire to “see Haiti move through the electoral cycle now and have a truly elected president to represent the will of the Haitian people, have a democratically elected head of state with whom we would be able to deal country to country.”
Pushing back on other panelists comments about the unlikelihood of elections being held in April, as the political accord had called for, Brokenshire added that: “In this accord they targeted April 14 [it’s actually April 24] as the day for elections, they gave the provisional president 120 days to complete that. So, they basically set out the rules for that and this is something that was done among Haitians, there was no whispering in ears there. This is something done among Haitians and something that we respect.”
Esperance responded that the accord did not involve the entire Haitian society and that the timeframe they put forward was “impossible.” “There is not even a 1% chance that a president will be installed on May 14, even in June it’s impossible. So what do we want? First, there will be a new CEP. There will be a commission for evaluation and verification. And I guarantee you that commission must happen otherwise there will be no election.” Even if the results do not change, we need to seek the truth, he added.
De Icaza then indicated that if Haitian leaders decide that a verification commission is needed to move the process forward, then “that’s perfect and the OAS will probably accompany this process.” But, he continued, it will issue a report that will show what we already know, that there were many irregularities. “Will they be able to put a number on those irregularities? I don’t know if they can do that scientifically, to tell you the truth.”
“For us, the difference between first, second and third is so clear that it would be difficult for those things to change. But if that’s what is needed and that is the Haitian solution, that’s wonderful,” he stated. De Icaza pointed out, however, that if a verification commission was formed, it would need clear timelines and rules to ensure its acceptance and success.
Marie Frantz responded by referencing the lack of trust between international actors and the Haitian people, but noted that these institutions, including the OAS, “have a great deal to gain by working hand in hand with Haitian society to put together this commission.”
“The lack of trust that exists between the population and these institutions…work to reestablish trust is work that is extremely important and I hope that the reflections we are having today will allow us…to reestablish trust.”