MUSICIANS, DOCTORS, ACTIVISTS, TECHNOCRATS AND POLITICIANS: 34 CANDIDATES BID FOR HAITI'S PRESIDENCY
By Kim Ives, Editor of Haiti Liberté
PART ONE, Published on August 11, 2010
Haiti's embattled nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), headed by Gaillot Dorsinvil, continued its forced march toward Nov. 28 presidential and parliamentary elections this week, closing presidential candidate registrations on Aug. 7.
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The CEP has excluded Haiti's largest party, the Lavalas Family of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, prompting weekly and sometimes large demonstrations calling for its removal and that of President René Préval, who hand-picked it.
While Lavalas base organizations and even some politicians say they will boycott any elections carried out under Préval and his CEP, the announcement of certain presidential candidacies have inflamed passions and may alter the political chessboard dramatically.
Candidacies can be contested up until Aug. 12, and the CEP says it will issue a list of those accepted on Aug. 17. Some of the 34 candidates who registered will likely be disqualified for violation of certain requirements like that for five consecutive years of residency in Haiti prior to the election.
Here we present a brief description of some of the candidates, including who and what they represent.
Claiming he was "drafted by Haiti's youth," Haitian-American hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean, 40, was certainly the most spotlighted Haitian presidential candidate to register this week, but, ironically, he is also one of the most disdained by Haitians both in Haiti and its diaspora.
"He has no education, no preparation, and no competence to be Haiti's president, especially with the complicated crisis we face now," said Joseph Ulysse, 38, a Brooklyn-based cab driver. "His candidacy is a mockery."
Indeed, Jean's live announcements of his bid on Miami-based Bonjour Haiti and CNN on Aug. 5 have unleashed a torrent of critical articles and editorials calling on him to quit the race.
"Jean, an incredibly savvy entertainer, clearly lacks the political wherewithal to deal with the complex situations he is likely to face abroad," wrote Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor of the moderate Haitian-American English-language weekly Haitian Times, in the Guardian. "His internal challenges are more troublesome because he needs to surround himself with a strong cadre of competent people well-steeped into the ins and outs of governance."
Pierre-Pierre represents exactly the demographic to which Wyclef Jean is hoping to appeal. But Pierre-Pierre calls Jean's platform - education, healthcare and job creation - "unremarkable" and urges him to "stick to what you know best," namely "continue as a roving ambassador, bringing a certain Hollywood glamour to the hemisphere's poorest nation."
Meanwhile, the Haiti Action Committee's Charlie Hinton in the San Francisco Bay View focused on Wyclef's seamy political past. "Wyclef Jean supported the 2004 coup," Hinton wrote. "When gun-running former army and death squad members trained by the CIA were overrunning Haiti's north on Feb. 25, 2004, MTV's Gideon Yago wrote, 'Wyclef Jean voiced his support for Haitian rebels on Wednesday, calling on embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down...'"
Just as actor Sean Penn suggested on CNN that U.S. "corporate interests were enamored" with Wyclef Jean and behind his campaign, Hinton contends that the "floating of his candidacy is just one more effort by the international forces, desperate to put a smiley face on a murderous military occupation, to undermine the will of the Haitian majority by making Wyclef Jean the Ronald Reagan of Haiti.
"Let us be clear. Jean and his uncle, [Raymond Joseph, also a presidential candidate and] the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., are both cozy with the self-appointed czar of Haiti, Bill Clinton, whose plans for the Caribbean nation are to make it a neo-colony for a reconstructed tourist industry and a pool of cheap labor for U.S. factories. Wyclef Jean is the perfect front man. The Haitian elite and its U.S./U.N. sponsors are counting on his appeal to the youth to derail the people's movement for democracy and their call for the return of President Aristide. Most Haitians will not be hoodwinked by the likes of Wyclef Jean."
Ansel Herz, a Haiti-based independent journalist, also published a critical piece on his blog at Mediahacker.org. He wrote: "So what about breaking the stranglehold that a few of Haiti's most obscenely wealthy families have on the government and economy? 'We have to build an open system that doesn't stop them from making money, that will work for them, if only because what they're making could double, triple,' Jean told Esquire Magazine in a recent interview. Those families have been making a killing on the backs of the Haitian poor for decades, paying them dirt-cheap wages to work in sweatshops while stifling the country's emergent middle class. Make no mistake, Jean's politics are those of the Haiti's miserable status quo."
The Smoking Gun website has put out several documents detailing how Wyclef Jean has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his charity, Yele Foundation, to himself and to companies he owns or controls. It also revealed that the IRS believes Jean owes it $2.1 million in back taxes. Most Haitians are therefore leery of letting Wyclef Jean and his acolytes anywhere near the already paltry and pilfered Haitian treasury.
Finally, there is the little matter of whether Wyclef's candidacy is even legal. "Article 135e of Haiti's Constitution is clear," explained Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) on Aug. 4 on Pacifica Radio's KPFA program Flashpoints. "In order to be President, you need to have a residence in Haiti for the five consecutive years before the election. Mr. Jean has not lived in Haiti for, I believe, 28 years, and his residence is in New Jersey, not it Haiti. So it's a pretty clear disqualification." Wyclef claims that his 2007 appointment by Préval as Haiti's goodwill ambassador - an essentially honorary post - exempts him from the residency requirement.
During Jean's announcement, CNN played and replayed clips of young women grinding and young men bouncing on motorcycles, all wearing T-shirts with the name of his party: Face to Face.
JACQUES EDOUARD ALEXIS
He served as Préval's Prime Minister from Jan. 1999 to Feb. 2001 and again from May 2006 to Apr. 2008, when he was dismissed from his post by the Haitian Senate following nationwide food riots.
Alexis, 62, has been an unannounced presidential candidate for the last two years, courting the Lavalas base with the promise of bringing back Aristide from exile in South Africa. He had expected to be the candidate of Préval's Unity party, and indeed was for two days last week after clearing several daunting hurdles.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that Alexis' candidacy was kaput when it came to public attention that he had never received from the Parliament a "décharge," essentially an audit and stamp of approval saying his administration was not corrupt.
Alexis' problem was that Haiti's Parliament expired in May, so there was no way for him to now get the clean bill of health, even though there may have been problems there too.
The whole dilemma went away last week when Préval's CEP announced that it would simply disregard the electoral law article mandating a "décharge" from former government officials.
Haiti's entire "political class," from the Lavalas Family to right-wing political fronts, cried foul, but Préval was unmoved. He announced that Alexis would represent Unity.
However, Unity the next day became far from it. The party rebelled against Préval's nomination of Alexis. In a night-time meeting at the National Palace on Aug. 5, Moise Jean-Charles, the party's Northern Senator and an Alexis supporter, got in a fist-fight with Senate President Kelly Bastien, who backed the Southeast's Senator, Joseph Lambert.
Finally Alexis was unceremoniously ousted and replaced by Jude Célestin, a low-profile technocrat who heads Préval's pet agency, the National Equipment Company (CNE), which has more machinery than the Department of Public Works. The CNE's dump-trucks and backhoes have been the principle excavators so far of rubble after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
A veteran of such political wrangling, Alexis quickly switched his candidacy to the obscure Mobilization for Haiti's Progress (MPH), his back-up banner, but not before he and Préval had a bitter fight over his ouster from Unity on the night of Aug. 6 at the Palace.
Born in Gonaives, Alexis has spent much of his life in academia. Trained as an agronomist and a chemist, he taught at the college level in Haiti and Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. He then helped found the private University of Quisqueya, where he was the first rector from 1990 to 1995.
Under Préval's first administration, Alexis was also Minister of National Education, Youth, and Sport, Culture Minister, and Interior Minister.
Alexis, who has the backing of sectors like the Open the Gates Party (PLB) of Francois Pierre-Louis, would pursue policies similar to Préval, who represents Haiti's "enlightened" bourgeoisie. This current seeks accommodation with the U.S. and France, which politically and economically dominate the country, while making eyes at and paying lip-service to entreaties from vanguard neighbors like Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia for Haiti to break away and join anti-imperialist initiatives like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).
PART TWO, Published on August 18, 2010
On Aug. 17, just hours before it was to make public the official list of presidential candidate disqualifications, Haiti's nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) postponed the announcement until Friday, Aug. 20.
Tensions grew this week as rumors began to leak out before the official announcement.
Young toughs associated with the campaign of hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean declared that they would rampage if the CEP disqualified him, or, as Haitians say, gave him a "carnet," a reference to the ejection penalty card in a soccer game. One of Jean's representatives was arrested following the declaration, and Wyclef Jean announced he'd gone underground following death threats. It turned out he was "in hiding" at his mother's house in Cabaret, which led some to view the announcement as a publicity stunt.
On Aug. 16, it was announced that Jean Bertin of the Haitian Socialist Party
(PSH) was contested by his own party, which is part of the 2010 Forces coalition supporting candidate Wilson Jeudi. This disqualification was certain.
Less definitive was the reported disqualification of Leslie Voltaire of the Together We Are Strong (Ansanm Nou Fo) party. As a former government minister under the administrations of both Presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and René Préval, he was disqualified for not having the required post-service clearance papers from the Accounting Court (la Cour des Comptes). However, on the morning of Aug. 17, it was reported that he did indeed supply these documents.
Disqualified candidates can appeal their case to the Office of National Electoral Disputes (BCEN). Disputes were also filed against Wyclef Jean (Live Together), former Prime Ministers Yvon Neptune (Haitians for Haiti) and Jacques Edouard Alexis (Mobilization for Haiti's Progress), Brooklyn-based Dr. Kesler Dalmacy (Independent), activist Lavarice Gaudin (Veye Yo), and compas musician Michel Martelly (aka Sweet Mickey) of Peasant's Answer.
We continue this week with a brief review of two more of the leading candidates, including who and what they represent.
A virtual unknown, Jude Célestin, 48, is the candidate of Haiti's ruling party, Unity, headed by President René Préval.
The candidacy had originally gone to Préval's former Prime Minister, Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was removed from power by Haiti's Senate in April 2008 following nationwide food riots (see Haïti Liberté, Vol. 4, No. 4, 08/11/2010).
But two powerful brothers from the southeastern city of Jacmel, who are Unity party leaders, Senators Joseph and Wenceslas Lambert, pushed through Alexis' ouster and his replacement by Célestin on the eve of the Aug. 7 candidate registration deadline.
A Swiss-trained mechanical engineer, Célestin began working at Haiti's state-run flour mill in 1985, where he repaired machinery. In 1991, Célestin met then Prime Minister René Préval who had come to inspect the flour mill.
In late 1997, then President Préval tapped Célestin to head his new pet agency - the National Equipment Center or CNE. The CNE became an extra-ministerial service for building roads and other infrastructure, always the strong-suit of Préval's administrations. Thus, the CNE has more dump-trucks, bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment than the Public Works Ministry.
After Aristide returned to power in 2001 and shrank the CNE to almost nothing, Célestin quit and went to work briefly for UNOPS, the UN's engineering arm. He also spent much of his time with Préval in the northern town of Marmelade, the president's hometown.
After Préval returned as President in 2006, Célestin resumed his post at the head of the CNE, working to build emergency roads after the four consecutive storms of 2008 and to remove rubble after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
Having been primarily a functionary, Célestin has no political history to speak of. He is presented by the party as a modest can-do man, not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty.
More ominously, Célestin was championed by the Lambert brothers, who originally helped form the party MODEREH (Haiti's Democratic and Renovating Movement). MODEREH was headed by former soldier Dany Toussaint, an erstwhile Aristide ally who defected and supported the 2004 coup d'état against the elected president. The Lambert brothers left MODEREH shortly before the Feb.
7, 2006 presidential elections to join Préval's Lespwa (Hope) alliance, the precursor to Unity.
For years, rumors of involvement in drug trafficking, corruption, assassinations, and other malfeasance have swirled around the Lamberts, particularly Joseph.
Furthermore, when Célestin went to register at the CEP, he was accompanied by Rony Gilot, who acted as Information Minister for dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and recently wrote a glowing biography of his even more ruthless father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
Célestin has also been rumored to be involved in the Jan. 12, 2009 kidnapping in Delmas of 65-year-old Joseph Francois Robert Marcello, who headed the National Commission of Market Procurement (CNPM). Marcello has never reappeared and his daughter, Méthilde, left Haiti last week into self-imposed exile after Célestin was made Unity's nominee.
Like Préval, Célestin represents Haiti's "enlightened" bourgeoisie, which kowtows to the dictates and occupations of the U.S., France and Canada, while occasionally posturing alongside anti-imperialist leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
Mirlande Manigat is the secretary general of the right-wing Assembly of National and Progressive Democrats (RDNP). The party was founded in 1979 by her husband, Leslie François Manigat, who retired from politics after coming in second to René Préval in the Feb. 7, 2006 presidential contest.
Leslie Manigat served as Haiti's president for four months in 1988, after winning a widely boycotted election held by a neo-Duvalierist military junta following a bloodily aborted Nov. 1987 presidential contest. After Manigat's Feb. 7, 1988 inauguration, junta leader Gen. Henri Namphy deposed Manigat in a Jun. 20, 1988 coup and resumed the presidency.
Mirlande Manigat became RDNP's candidate after the Haitian Patriots' Platform (PLAPH) chose not to endorse her. As a result, the RDNP pulled out of PLAPH.
A long-time political lieutenant to her husband, Mirlande Manigat is also the author of the book "To Be a Woman in Haiti Yesterday and Today: A Look at Constitutions, Laws and Society."
Mirlande Manigat announced her presidential candidacy two years ago, long before the Nov. 28, 2010 election date was set.
The RDNP is a Christian Democratic and neo-Duvalierist party, which never played a leading role in the 1991 and 2004 coups d'état against Aristide, but did later justify and defend the overthrows.
Next week: Part three