Feb 22, 2006
Stumbling Forward in Haiti
– NY Times – February 17, 2006
Thank you to everyone who wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice last week. Last Wednesday, Rene Preval was declared the first-round victor of the Presidential elections. The outcome is consistent with the landslide vote for Mr. Preval, but instead of scrupulously counting the votes, as we had urged, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) changed the way that they calculated the 50% threshold that Mr. Preval needed to reach to avoid a runoff. By resolving the fraud allegations through rule changes rather than counting the votes, the CEP opened the door for Mr. Preval�s opponents in Haiti and in the International Community to claim that his victory is less than legitimate. More important, it opened the door for them to obstruct the progressive economic and social policies Mr. Preval was elected to implement. For more information on the election results, see IJDH�s Haiti Elections: Right Result,�For The Wrong Reason.
The Haitian voters� clear choice of President Preval presents a historic opportunity to combat the country�s debilitating instability, poverty and inequality. But the country had similar historic opportunities after the voters mad
e equally clear choices in 1990, 1995 and 2000. Each time a minority in Haiti, with support from the International Community, successfully limited this mandate. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the victor in the first and third of those elections, suffered two successful coup d�etats, and spent half of his two terms in exile. President Preval managed to spend his whole first term in office and transfer power to an elected successor (the first Haitian President to do so), but a manufactured political crisis and perpetual squabbling about the extent of the Lavalas landslides prevented the seating of a legislature. More important, the crisis successfully diverted President Preval�s energies and attention away from building schools and roads, implementing land reform projects and developing the public health system.
There is much difficult, challenging work to do in Haiti over the next five years. But there is just as much difficult and challenging work for us to do outside of Haiti, especially in North America and Europe. Unless we make our own countries safe for democracy in Haiti, President Preval and the Haitian people are condemned to repeat the cycles of violence, poverty and instability that have plagued them for too long: economic and political coercion will force Haiti to develop according to the needs of wealthy countries, not poor Haitian citizens, and non-compliant Presidents can be simply removed.
A good place to start our work is ensuring fair treatment for Haiti in our press. The press in the U.S., Europe and Canada has a long history of misleading editorials and reporting that mobilizes public support for unconscionable Haiti policies (see Paul Farmer�s �The Uses of Haiti� and Robert Lawless� �Haiti�s Bad Press�). The New York Times got off to a quick start last Friday, with an editorial titled: Stumbling Forward in Haiti, which warned Preval not to implement his mandate. The Times declares that Preval�s landslide has a tarnish, that can only be removed by �reaching out to his opponents� (e.g. pursuing policies that the voters resoundingly rejected), and �reining in his violence-prone supporters.� The editorial did not suggest that Mr. Preval�s opponents, many of whom were key players in the violent overthrow of Haiti�s democracy two years ago, rein in their supporters. Nor, when it declared that �Haiti will need international support for a long time,� did the Times mention its own groundbreaking report of January 29 that the U.S., among other members of the International Community, intentionally undermined and overthrew Haiti�s elected government in 2004.
The Times make several unsubstantiated and unfair attacks on President Preval�s first term in office. The police �remained brutal and corrupt� (by any account, the police have been much more brutal and much more corrupt under the dictatorships that preceded and succeeded the democratic interlude of 1994-2004); �no progress was made toward creating a competent judiciary� (Preval�s administration saw the two best human rights prosecutions in Haiti�s history in 2000, both lauded by the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights groups. Preval also made the Judges Academy, dismantled by the Interim Government, operational); �little economic growth trickled down to the impoverished majority� (without noting that the Times and everyone else reported how the impoverished majority waited hours in the hot sun to vote for Preval a week earlier); �legislative elections were badly flawed;� �drug trafficking flourished;� etc.
This Week�s Action: If we do not act, we will hear this same list repeated over and over again, to justify further economic, political, and if necessary, military coercion of Haiti and its elected leadership. Please let the NY Times know that �Stumbling Forward in Haiti� is unfair, and that you expect better. Talking points are below. Letters should be short (150 words or less- see NY Times Letter to Editor Guidelines), and can be sent by email (email@example.com) fax (212-556-3622) or regular mail (Letters to the Editor, The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036). The letters must include the author�s name, address and telephone number (see NY Times Letter Writing Suggestions), and refer to the Editorial (�Stumbling Forward in Haiti, February 19, 2006). For an example of a more balanced editorial on the elections, see President Pr�val needs the backing of the world , in The Guardian (UK).
Talking points (it is best to focus on one or at most two points in your letter):
-the editorial suggests that President Preval rein in his supporters� violence, but ignores the violence of his opponents, who led the February 2004 coup d�etat, that caused thousands of deaths;
-the editorial declares that Haiti will need �international support for a long time,� without mentioning that the U.S. and others in the international community systematically undermined and overthrew Haiti�s last elected government. The omission is particularly glaring in light of the Times� in-depth investigative report, less than three weeks before, that exposed U.S. complicity in the 2004 coup.
-the editorial says that �no progress was made toward creating a competent judiciary� during President Preval�s first administration. In fact, the adminstration saw the two best human rights prosecutions in Haiti�s history in 2000, both lauded by the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights groups- the August 2000 Carrefour Feuilles massacre trial, and the Raboteau Massacre trial in September-November 2000. President Preval also made the Judges� Academy fully operational, which created a professional training track for judges and prosecutors. The Academy was dismantled by the Interim Government.
-the editorial asserts that �little economic growth trickled down to the impoverished majority,� without noting that the impoverished majority made an almost heroic effort to vote for Preval.
For more information about the Half-Hour for Haiti Program, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, or human rights in Haiti, see www.ijdh.org. To receive Half-Hour for Haiti Action Alerts once per week, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.