Haiti: Next right step
March-April 2006 NewsNotes
Published by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
On February 7, the people of Haiti elected René Préval as their next president, hopefully ushering in an era of peace and stability in a country that has known neither for much too long. Despite tremendous physical, political and organizational obstacles, including confusion at best in the tallying of votes, Haitians reclaimed the right to decide their own political future. The international community, including the U.S., France and other countries, the UN and OAS, the international financial institutions and other creditors must now find constructive ways to accompany and support the Haitian democratic process.
Haiti’s challenges are too numerous and too complex to name easily. Some have Haitian roots, but most have deep roots in racism, imperialistic U.S. foreign policy, a profoundly unjust global economy, and the serious flaws of our multilateral institutions.
Haiti’s hope is in the people, especially the vast impoverished majority who have suffered so much and in their many allies, both Haitian and international, working together to move beyond violence; to protect human rights; to provide food, water, education, health care, jobs, genuine security and a healthy environment; to build a just and effective judicial system; and to establish mechanisms of transparency and accountability for government officials, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.
Haiti’s hope is in its rich culture and deep, complex spirituality. Haiti’s hope is in the bruised and exploited earth and in the always-present sea.
Haiti’s hope is a slim hope but it is there and it was clearly visible on election day. Some had predicted that Haiti’s poor might not vote – only to have their elections stolen again in repeated coups and political maneuvers, only to have the leaders they select disempowered by powerful political and economic international forces.
But they did vote. Now the challenge for friends of Haiti is to help sustain their hope and honor their courage. Now the challenge is to be vigilant, paying particular attention to the role of the U.S. and the international financial institutions in Haiti, and to act in concert with Haitian people and organizations committed to ensuring a life of dignity in peace for all the people of Haiti.
Following Préval’s election, Bishop Thomas Wenski, bishop of Orlando and chairman of the Committee on International Policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in part:
Our conference of bishops gives thanks to God that Haiti will soon have a duly elected executive and Parliament. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Haitian people and to the president-elect, René Préval. And we pray that the run off election for members of the two houses of Parliament scheduled for next month will be equally successful.
The challenges facing the people of Haiti and Mr. Préval are enormous and will require the cooperation of all sectors of society. It is our hope that the President, members of the legislature and the new Prime Minister when installed will immediately move to bring about significant and early improvements in the standard of living of all Haitians. We believe that this is best accomplished by seeking the active participation of political parties, the private sector, academia, the many vibrant organizations of civil society, the Haitian Diaspora and Haiti’s numerous friends throughout the world. …
The international community must clearly increase its assistance and partner in the development of capacity for sustained economic growth and social transformation. As political stability, personal security and democratic practices and accountability are strengthened, the largely unemployed and underemployed Haitian workforce must be able to count on continued foreign and domestic investment to create employment opportunities….
The people of Haiti have taken an important step forward in electing a president. Now the U.S. and the international community must take additional steps to accompany the Haitian people as they walk the long road to a future of democratic and economic re-vitalization.
Already some are identifying trouble ahead. Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, in a very interesting analysis of the elections available in full at www.ijdh.org, wrote:
The election deal gives a little something to everyone, and that’s the problem. Elections are not supposed to make everyone happy; they are supposed to apportion political power according to majority vote, on the basis of set rules. In all likelihood, a correct tabulation of the votes would have given Mr. Préval a first round victory, as exit polls and unofficial tabulations had predicted. Although the negotiated agreement reaches the same result as a correct tabulation would have reached, it does so by changing the rules instead of correcting the violations of the rules. The deal provides leverage for those seeking to delegitimize Préval’s presidency and block the progressive social and economic policies that he was elected to implement. The election’s also-rans are already crying foul, and they will be joined by more voices from Haiti’s elite and the International Community. Soon enough, invoking “the contested elections of February 2006” will suffice to justify an array of economic and political coercion against Haiti’s elected government.
In addition, Haiti’s economic future will be extremely challenging. Its foreign debt is now approaching $1.4 billion dollars, with a $55 million annual debt service. This spring the World Bank may add Haiti to the list of countries eligible for debt cancellation, but that will be slow in coming and will require implementation of an IMF program for macroeconomic policy reform most likely to include tight limits on public sector spending and privatization.
Faith in action:
Write to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury calling for the United States to support 100 percent debt cancellation for Haiti without conditions that exacerbate poverty and environmental destruction. Ask him to support 100 percent debt cancellation by the Inter-American Development Bank: John Snow, Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20220; fax: (202) 622-6415.