Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Cyber Saturday: Congress must put pressure on Haiti

By Mark Weisbrot, Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

WASHINGTON — The “international community” is in charge of rebuilding Haiti, and one thing has become clear: it is not interested in any kind of democracy there, not even the low level of “democracy” that it has committed to in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Haiti’s provisional electoral commission has decided, once again, that the country’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas, will not be allowed to participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for November.

This is the equivalent of excluding the Democratic Party (actually something quite a bit larger) from U.S. congressional elections in November.

So far there are no indications that the Obamaadministration, which has — to put it mildly — enormous influence over the government of Haiti, has any objections. It had supported the last elections in April 2009 that also excluded Fanmi Lavalas, even though the exclusion led to a boycott of 90 percent of voters.

To follow the historical thread, Fanmi Lavalas is headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who became Haiti’s first democratically elected president in 1990. He was overthrown by the military seven months later, in a violent coup that had a lot ofWashington’s fingerprints on it.

President Clinton restored Aristide three years later, but Aristide offended Washington by, among other things, getting rid of Haiti’s brutal army — which was not so much a military force as an instrument of political violence on behalf of Haiti’s ruling elite.

Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School was Bill Clinton’s deputy special envoy at the United Nations. His “Partners in Health” has nearly 5,000 people in Haiti. Testifying in late July at a congressional briefing, he described what happened after Aristide and his party were elected for a second time, in 2000:

“Beginning in 2000, the U.S. administration sought … to block bilateral and multilateral aid to Haiti, having an objection to the policies and views of the administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected by over 90 percent of the vote. … Choking off assistance for development and for the provision of basic services also choked off oxygen to the government, which was the intention all along: to dislodge the Aristide administration.”

It was the second Bush administration that finally overthrew Aristide for the second time — in the coup of March 2004.

But as Farmer notes, the process was initiated under the Clinton administration in 2000. And the Obama administration is currently supporting efforts to prevent Aristide from returning to his country, a violation of Haiti’s constitution.

If only Washington were a tenth as good at rebuilding Haiti as it was at destroying the country before the earthquake. But six months after the catastrophe, less than 2 percent of the 1.6 million homeless have homes.

Hundreds of thousands have nothing at all; and 80 percent of the homeless that do have shelter are living under tarps where the ground under them turns to mud when it rains.

And less than 2.9 percent of all aid money has gone to the Haitian government, which makes reconstruction nearly impossible. With a hundred thousand children wounded from the earthquake, public hospitals are closing.

The land that is needed for shelter is owned by rich Haitians, who have other plans. The Haitian government has the authority to take this land, with compensation. The international community can make this happen.

It’s time for members of the U.S. Congress to step up to the plate and change our foreign policy toward Haiti, as they did after the 1991 military coup. Congress can make sure that the aid flows to where it is needed, that land and shelter are available, and that Haitians are allowed to elect their own government.

After all that Washington has done to punish Haiti, this is the least they can do.

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