By Kevin Edmonds, Stabroek News
The upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Haiti on November 28th highlight the complexities and difficulties of intergovernmental organizations which seek to chart foreign policy positions outside of the umbrella of American regional power and influence. CARICOM, rightfully respected for both its previous advocacy and solidarity with Haitian people and their right to self determination following the devastating January 12th earthquake, and their opposition to the 2004 coup of Jean Bertrand Aristide, has since fallen in line with the international community on the question of the 2010 Haitian elections. What remains to be seen is whether or not this endorsement will serve to rubberstamp a process which is widely regarded as illegitimate, due to the highly contested makeup and actions of the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, and how this will affect the foreign policy of CARICOM moving forward.
CARICOM, the United States and other international donors have committed to funding and working with the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), notwithstanding allegations of fraud, unconstitutional activity, and the politically motivated exclusion of candidates and entire political parties. The constitution does not grant the CEP the power to exclude any political party from participating in any election. The composition of the CEP has also come under scrutiny, as President Rene Preval has been accused of having a disturbingly close relationship with the organization, raising serious doubts about the Council’s ability to remain politically neutrally. In addition, its current members were unconstitutionally appointed by Preval, and the final candidate list appears to be highly influenced by his opinion – which includes his son in law, Jude Celestin. The resulting lack of confidence in the scandal plagued CEP has led to rising calls of boycotts due to the lack of fairness and transparency. Given this context, the execution of national elections has the potential to provoke widespread political unrest, further compounding the obstacles facing the Haitian people in their struggles for self-determination.
The admission of Haiti into CARICOM in 1998 was primarily made with the intention of ending the nation’s “decades of isolation to help promote the growth of institutional democracy.“ CARICOM’S current stance raises serious questions about whether the organization is, in effect, taking a position which could undermine the very same democratic process it intended to cultivate.
There is, a historical context to all this. On more than one occasion, CARICOM has also been threatened and sidelined by the major powers due to its position on Haiti. During Aristide’s presidency, CARICOM was consistently vocal about the suspension of nearly $1 billion worth of aid from the United States, the European Union, Canada and others. The 2004 coup of Aristide was met with significant and well deserved outrage from CARICOM, which warned that its acceptance by the international community set a “dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments everywhere.”
Due to their objections, CARICOM refused to participate in or legitimize the United Nations “peacekeeping” efforts, and called for an official inquiry into the coup – a position that was totally dismissed. In addition to the political acceptance of the coup by the United States, Canada and the EU, aid began to flow to the illegal government of Gerard Latortue. CARICOM’s prioritization of democracy; sovereignty and aid to Haiti was completely at odds with the actions and intentions of the international community.
In addition, the organization came under intense pressure after Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson granted Aristide permission for temporary residence in Jamaica; the then U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice explicitly threatened the Jamaican government if it did not rescind the offer. The fact that regional solidarity, the kind shown by Patterson to Aristide was viewed as a direct threat to American interests in the region, signalled that the United States was perversely focused on maintaining its hegemony by any means – including the suppression of the Haitian people’s popular movement towards democracy.
Given the region’s geopolitics, CARICOM’s role as an election observer in the Haitian elections scheduled for November 28th, is a complicated one. While not excusing the silence of the regional organization with regard to the substantive charges of flaws characterising the current electoral process in Haiti, CARICOM does recognize President Rene Preval as the legitimate government based on the 2006 elections. According to Professor Norman Girvan, this leaves CARICOM in a difficult position, as “the dilemma is that it would be difficult to oppose an internal process in a member state that is endorsed by its government which is in good standing with the Community. That would put CARICOM in the position of making a judgment about the internal political process that is at variance with the government of the member state of the country. That would in the eyes of many, if not all, CARICOM governments, constitute a dangerous precedent which could, in the future, be used against one of the other member states.”
If the United States threatened Jamaica and CARICOM when the stakes were much lower in comparison to now (control over billions of dollars in reconstruction funding and a relative blank slate), it is hard to imagine that the Obama administration, the international community, and the reconstruction committee of international capital led by Bill Clinton have not let their demands be explicitly known. Perhaps this too accounts for the complicity of the organization with regard to the elections.
CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General (Foreign and Community Relations) Colin Granderson was tasked with leading the CARICOM Special Unit for Haiti that was appointed following the devastating January earthquake, and is currently head of the CARICOM/OAS Observer Mission to the November 28 elections. Granderson has been previously involved as the head of the UN/OAS Mission to Monitor Human Rights for the Raboteau trial which investigated the massacre of Aristide supporters in northwest Haiti in 1994, some six months before Aristide was returned to power following the first coup in 1991 that deposed him. Granderson also worked with Aristide in the months prior to the February 2004 coup in an attempt to establish a compromise with the opposition to avert a political crisis – to no avail. Granderson’s prior positioning as a friend of Haiti can only lead to further speculation about CARICOM’s current complicity with the illegitimate elections, which have the potential to drive Haiti further over the edge, adding political fuel to the multiple crises the nation is already fighting. At a press conference on November 17, Ambassador Granderson called on Haitians to go to the polls. His comment that the electoral dynamic has been strengthened gradually as the process unfolded could perhaps be read as acknowledgment of flaws, but appears to take the position that these minor imperfections are not sufficient to call into question the process and likely the results next Sunday. As such, it does little to address the allegations that this is not a situation of minor irregularities but fundamental and unconstitutional flaws that nullify the integrity of the process itself.
If the elections go forward in their current contested form where 14 political parties have been unconstitutionally excluded – the Fanmi Lavalas party of Jean Bertrand Aristide was amongst those barred from participating – there is little chance that the results will not be contested by the Haitian people. Indeed, Ambassador Granderson’s caution at the recent press conference that concerns about violence remain an issue, highlight the very real possibility that unease and dissatisfaction with the electoral process – one that the OAS/CARICOM mission will go down on record as endorsing – will spill over into the streets. It is becoming blatantly apparent that the Preval government and the international community – embodied in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – are working together to undermine the voice of the Haitian people in favour of the donor nations and business communities. Recent mobilizations against MINUSTAH in the wake of the cholera outbreak are a sign of the resurgence of the indomitable Haitian spirit of resistance, but the outcome and future for the nation remains anything but clear.
However, the future of Haiti – CARICOM relations is at a pivotal point. What will be the popular perception of CARICOM within Haiti? If the organization is seen as an accomplice of the international community which abandoned Haitians in such a significant time of need, this has the potential to derail any partnerships or projects going forward. It also has the potential to set back genuine efforts at reconstruction and self determination of both the Haitian state and people. The difficult situation CARICOM finds itself in, and the awkward silences this has produced with regard to the November 28 election, could leave a collective black eye on the regional institution. In the very near future, CARICOM might be reflecting upon whether or not the sacrifice of the integrity of the Haitian process was truly worth it, and how strong an organization which has had a strong track record on foreign policy co-ordination but which in this instance has so strongly compromised its founding principles, can continue to be moving forward.
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