Brian Concannon, Executive Director of IJDH, was invited to participate in a Congressional briefing panel on Haiti’s political crisis. The panel was called “Roundtable Discussion: Haiti’s Political Crisis and the Impact on Reconstruction”. Brian’s planned remarks are below.
January 13, 2015
Other Featured Participants:
Amb. Tom C. Adams, Special Coordinator for Haiti, U.S. State Department
Antonal Mortime, Plateforme des Organisations Haïtiennes de Droits Humains (POHDH)
Prof. Robert Fatton, University of Virginia
Prof. Robert Maguire, George Washington University
First, I thank everyone: happy to be on a panel with Amb, Prof, Prof, but especially happy to see Antonal here. Vitally important to have Haitian voices included in these discussions.
Three Important points that I think are worth inserting into the discussion.
I. First: what is the political crisis?
Is it the challenges of implementing Sunday’s political accord, or the November recommendations 1987 Constitution.
All of us up here, and many in the room, have been involved in panel discussions on Haiti for years. Me, almost 20. Prof. Fatton and Maguire, longer. Many, if not most, of those panels have addressed how the political crisis of that moment was affecting addressing an important problem in Haiti. And I although I enjoy these discussions, I would really like to talk about something else, for example how we improve access to justice for poor victims of rape, how we deal with Haiti’s pretrial detention problem, etc . But we just can’t get to those things because are always stuck with a political crisis.
There is a strong argument to be made that the main problem facing Haiti isn’t reconstructing from the earthquake, but is constructing a a stable, complete, constitutional government in Haiti, which has never happened under the 1987 Constitution. Ambassador Adams can explain how much long-term governance problems- inability to establish land titles, capacity in the Ministries, etc., have hobbled the reconstruction effort. Even the extreme death toll of the earthquake was largely a governance issue- most of those killed died when poorly constructed homes built on hillsides that were illegally steep for buildings collapsed.
II. Second Point: Should we be reversing the question: if the most important problem is governance, then perhaps we should be worrying about how reconstruction is impacting governance?
Is the international community’s earthquake assistance effectively supporting long-term government capacity to deliver basic government services? Is the international community taking steps that might help advance a specific aspect of the reconstruction, but do so at the cost of reinforcing unconstitutional rule in Haiti?
III. Third Point: Importance of rules
If you have a hammer in your hand, every problem looks like a nail. If you have a law degree, every problem looks like a rules violation. But I really do think rules are important here, especially the rules set down in the Constitution. That is actually a fairly uncontroversial statement applied to the US, but is somehow more controversial when applied to Haiti.
For example, what if President Obama announced ahead of the 2016 elections that his successor would be elected by direct voting, not the Electoral College. I would have good reasons for supporting that decision. It is more small d democratic, and may increase the chances that the candidate I support would win. Others would have good reasons to oppose it, especially tv viewers in swing states who want to see even more campaign ads. But no one would even assert those policy and political arguments. We would all oppose the President’s plan simply because the constitution says that we chose Presidents through the electoral college. This might run against my short term political interests, but I understand that the long-term stability of the US is enhanced by complying with the constitution.
The analog in Haiti is the electoral council. This is a complicated issue- we tried to make sense of it all in the briefing we put out last week, and it was a challenge to capture all the complexity. And many of the problems predate the current administrstion. But the President has proposed a series of electoral councils that have their advantages, and may be justified by policy and political concerns. But they fall short of constitutional requirments in in very important ways. I think that Haiti attaining the stability that we take for granted in the US requires all of us-political leaders in Haiti, but also everyone in the US engaged with Haiti- political leaders, government officials, commentators and advocates- to apply the same level of respect for Constitutional rule in Haiti as we would in the US.