The Obama administration’s decision to reverse its policy on Haitian immigrants raises stakes even higher in the upcoming Haitian election. The thousands of Haitians facing deportation will return to Haiti at a historical tipping point for political stability.
In Haiti’s upcoming election, the stakes are higher than ever
By the Editorial Board, The Washington Post
September 29th, 2016
AN ENORMOUS spike in the number of Haitian migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico over the past year prompted the Obama administration this month to order a sudden policy reversal and served as a reminder of the dysfunction and despair driving people from the hemisphere’s poorest nation.
Better prospects in Haiti depend on political stability, which is at a make-or-break juncture. With a redo, scheduled Oct. 9, of last year’s failed, allegedly fraud-ridden presidential vote, Haiti has a chance to regain a measure of prosperity following years of mismanagement and suffering. It must seize that chance.
A devastating earthquake in 2010 led U.S. officials to adopt a lenient stance toward Haitian migrants without visas, who have been granted admission and temporary work permits on the grounds that conditions in Haiti were so dire. The administration abruptly reversed course this month after more than 5,000 Haitians, many of whom had undertaken an odyssey through South and Central America, were processed through the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego since last October. Just 339 Haitians crossed there in all of fiscal 2015.
The stated rationale of U.S. officials was that conditions in Haiti had improved. That’s a stretch. While most of the 1.5 million people displaced by the earthquake have been resettled, economic growth is all but nonexistent. Investment is sluggish, and a drought has contributed to food shortages.
In fact, the administration could ill afford another migrant crisis; hence the change in policy on Haitian migrants. For a more durable solution, what is needed as a first step is a fair and transparent election in Haiti, whose political history offers few such examples.
The most recent vote, last October, was seen by most Haitians as riddled with fraud, including “zombie voters,” multiple voting and other irregularities. U.S. officials, who provided most of the election funding, deemed it good enough; so did some European observers. That just reinforced the widespread view in Haiti that Washington was in bed with the then-ruling party, whose candidate finished first despite being a political novice.
Following months of postponements and squabbles, the results of that vote were annulled and the runoff, originally scheduled for January, was canceled. The question now is whether the rerun, set for a week from Sunday and funded this time by Haiti without international help, will be an improvement.