U.S. Should Let Haiti Reclaim its Democracy

An update from IJDH Executive Director Brian Concannon

Haiti’s deepening crisis is a predictable consequence of years of U.S. support for undemocratic regimes as they dismantled Haiti’s democracy.  

With your partnership, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) have been leading the fight for the democracy Haiti needs to secure stability, security and prosperity. We are devastated and scared about the current crisis, but we are equally determined to maximize the opportunities the crisis presents for getting Haiti back on the democratic path.

In Haiti, BAI is the legal backbone of the pro-democracy movement. BAI lawyers get political prisoners out of jail and back to their work. They negotiate with police over restrictions on demonstrations, and provide a safe venue for grassroots activists to meet, negotiate and hold press conferences.

On Tuesday morning, I called the BAI’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph. He was understandably worried about the violence. He said he had closed the office and the BAI team would hunker down in their houses that day. A few hours later, Mario called from the office. He was meeting with an activist, discussing an initiative they were working on, and did not even mention the risks they were taking.

This resolute commitment and the courageous work of Haitian pro-democracy activists will not succeed by itself because too many decisions about Haitians’ rights are made in Washington and other power centers abroad. That’s why IJDH takes Haitians’ fight for democracy to those power centers. We support Haitian-American advocacy, lead solidarity initiatives and engage directly with political leaders.

This morning we published an article in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft bi-partisan blog, providing information and analysis on how Haiti got into this crisis and what the U.S. needs to do to let Haitians get themselves back on track towards democracy. 

Haiti’s crisis has escalated since we last wrote and Prime Minister Henry was refused entry in the Dominican Republic while attempting to return to Haiti from Kenya. Though Henry has not yet resigned and the State Department denied reports that it demanded his resignation, Henry has clearly lost the support of the United States. Absent Washington’s support, Henry has little chance of regaining power.  

This dire situation in Haiti is not only predictable, it was predicted. Haitian-American officials, Haitian civil society, and members of the U.S. Congress had been warning for years that the United States’ propping of Henry would lead to increasing tragedy for Haitians. The United States, which installed Henry in power in the first place, ignored these pleas and stood resolutely by its friend. 

Haitians have a long history of coming together to make their way out of a crisis. Civil society sees an opportunity for democracy in this crisis, and people all over Haiti have been meeting to develop platforms for a broad-based, legitimate transitional government that can hold fair elections. It is expected that soon one of these platforms will rise to the top, and civil society will coalesce around it. The United States needs to let that process happen without interference or conditions.

Read more in our article in Responsible Statecraft here

No matter how dangerous things get in Haiti, Mario and the rest of the BAI team are going to keep fighting every day for democracy. The IJDH team is going to keep doing everything we can to support our Haitian colleagues and bring their fight to the U.S. We have made it this far because our supporters have stood by us for 20 years.  Getting democracy back to Haiti will require you continuing to stand by us in the fight for democracy over the difficult weeks and months ahead.