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Haiti’s foreign-orchestrated election

17. May 2011
By Roger Annis and Kevin Edmonds
Haiti's foreign-orchestrated election hands power to neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly

Michel Martelly is closely associated with the extreme right in Haiti that twice overthrew elected government (in 1991 and 2004). He has vowed to reconstitute the notorious Armed Forces of Haiti, disbanded in 1995 due to its record of massive human rights violations (elements of which are in training and waiting for the call). He says that Haiti’s economic and social development depends on convincing more foreign investors to set up shop.

He told CBC Radio’s The Current on April 7 that Haiti has been “going in the wrong direction for the last 25 years,” a reference to the long and difficult struggle by the Haitian people to move beyond the terrible legacy of the Duvalier tyranny.

The two-round electoral exercise that landed him in power was foreign-funded and inspired. The United States, Canada and Europe paid at least $29 million to finance it. The victor acknowledges his campaign costs — $1 million in the first round and $6 million in the second round — were largely covered by “friends” in the United States. He refuses to say who they are.

His campaign was run by the same Spanish public relations firm that managed the successful and highly controversial election to the presidency of Mexico by Felipe Calderon in 2006.

It was an exclusionary political process. Haiti’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was ruled off the ballot by Haiti’s unconstitutional electoral commission. The election was also a vast disenfranchisement of much of the Haitian electorate. Voter registration was partial for the first round of voting on Nov. 28, 2010. No additional registration was permitted for the second round vote on March 20. Polling stations were inaccessible to many on both dates. Balloting was marked by fraud and irregularities.

Much of Canada’s media has done an astonishing about-turn in its coverage of these events. On Nov. 30, the Toronto Star published an editorial condemning the first round vote as a “fraud” and said the whole exercise should be rescheduled for a later date. CBC reporters on the ground in Haiti variously called the vote a “sham” or a “complete fraud.”

A Star editorial on April 9 now welcomes Martelly’s selection, saying, “The election of political outsider Michel Martelly as Haiti’s president is the first sign in many months that the impoverished nation still has a chance to rebuild itself…”

In the Current interview with Martelly, program host Anna Maria Tremonti pitched one soft question after another. Martelly comfortably replied with vague generalities of what he will do for Haiti.

The pop culture CBC program Q interviewed a correspondent for Time magazine on April 7. “He (Martelly) did seem to run with people who had supported Duvalier…”, admitted guest Rich Benjamin. He then hastened to add that this did not mean that Martelly’s politics were “right wing.”

“Sweet Mickey is the candidate of change in the sense he stands outside the political establishment… Depending on the issue, one might call him a progressive and not a conservative.”

CBC’s Dispatches interviewed CBC Radio’s reporter in Haiti, Connie Watson, on the same date. Sounding like a public relations spokesperson for the new president, Watson said Martelly had received “overwhelming support” from the Haitian people and has a solid plan to move Haiti forward.

Meanwhile, the return from exile of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family on March 18 was met with near-silence in Canada’s print and broadcast media. Perhaps it believes the words of Canada’s ambassador in Haiti last year, that the former president is ‘yesterday’s story.’ But the thousands of Haitians who filled the streets to welcome the Aristides home would beg to differ.

The UN secretary general’s deputy special envoy to Haiti, Nigel Fisher, voiced the Security Council’s satisfaction with the election outcome when he spoke to CBC Vancouver on April 5. While acknowledging “quite a bit of fraud” in the November 28 balloting, he said that all is forgiven in the second round.

Mr. Fisher, his colleagues at the UN Security Council and so many journalists would have us believe that a first-round election that exhibited “quite a bit of fraud” or was a “sham” could magically produce a fair result in a second round. But the rules of the electoral game were unchanged in the second round, so how could this be?

The most damning evidence of all for the absence of legitimacy of this exercise is its exceptionally low participation. Initial reports show another, record low voter turnout on March 20, perhaps lower than the 23 percent recorded on November 28. According to the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington DC, these re the lowest voter turnouts in a national election in the western hemisphere since at least 1945.

Martelly’s accession constitutes an electoral coup d’etat. It continues the aims of the paramilitary coup of 2004, namely, to exclude the Haitian people from their own political institutions and to further weaken their aspirations for social justice (voiced so eloquently by Jean Bertrand Aristide upon his return to Haitian soil).

All of this bodes poorly for the massive rebuilding effort that still lies ahead. Aid and reconstruction remain a largely unfulfilled promise. As the hype surrounding the electoral exercise fades, popular discontent will come more and more to the fore. This latest coup will no more extinguish their aspirations than previous ones have failed to do.

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and resides in Vancouver BC. Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University’s Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario.