Who is blocking Haitian democracy?

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told reporters last week that "It's essential that Haitian political actors fulfil their responsibilities and demonstrate a firm commitment to democratic principles, including respect for the integrity of the electoral

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told reporters last week that “It’s essential that Haitian political actors fulfil their responsibilities and demonstrate a firm commitment to democratic principles, including respect for the integrity of the electoral process.”

She even went so far as to hint at cutting off disaster relief until Haitians learn to behave. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon chimed in that the international community “cannot do everything” for Haiti.

The integrity of the democratic process in Haiti didn’t suddenly collapse last week when opposition supporters rose up in outrage at the announcement of highly questionable election results. Democracy has had a rocky history in Haiti, not least because of US intervention, backed by Canada when called upon.

Consider the recent elections. Before the ballot boxes were stuffed, before ballots were dumped in the street, before people were turned away from the polls, the electoral process had already gone seriously off the rails. All respect for democracy flew out the window when the most popular political party in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from running candidates.

Fanmi Lavalas is, or was, the party of deposed president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide came to office in the closest thing Haiti has had to free and fair elections in living memory. He was turfed from office in 2006 by a coup organized by the US, and backed by Canada. Under cover of an uprising led by criminal gangsters, former secret policemen from the Duvalier dictatorship, and US trained mercenaries, American troops kidnapped the president and spirited him away to Africa.

Allegations of violence and corruption were made against Aristide at the time, though details are sketchy. Certainly human rights abuses flourished more before and after his foreshortened term in office than during it. But whatever else he did, for good or ill, Aristide sinned against globalism. He doubled the minimum wage to about $2 a day. He instituted land reforms, distributing small parcels to peasant farmers, and sold food to the poor at below market rate. A reasonable reading of the facts is that Aristide was driven out of Haiti, and is still kept in forced exile, not because of corruption, but because he was hurting corporate profits.

After dumping Aristide, the US used its influence to place Haiti under the control of a UN “peacekeeping” force, seen by many Haitians as an army of occupation. If Aristide were to attempt to return to Haiti, it is those peacekeepers who would have the job of arresting him and quelling the groundswell of popular support that would inevitably result.

Those peacekeepers provided the muscle that made it possible to hold the recent sham elections, which were opposed by a majority of Haitians, but did nothing to prevent open tampering with the vote. In plain view of TV cameras, people stuffed handfuls of ballots into boxes, while others dumped ballot boxes onto the polling station floor, or carried them off to be dumped or destroyed elsewhere.

The election was such an obvious fiasco that most parties in Haiti immediately called for it to be annulled. Haitians demonstrated in the street on election night demanding that the electoral commission trash-can the whole sorry pretense and start again from scratch. That might have been a good time for Cannon and Clinton to weigh in on democratic principles and the integrity of the electoral process, but they chose to wait until the streets erupted in violence.

UN Special Envoy to Haiti Michaelle Jean told Canadian Press last week that after the earthquake and the cholera epidemic, the country doesn’t need political violence. Instead, she said, the people should accept the phony results of a phony election, and put it behind them so they can get on with reconstruction.

They won’t do it. The Haitian people care too deeply about democracy to let it be stolen without a fight. They will line up all day to vote, face death threats to get to the polling stations, put their lives on the line to demonstrate against election fraud. They don’t need lectures on democracy from anyone, least of all from the US, the UN, Canada, or anyone else who’s been instrumental in stealing it from them.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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