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The Elections Game is On
September 26, 2005
We spent the weekend outside Port au Prince in the Southeast -- in the city of Jacmel. Jacmel operates according to a slightly different logic. People are keen to tell you that things are a little less polarized there, unlike Port au Prince. Also unlike Port au Prince, there is 24-hour electricity.
That latter is something CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, might want to take credit for. CIDA contracted with Quebec's energy company, Hydro-Quebec, to improve the electricity infrastructure in and around Jacmel. Impressed, we thought we would visit the hydroelectric facility, a small dam in Jacmel's hinterland that produces some 1/7 of the capacity for the region (most of the rest is geothermal). The facility hadn't been working though, since September 12. The man who was watching the place while they waited for a spare part to repair the machinery couldn't tell us about the Canadian participation in the project.
The road between Port au Prince and Jacmel is in bad shape. We had been told that Canadian firms had a contract for improvement of some of the road, as had the Taiwanese. The Taiwanese section was complete, but the Canadian section was not.
These two problems were enough to upset Dr. Georges Frantz Large, an eye doctor and Senate candidate in the upcoming elections who also happens to be the President of the Chamber of Commerce for the Southeast. We met him at the hotel he owns, where he ensured us that he was no communist -- but that he was unhappy with the coup in 2004 and the international community's participation in it, which he views as punishment for Haiti's original sin of liberating itself in 1804. Another Jacmel businessman, Eric Denis, wondered how Canada could claim it was helping Haiti when it was the ultimate destination for so much of Haiti's human resources. There are more Haitian medical doctors in Canada than there are in Haiti, Denis said. If Canada wanted to help, why not hand over money for those doctors to work in Haiti itself? Denis, a member of the elite, said his own class had lost money from the coup. His hotel is operating at 35% of capacity, where it had operated at 65% before. He thinks that even those elites who helped orchestrate the coup are making less money than they had before.
Of course, they also have more power -- maybe it is worth taking a hit to profits to control of the future of the country.
The Electoral List
On the topic of power, back to Port au Prince, where the list of 54 candidates for president in the November 2005 election has been pruned by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to a short list of 32. They disqualified a Texas millionaire named Dumarsais Simeus, an ex-Lavalas senator named Louis Gerard Gilles, and 22 others. Those who are still on the list: Marc Bazin, who ran against Aristide in 1990 and lost; Rene Preval, who was the only Lavalas president to finish out his term; Dany Toussaint, who is suspected of the murder of famous pro-Lavalas journalist Jean Dominique; Guy Philippe, who organized and led the armed coup against Aristide in 2004*.
There are also 316 senatorial candidates and 1123 candidates for parliament.
The publication of the final list of presidential candidates actually takes the strategy that opened with the coup to another stage, according to Patrick Elie, Haiti's former 'drug czar', who led the fight against drug trafficking and who also helped create the Haitian National Police (PNH) under Aristide, who now characterizes himself as a militant in the pro-democracy movement. Elie calls his creation, the PNH, a 'bastard child' of Aristide's government's need for an independent police force to guarantee security for the public after the disbanding of the Haitian Army, and the 'international community' (mainly the US, Canada, and France) desire for an instrument of social control and repression against the people.
The strategy for the elections, Elie explained, goes like this. Militant leaders like So Ann and Fr. Jean Juste are in jail. Others are in hiding. Aristide is in exile. The capacity to mobilize is much reduced. With the PNH, United Nations troops are crushing resistance in the poor areas neighbourhood by neighbourhood by killing and terrorizing civilians. Bel Air, according to some UNPOL officials, has been 'pacified' in just this way. Cite Soleil is next. Meanwhile, the elections approach. What are those remnants of the Lavalas organization, those who are not in hiding and not in jail, to do? Should they avoid registering to vote? Should they register and then not vote? Should they boycott elections until the political prisoners are freed? If they call for a boycott and participation is high, they lose. If they participate in a rigged election -- and it is rigged already because of the jailings and killings of their leaders and destruction of their organization -- they legitimate it and lose.
Elie, like So Ann (who we talked to in prison last week), believed the Lavalas base should call for their people to register to vote. This would both enable them to hold the threat of abstention over the elections as a bargaining chip for freedom from repression for their people, and give them the possibility of uniting behind a Lavalas candidate and winning the election at the last minute, as occurred under Aristide in 1990.
So far, though, the strategy of trying to divide the electorate is effective. Regional Lavalas organizations like the one in Jacmel are endorsing Marc Bazin, the former World Bank employee who lost to Aristide in 1990. Since the 2004 coup, Bazin has spoken out, and he was almost alone even if not vehement, against the repression of Lavalas. This was why Jacmel Lavalas organizer and former senator Jn. Mary Luisner told us he was telling his people in the Southeast to vote for Bazin. Many other Lavalas voters will vote for Rene Preval, a candidate who has a mixed record as a former president (which, when contrasted with an unmixed record as a paramilitary implicated in massacres, can look quite good). Others will abstain, in protest that Jean Juste was not allowed to run.
If the strategy works, there won't be any need for blatant rigging at the polls or violence to drive people away from them, even though it is too early to discount those possibilities. Instead, by smashing Lavalas, setting up a bewildering array of candidates, and letting the machinery run its course, the governments of the US, Canada and France will have legitimated their coup, with a lot of help from so many of the countries of the UN.
This is part of a series of reports from Haiti.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Guy Philippe had been in FRAPH. He was never in FRAPH himself - he led the 2004 rebellion against Aristide alongside Louis Jodel Chamblain, who was one of the leaders in FRAPH. I apologize for the error.