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Posted October 28, 2003
HAITI: Avert constititional crisis

Haiti stands at a crossroads, and the United States has a moral obligation and unique opportunity to assist the people of Haiti in continuing down the path of democracy. The choice is ours: Either we work to bring the international community together to help

Haiti achieve greater democracy and stability, or we disregard 8.3 million Haitians.

Dictatorship brought them suffering before; without our attention now, it could happen again. Political interests aside As it stands, Haiti, the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, is faced with a constitutional crisis. The terms of most members of Parliament will expire in January. Unless a new parliament is elected by next year, Haiti will have no national legislature and will be unable to enact laws, approve loans or exercise oversight over government agencies.

Under a formula devised by the Organization of American States, accepted in writing by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, seven of the nine seats on the Electoral Council, charged with supervising the entire process, have been reserved for opposition parties and independent civil-society organizations. It is imperative that all groups put their political interests aside, for the betterment of the Haitian people, and take up their seats on the council.

This body is only one of the huge obstacles facing Haiti's ability to hold elections in time to avert a crisis. The issue of security is an ardent concern. The government has invited international observers and police contingents from neighboring countries to enhance electoral security and guarantee fairness. We, along with the international community, must answer the call.

The United States can play a helpful and decisive role in ensuring that the right road is taken, that Haitian democracy is strengthened and that U.S. and hemispheric security are enhanced. We can do so by supporting Haiti in its commitment to hold free, fair and democratic elections for national parliamentary and local offices by providing funds for security and election assistance personnel. Reject Duvalier's return

Sadly, many Americans have a tendency to ignore Haiti. The international community must not ignore Haiti; this nation serves as a reminder of what can go wrong if we fail to support democracy. Last April, The Wall Street Journal featured a photo of Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier, the Haitian dictator deposed in 1986, with an accompanying article describing his comeback strategy. While the return of the discredited former ''president-for-life'' may seem farfetched, the possibility that the country will back-slide into dictatorship is all too real.

Haiti also was front-page news last October when, in the midst of the Florida gubernatorial election, some 200 Haitian would-be immigrants jumped off a freighter and waded ashore in Miami, evoking memories of the mass exodus of Haitian ''boat people'' during the Duvalier years. Democracy has never progressed easily in Haiti, but with an international commitment, success can be achieved. It's obvious that the political process in Haiti has its imperfections, but what matters is that Haitians are willing to learn from their mistakes and improve the process as democracy evolves. The government, therefore, has committed itself to holding free and fair elections in the coming months, and we must do whatever is within our power to help it achieve its goals.

An electoral solution It is true that there are divisions in Haiti between those favoring and those trying to block elections.

It is also true that the United States and its OAS partners agree that the Haitian opposition and the government share responsibility for achieving an electoral solution to the political crisis. It is imperative that we come together for the good of the people of Haiti. We should work in partnership for successful elections and encourage all the parties to join the process.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., are co-chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus Haiti Task Force.

Miami Herald, October 27, 2003

Published October 28, 2003
Ignorance ... or Ignominy?
By IRA P. LOWENTHAL, Haiti Democracy Project

It matters little what the reason, when the Congressional Black Caucus persists in its scandalous support for the most egregious dictator to emerge in this hemisphere since the turn of the century; and does so, shamelessly, in the name of the Haitian people! Representatives Barbara Lee and John Conyers’ October 29 op-ed piece on Haitian democracy, Avert constitutional crisis, reads as though it were penned by one of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s own overpaid lobbyists inside the Washington beltway.

There is no constitutional crisis pending in Haiti, as the distinguished Representatives would have it; nor could there be. President Aristide himself has certainly seen to that over the past eight years—as he, his cronies and his henchmen have purposefully trampled every basic constitutional precept protecting this long-suffering nation from the re-emergence of one-man rule, kleptocracy and repression.

As of this writing, all forms of peaceful protest in Haiti have been effectively stifled by Aristide’s armed thugs, whose operations chillingly reproduce those of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, and the whole succession of paramilitary forces who have mercilessly supported Haitian dictators both before and after François Duvalier. Journalists are being harassed, forced into exile, or assassinated. Numerous jurists and other officials have fled the country, rather than execute Aristide’s heinous personal directives. Political and civic leaders who have had the temerity to oppose this man’s seemingly inexorable march to absolute supremacy are targeted for elimination—along with their families— in plots well known to the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Even the President’s own minions are starting to defect, unwilling to follow him any further down the primrose path to national damnation, and eager—finally—for the cleansing balm of truth and reconciliation.

By making an example of one of them little more than a month ago—a provincial gang leader assassinated with two bullets to the eyes, presumably for having seen too much—Aristide may have finally overstepped the notoriously fluid bounds of what is politically acceptable behavior in Haiti. The nation is erupting in protest; violence, with deniability, is the regime’s response.

And it is under these conditions that the gentle congresswoman and -man counsel Haitian democrats to “put their political interests aside,” and to move expeditiously towards “successful” elections; and under Aristide’s unchallenged stewardship? Disingenuous? Perhaps. Dishonest? There are certainly many in Haiti who charge as much, given the financial ties that reputedly bind more than one member of the CBC to the President’s vast holdings. Self-serving? Surely. For there is nothing more alluring to the august members of the Caucus, apparently, than the prospect of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Haitian president on January 1, 2004—the 200th anniversary of Haitian Independence, which brought forth the first free nation of free men in the modern world.

Nonetheless, Haiti’s leading artists, intellectuals, writers and artists have recently circulated a petition calling upon the entire world to boycott the official commemoration of this signal achievement in the annals of freedom, so that it not be desecrated by the venal self-interest of those who currently rule the country with an iron fist. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide—returned to Haiti by a U.S.-led international military force in 1994, in the name of democracy—flanked by the pious members of the Congressional Black Caucus on January 1, 2004, in honor of the triumph of humanity over indignity, of liberty over servitude. What is wrong with this picture?

Ira P. Lowenthal Haiti Democracy Project

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