May 23, 2002
can the private sector become a stabilizing force in
Haiti and contribute to resolving the country's prolonged
In the years 2001 and 2002 the private sector provided
the main backing for the Civil Society Initiative, which
sought to jump-start negotiations on new elections.
Led by Prof. Rosny Desroches, the initiative extracted
concessions from the government and opposition. From
the government it got agreement in principle on new
legislative elections in November 2002. From the opposition
it got agreement to recognize Aristide as president
if there were new legislative elections. In the event,
the agreement was not signed, with each side blaming
the other. Nevertheless, this initiative laid the basis
for the current hopeful OAS effort.
An important business organization, the Center for Free
Enterprise and Democracy (CLED), was part of the initiative.
In its statement
on March 7, 2001, drafted by Haitian ambassador
to the Dominican Republic Guy Alexandre, CLED supported
the Civil Society Initiative and laid out a six-point
program that would return Haiti to legitimate governance.
A key recommendation was, "It behooves President
Aristide to take the initiative in these negotiations
towards an agreement leading to the creation, in conjunction
with the opposition, of a new government. His primary
mission would thus be to organize free, honest and democratic
elections within the next twelve months." The business
association's recommendation was not acted on, leading
to the situation today where the elections remain uncorrected
after two years and the questionably-elected legislators
look to complete a majority if not all of their terms.
Again on May 10, 2001 eighteen
business associations including the chambers of commerce
and industry, coffee exporters, CLED, and tourist industries
issued recommendations. They took the CLED March
7 statement as their basis but supplemented it by calling
for new local as well as legislative elections and recommending
that the Civil Society Initiative and the OAS jointly
mediate the negotiations between the Aristide government
and the Democratic Convergence. They also called for
the nine election commissioners to be named by nine
representative and credible civil-society institutions.
previous business initiative had been the organization
of a "Demonstration Against Violence" by shipping
mogul Olivier Nadal, head of the Haitian Chamber of
Commerce and Industry, on May 28, 1999. Between
three and five thousand people came, despite roadblocks
on the approaching streets. It was the first time the
business elite came out onto the street to press for
resolution of the political crisis. Some forty organizations
participated in the event. Before the demonstration,
Nadal crossed social lines by visiting the street vendors
in the Bel-Air shantytown in northern Port-au-Prince
whose wares had been burned during violent demonstrations
in the previous month. He took away a list of 266 alleged
victims whose property was damaged.
At the rally, police
watched as pro-Aristide counter-demonstrators, bussed
in from the Aristide Foundation, and coordinated by
the government, violently broke up the rally. Nadal
received death threats and was threatened with arrest
on trumped-up charges. He fled to exile in Florida.
These examples show that the Haitian business sector
has taken significant initiatives toward addressing
the political situation. But each time, it was threatened
with violence and that has tended to keep the majority
of businessmen on the sidelines. Although some parties
of the Democratic Convergence have received financial
support from the business sector, the support has not
been enough to allow these parties to overcome their
With most of the businesspeople holding U.S. passports,
this sector finds it safer to move to the United States
than stay and build on the political involvement by
Nadal, CLED, and the eighteen associations noted above.
The Haitian business sector does not act like a classical
ruling class but leaves the ruling to the government.
With increased security, the business sector could still
come forward strongly in favor of competitive electoral
politics and institution-building in Haiti.
Haiti Democracy Project