Original mission statement
The Haiti Democracy Project is an independent research group promoting the cause of settled, responsive government in Haiti and U.S. policies conducive to this end. We do this by issuing research papers, holding conferences and workshops, hosting delegations, and sponsoring fact-finding missions. Founded in 2002 as an independent organization, but operating under a another format for ten years previously, the project has a board of former U.S. ambassadors, members of the Haitian-American community, and policy analysts.
Slide show of Haitian-American community support.
Update of mission statement into 2007 and description of project activities
The Haiti Democracy Project works for effective, accountable government in Haiti and U.S. policies toward this end. Haitiís governmental vacuum is a fundamental factor condemning the mass of its people to deplorable, and in our view mostly avoidable, poverty.
The Haiti Democracy Project arose as an independent organization in 2002 at a time when such governmental weakness was deepening in Haiti, exacerbating poverty and injecting violence into a hitherto largely peaceful society. By 2002, selective assassinations, spreading repression, political gangs, and rampant corruption were coming to be hallmarks of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's rule. Haiti was again becoming a dictatorship, not of the efficiency of a Nazi Germany but with spreading circles of violence and fraud. To maintain U.S. support for this dubious enterprise, President Aristide astutely distributed telephone and lobbying benefits to American politicians. The Haiti Democracy Project was a statement of intellect and conscience against such corrupt practices, both in Haiti and the United States.
Policy recommendations in 2002-2003
In 2002 and 2003, we issued a blueprint for a more effective U.S. approach, recommending:
The first three were eventually carried out, but the last two were not. The United States, under the lobbyists' influence, simply drifted with the hapless Aristide regime to the end. The end came when civil-society demonstrations mushroomed and some of the gangs and criminals whom the regime had sponsored turned on it, in the usual pattern of Haitian history. In short, the United States did wait until the men with the guns came out. Haiti and the United States are still paying the price. Gang violence, both politically sponsored and self-perpetuating, spread like a cancer into Haitian society, deeper than ever before in its history and causing a pervasive insecurity that even a potent U.N. mission has yet to overcome. The costs to Haitiís development and mass welfare were incalculable.
In 2003, the Haiti Democracy Project wrote about the hopeful development of the civil-society Group of 184 and sent a mission to observe one of its mass demonstrations, which was attacked by thugs. In January, 2004, at the strong urging of the Haitian-Americans who had become the organizationís vital core, the organization staged an informational rally in Washington urging democratic progress. When in February 2004 prominent U.S. Democratic politicians went to the White House and airwaves urging a Marine intervention to save Aristide from his own people, the Haiti Democracy Project sent a mission of former ambassadors to Capitol Hill recommending that the transition be allowed to run its course. The project then supplied all three pro-democracy witnesses to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and both to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A U.S. interventionary force was indeed sent, as had been urged by the politicians, but not to keep Aristide in power. Rather it prevented former armymen and criminals from taking over and shielded an interim regime that was finally, belatedly cobbled together.
During 2004 and 2005, the Haiti Democracy Project sent two missions to assay the progress of this regime and particularly its potential to hold free and fair elections that would at last deliver legitimate government. Our April 2004 assessment mission found that the interim government had inherited a virtually hopeless mess from the previous regime and its confused overthrow. Nevertheless, it was apolitical and technocratic, as we had advocated, and certain of its personnel displayed flashes of competence.
Ambassadors' fact-finding mission, 2005
Our second mission went in February 2005. It was headed by our then-board chairman, Timothy M. Carney, past and future U.S. ambassador to Haiti, and included the legendary Amb. Lawrence A. Pezzullo, former czar of Haiti policy for President Clinton. As well it included Amb. Ernest H. Preeg, President Reaganís ambassador to Haiti, author of The Haitian Dilemma, and our current board chairman. Other members included Haiti Democracy Project founding board member Lionel Delatour, a leading figure in the progressive business sector. We also had future unsuccessful Haitian presidential candidate Dumarsais M. Simeus, and future successful senatorial candidate Rudolph Boulos, also a founding member. Staffers James Morrell and Arielle Jean-Baptiste also went.
The mission saw the president, prime minister, electoral commission, and U.N. mission. Questions about the interim governmentís effectiveness arose during our visit when five hundred inmates walked out of an open door at the national penitentiary. Despite this, the mission was able to report that the financial ministry and certain other offices were working well. We also reported that the regime was carrying out no political persecution. Far from holding political prisoners, at the observed rate of leakage it would soon hold no prisoners at all.
Our visit to the electoral commission also ascertained that no fraud was being prepared, and a free and fair process was underway. The leisurely pace of preparation, however, and the notably uneven quality of the members gave pause.
We also found the U.N. mission far from realizing its potential, and half-paralyzed for fear of unfavorable publicity if it cracked down on the Aristide gangs. We found, however, a move toward reconciliation among Haitian political actors that boded well for a peaceful election.
We presented our report to the State Department, the Agency for International Development, and several members of Congress. While neither profound nor especially revealing, the report did prove to be the most factual and objective of any written about the interim government during its three-year tenure.
2006: The Year of Elections
In 2006 the organization continued its progress toward becoming a leading vehicle of the Haitian-Americans. A generous grant from the Open Society Institute enabled us to send large delegations of well-qualified Haitian-Americans to visit Congress, the State Department, and United Nations. These delegations focused the voice of the U.S. Haitian community on policy as never before. They returned again and again, arguing with reason and passion. They tried assiduously, and therefore they succeeded. Before the year was out, both the United States and United Nations adopted their suggestions.
But even as these delegations proposed practical measures for economic development and security, in Haiti another drama was being played out: the mass of the Haitian people went to the polls to create legitimate government. The Haiti Democracy Project sent international observers to witness all three elections in 2006. After the success of our first two self-financed missions in February and April 2006, and with the new reality of a more engaged Haitian-American community, the Agency for International Development generously supported a third mission with diaspora participation. In December 2006, we deployed forty-one observers in six departments, the largest international mission to observe the third round. Half of our observers were from the Haitian diaspora, making it the largest diaspora contingent ever to observe in Haiti.
Given Haiti's history of narrow power struggles, it would be too much to expect the elections to go completely smoothly. The leading presidential candidate, a protege of Aristide's but a figure untainted by corruption, found himself just short of the 50 percent majority needed to win on the first round. Renť Prťval cried "massive fraud" and impelled his followers onto the streets. Among these were many of Aristide's former gang members. They overran a hotel seeking to lynch the electoral official who had announced the unsatisfactory results. Desperate for stability, many of the international embassies and agencies on the scene pressed the electoral commission not to count the blank ballots--although counting them was required by law--in order to bump up Preval's percentage and bring him over the top. This was done, in violation of law. However, Preval's election did borrow a certain legitimacy from the fact that he had already been leading the next candidate, 49 to 11 percent, and so by all indications "would have won" if the required second round had taken place.
However, a downside was that the electoral official so targeted was the sole competent individual within the electoral commission, and when he left for the United States, Haiti found itself unable to proceed to the next election. The Haiti Democracy Project presented Jacques Bernard at a seminar in Washington in February 2006. At the seminar, the ambassadors from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and a U.S. official all pleaded with him to return. He was prevailed on to do so and was escorted back to his office by a U.N. armored car. He organized the second round so successfully that turnout was twice the usual.
The Haiti Democracy Project's support for elections therefore was both on the ground in Haiti, and in the policy crucible in Washington.
Meanwhile, a founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project, Haitian industrialist Rudolph Boulos, decided not to wait for the electoral process to produce results but launched his own campaign for senate from the Nord-Est Department, where his family had ties. Boulos resigned from the organization's board in compliance with the law barring observers' organizations from having candidates in the election. However, the Haiti Democracy Project did send observers to monitor both the campaign and the actual elections in this department, which Boulos won overwhelmingly. His first-round victory was annulled in a clumsy effort to block him from the senate. The Haiti Democracy Project then sent observers to the electoral tabulation center who were able to photograph and document equally-clumsy efforts to alter the returns from this department. The returns were corrected and in 2007 Boulos entered the senate where he has already distinguished himself as one of its most judicious and conciliatory members.
Accordingly, the Haiti Democracy Project is proud that it has supplied an incorruptible member to a chamber that has a blemished record in this regard. We believe Senator Boulos will lead the Haitian senate upward toward an eventual record of accomplishment that will be essential for the success of Haiti's still-faltering government.
Advocating for the United Nations
In proportion as stability returned to Haiti, former president Aristide's chances of a comeback waned. The ultimate guarantor of this stability remains the U.N. mission of nine thousand soldiers and police. Understanding this, Aristide's supporters in the United States launched a campaign of calumny against the mission. One of these supporters, the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for an opportunity to speak on social and economic issues afflicting the Haitian people. Granted a hearing, they announced their intention to use it to denounce the U.N. mission. The Haiti Democracy Project alerted the commission and State Department to this plan to hijack the hearing. The commission forbade the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial witnesses from mentioning the United Nations in their testimony.
Issue for the future: Anti-corruption
The object of the political contention, despite the adroit use of modern slogans, remains the spoils of office, as always in Haiti. Minuscule as these are compared to the potential wealth of a modernizing Haiti, they remain alluring to a narrow-minded few: state revenues, especially the more than $60 million generated by the diaspora's long-distance telephone calls; no-show jobs in government offices; drug protection money. Recognizing this corruption as the incentive driving the subversion of Haitian democracy, the Haiti Democracy Project launched seminars and investigations into the last corrupt regime's embezzlements. In 2005 the interim regime brought a lawsuit in Miami federal court under the RICO anti-racketeering statute seeking recovery of the state and telephone revenues found embezzled by former president Aristide. At our seminar at the Brookings Institution, the Haitian government's U.S. law firm Winston and Strawn laid out the case against Aristide. Commenting were Haitian judge Claudy Gassant, the courageous prosecutor of the murderers of leading journalist Jean Dominique; and the U.S. prizewinning investigative journalist Lucy Komisar. Since then the successor elected government of Renť Prťval, burdened by its many ties to the Aristide regime, has allowed the lawsuit to lapse, although the president of Haiti's senate has called for its reinstatement on the grounds that the evidence is unimpeachable. Judge Gassant has returned as chief prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, to be thwarted by the usual intriguing. The Haiti Democracy Project has assigned follow-up investigative articles to Lucy Komisar, who has shone a spotlight on the connivance of certain U.S. Republicans with Aristidian corruption. She caught prominent Republicans seeking to bail out of a U.S. telephone company that had apparently agreed to kickbacks to Aristide. The telephone company was sued by a former senior employee who had been fired when he refused to go along with the scheme. She also uncovered a Bush administration plan to reward and promote a Justice Department official who had impeded the investigation.
The frenetic looting of the Haitian state, as exposed by the interim government's lawsuit, and described in our seminars and investigative articles, finally earned Haiti its designation by Transparency International as the most corrupt country on earth. The Haiti Democracy Project believes that Haitians are only human. If they know they can steal with impunity, then certain of them, even presidents, will do so. Then Haiti will continue to come out at the top of corruption lists, and its chances of significant foreign investment will remain nil. The interim government's civil lawsuit might have led to criminal prosecution of the former president in both the United States and Haiti. Absent actual prosecution of embezzlers, however, generalized anti-corruption "campaigns," however widely proclaimed or generously funded, will remain mere bromides leaving the real incentives untouched.
Issue for the future: the diaspora
One actual contribution of the diaspora today is $2 billion in cash and kind each year as remittances. The mini-political structure in Haiti welcomes this cash infusion. Another potential contribution lies in the fact that 83 percent of Haiti's trained professionals live abroad. The political structure in Haiti does not welcome this potential infusion of talent because it is fixated on the minuscule revenues it now has and does not want to admit "outsiders" to the game. It is intellectually unable to conceive the vast expansion of wealth for it and everybody if public administration were allowed to function normally, although it needs go no farther than the Dominican Republic next door to see the actuality of such expansion.
Also on view in the Dominican Republic would be that country's successful use of its diaspora for modernizationónot merely spending their cash remittances, but luring their presence, investment, and talents in myriad ways.
The Haitian diaspora offers a similar key for resolution of the Haitian problem. The resistance by the small political class is not shared by public opinion, enlightened civil society or the generality of Haitians. On the contrary, the diaspora is welcomed at all these levels. The diaspora offers the potential of being able to join with the thinning numbers of qualified Haitians still in Haiti to revitalize the administration and institutions. It offers the perfect bridge between the goal of a fully-sovereign Haiti able to fend for itself and the stark reality of a barely-functioning government kept in power by foreign soldiers. But there will have to be considerable consciousness-raising before the diaspora will be allowed to play this role.
Certain transmission belts of the diaspora's potential may exist in the Agency for International Development's plans to supply $11.4 million for technical advisers; a similar $10 million plan of the Inter-American Development Bank to strengthen public administration; and a measure before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to fund qualified professionals, including diaspora. The temporary rejection by the Haitian parliament of one of these grants because it did not reserve all the jobs for Haitians in Haiti revealed the mindset at work. The Haiti Democracy Project will be teaming up with other organizations of the Haitian diaspora such as the Haitian League to nominate qualified professionals to a variety of state-building responsibilities in Haiti, and to attract the above government funding as these mid-career professionals will not go otherwise.
But since a number of these diaspora members who may go to strengthen public administration already have policy experience with us, whether in the elections or on our delegations to Washington and the United Nations, these members will act as a window onto old-fashioned blockage of the administration that will undoubtedly still arise. We believe a good deal of this blockage can be countered by educational activities including fact-finding trips to Washington and to neighboring Latin American countries who have used their diaspora to prosper.
The injection of the diaspora not as a political competitor but as an enabler for the whole country will be the goal of the Haiti Democracy Project. While the Haitian parliament was struggling over whether to accept $10 million for the public administration, some $1.6 billion in other loans was pending. Haiti was unable to collect them because its public administration could not process the paperwork. The cash infusion, the job-creation so generated remains deferred, if not lost.
The enormous results of an injection of competence are evident in the elections themselves. Preparations had dragged on for eighteen months, half the money was spent, and the elections had been postponed four times. Then in October 2005 an experienced businessman and efficient manager, Jacques Bernard, was put in charge. Management was rationalized and Haiti held three orderly elections in 2006.
Role of the Haiti Democracy Project
The Haiti Democracy Project, although it began in 2002 as an American-style thinktank, has steadily morphed into a primarily Haitian-American organization that has the trust and confidence of ever-widening circles of the diaspora. This is because it has applied impersonal professional techniques to a field too often characterized by personalism. Alone among organizations in the Haiti field, the Haiti Democracy Project posts its full financials on the webóindependent audits, income statements, IRS Form 990s.
It receives virtually no overhead for the diaspora projects it administers, and its personnel receive the satisfaction of service, not pay. Far from being exclusive, it constantly seeks to unite with other organizations in the field and to help them develop. The advancement of Haiti is its only goal.
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