Precis of Haiti Democracy Project
The Haiti Democracy Project is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting and monitoring economic development in and democratization of Haiti and the U.S. policies affecting both. Our members include Haitians, diasporic Haitians and U.S. citizens, who began work in November 2002 to monitor the illiberal practices of the Aristide presidency. We are currently focused on supporting and monitoring the transition process, which is scheduled to produce an elected presidency in office no later than February 7, 2006. We are not allied to any particular party or individual in Haiti. Rather, we wish to help the transitional government fulfill international human rights norms, the April 4, 2004 National Political Consensus pact, and the Haitian constitution. We support the legalization of democratic governance so that Haitians can accountably and effectively manage their own resources. Toward that end, the organization plans to continue investigative missions to Haiti, policy reports, and technical assistance projects. A special niche is the mobilization of the talents of the Haitian diaspora, beginning with, but not exclusive to, our home base in the Washington, D.C.-area's Haitian-American community.
Too often in Haitian history, the state has been a subject of monopolistic control and exploitation. The Haiti project's focus will be on the development of the rule of law generally, where all sectors of society can pursue their political and economic objectives without intimidation and with legal protection. Therefore, we will play particular attention to the institutional development of the electoral system and accountable, parliamentary politics; the police and courts; economic development and diversification. We regard democratization as a process in which majority rule is developed to be limited by legal restraints so that the winners share power and decision making nonviolently with the opposition. Ultimately, national reconciliation among all sectors, including the Lavalas political movement with its opponents is necessary, based on both scrupulous attention to legal requirements and the spirit of compromise and consensus by all concerned.
The United States has been influential in Haiti's history, with mixed results. The Haiti Democracy Project will urge that this time the commitment be long-term and focused on the nurturing of the institutions that create trust and build the sense of nationhood, particularly the legislature, electoral machinery, police, judiciary, and ministerial government.
This government must confront the historic tendency to consolidate and monopolize power that is so characteristic of Haiti's political culture. Tragically, the persistence for years of personalized politics, an inability to compromise and frequent resort to demagogic populism by those who would govern paralyzed the political class, factionalized the once broad democratic front that emerged from the years of anti-Duvalierist resistance and left the impoverished country and its people in ever more dire material straits.
Although once the vanguard of democratic change, the Lavalas movement, first galvanized by Jean-Bertrand Aristide's successful eleventh-hour run for the presidency in 1990, has not been immune to these forces and temptations.
The role of the international community during this tumultuous period has been complex. Obviously driven by U.S. strategic interests in the region, the international community has generally sought to stabilize Haiti's lurching post-Duvalierist experiment with democracy. This has sometimes led to more or less progressive interventions, such as the reversal of the archly repressive military regime and the return of Haiti's first democratically elected president to office in 1994, and the increased foreign assistance that immediately followed; sometimes to less savory tactics, such as the early attempt to rehabilitate the FRAPH terrorist organization as a legitimate opposition party in the post-coup period, or the tacit acceptance of clear violations of basic democratic and constitutional norms during the second Aristide presidency in the interest of maintaining "order." It led to a confusing denouement in February 2004 in which the United States picked sides at the last minute.
From a sheer management point of view, however, it makes little sense to make the wrenching decision of armed intervention as the United States has done twice in the last decade in Haiti, then withdraw before fixing the problem that drew the intervention. Domestic political constraints compelled the premature withdrawal of the U.S. presence in Haiti in the mid-1990s. Thus restoration of the president was accomplished by twenty-two thousand troops, but the building up of the institutions of legislature, neutral police, electoral machinery, and ministerial government was left to unprotected aid programs. Little wonder then that the executive branch re-monopolized power for the presidency in the old Haitian style, the other institutions fell away, and the aid programs were abandoned.
This need for long-term nation-building will be a major theme of the Haiti Democracy Project as we review what did and didn’t work in the international community’s recent experience in Haiti. We will seek to insert Haiti in the larger unfolding discussion of the need for new nation-building mechanisms in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Somalia, and other afflicted countries.
Many of the above activities are a continuation of the efforts over ten years by this project's previous incarnation, the Haiti project of the Center for International Policy, a Washington thinktank. This previous project supported the restoration of the ousted president. We devised his negotiating strategy at Governors Island, which produced the diplomatic prerequisite for his reinstallation by American troops.
We observed the May 2000 elections in Haiti for the Organization of American States and sponsored the ousted election commissioner, who had to flee Haiti for his life, at a seminar at the Brookings Institution.
In interviews with the Miami Herald, Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers in 2001–2002, we questioned the inordinately high fees the Aristide government was paying to well-connected American lobbyists to avoid correction of the elections. Pursuit of this issue led to the setting up of the Haiti Democracy Project as an independent organization. The new organization formally launched its activities on November 19, 2002.
The Haiti Democracy Project is a Washington-based research group promoting the cause of effective, accountable government in Haiti and U.S. policies that conduce towards this end. The project:
From April 2002 the Haiti Democracy Project was the clearest voice in the United States calling for progress beyond presidential despotism toward free elections and for U.S. policies equal to this task. We did this with a series of conferences, position papers, delegations, and media impact that significantly raised the intellectual level of the debate in Washington, where before the launching of our program, paid lobbyists of the former regime held sway.
In mid–2002 we pointed out the dilemmas of a Bush administration policy caught between either withholding aid to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, or restoring it and confirming a government ruling by force. At our opening event in November 2002, Amb. Timothy M. Carney (U.S. ambassador to Haiti, 1998–99) warned that U.S. policy was beset by special interests.
In December 2002 we issued a position paper, drafted by founding board member Ira Lowenthal, defining as a policy imperative the invoking of the OAS democratic charter to create minimum conditions for a free election. These recommendations looked forward to an international role robust enough to protect the relaunching of democratic institutions and prevent the country from dissolving into armed conflict. The recommendations included a technocratic interim regime to hold elections, whose members would be ineligible to run. In an article simultaneously appearing in the Miami Herald, founding board member Amb. Lawrence A. Pezzullo warned that the situation must not be allowed to spin out of control, or the men with the guns would prevail.
The only part of our recommendations that was eventually adopted was the technocratic regime, after events forced the Bush administration’s hand. There was in Haiti in 2002 and 2003 a peaceful, broad-based movement of civil society for democratization, but the Bush administration did nothing to take advantage of it. Neither the invoking of the democratic charter nor the orderly transition recommended in our paper was carried out. Accordingly, it was indeed the men with the guns who eventually did come to the fore, bringing on a chaotic denouement that has mestastisized armed groups of various stripes throughout Haitian society and territory, thus compounding the problem beyond even the deteriorated situation of 2002. A sizable U.N. peacekeeping force now has its hands full in controlling these various armed gangs.
Again in January 2003 we pointed out the revival of civil society as exemplified by a broad coalition, the Group of 184. In an op-ed published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, founding board members Clotilde Charlot and Ira Lowenthal called for U.S. policy to shift its support to this democratic-minded sector.
As the project emerged as the only unambiguous voice for democratic progress in Haiti, the Washington-area Haitian-American community rallied to our activities, meeting en masse with State Department representatives and members of Congress. Distinguished spokespeople and champions of democracy in Haiti, like Judge Claudy Gassant, police chief Jean-Robert Faveur, radio host Michel Soukar, community organizer Frandley Denis Julien, university president Prof. Pierre-Marie Paquiot, and former foreign minister Gérard Latortue (currently interim prime minister) graced our seminars and strengthened our delegations.
We held our conferences at the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the National Cathedral School, St. Michael’s Church in Silver Spring, Md., the Ramada Inn at John F. Kennedy Airport, and the International Foundation for Election Systems.
In January 2004 more than three hundred members of the Haitian-American community joined an informational rally we held at Sheridan Circle, Washington, to express solidarity with the embattled pro-democracy demonstrators in Haiti.
In 2003 and 2004, our delegations of former ambassadors, Haitian and American policy analysts led by Ambassador Carney, and progressive Haitian business leaders coordinated by founding member Lionel Delatour, saw Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Reps. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), James Oberstar (D-Minn.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.), Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and some two dozen other members of Congress to make policy recommendations.
At the height of the crisis at the end of February 2004, the project supplied all the pro-democracy witnesses to appear at hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee: Ambs. Carney, Pezzullo and Orlando Marville (former chief of OAS electoral mission in Haiti), Professor Paquiot, and independent author Michael Heinl.
In April 2004 the publisher of an influential Haitian newspaper rated the Haiti Democracy Project as the third or fourth most important U.S. factor leading to the democratic opening in Haiti. In 2004 alone, our activities were cited in more than seventy major-media articles and broadcasts.
In June 2004 we presented Prime Minister Latortue in his first public appearance in Washington with the Haitian-American community and U.S. policy analysts. Over two hundred people attended the event, at which founding board member Amb. Ernest H. Preeg (U.S. ambassador to Haiti, 1981–83) presented a paper, "Why Haiti Is Not a Failed Nation."
Throughout 2004, delegations of the Haiti Democracy Project promoted the Haitian Economic Recovery and Opportunity Act (H.E.R.O.), which would stimulate job creation in Haiti.
A delegation on November 17–18, 2004 discussed HERO with prominent members of Congress, bringing up also initiatives for an inter-Haitian dialogue and ideas for economic investment and skills-transfer. The delegation scheduled ten members and saw eight of them:
The Haiti Democracy Project’s exchanges with legislators led to action. A series of consultations with the senior staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee in August 2004 helped make the case for an additional $90 million for Haiti, voted September 22, 2004.
The Haiti Democracy Project also has an asylum-assistance project. In 2003 and 2004 we offered expert testimony in immigration courts in San Francisco, Newark, and Philadelphia. We won all three cases. We have also winnowed out applicants who did not appear to be genuine victims of political repression. Since the advent of the interim government we have taken no cases as the regime is not practicing deliberate widespread repression, although a number of cases of police abuse continue.
The Haiti Democracy Project also maintains the most extensive web page on the Internet on Haitian political developments. The web page has over three thousand articles dating back to 1997, of which several hundred are exclusive to the page. Over 2,700 of the articles date from 2002. The page specializes in presenting the perspectives of the Haitian democratic movement to the Washington policy process.
In 2003 the Haiti Democracy Project translated and published Many Crosses to Bear: The Uphill Road to Democracy in Haiti by Claude Moïse, a leading Haitian constitutional scholar. It is the most complete and probing history of the Haitian democratic movement available in English. It was originally published as La Croix et la Bannière: La Difficile Normalisation Démocratique en Haïti.
In 2004 the Haiti Democracy Project republished in web format Ernest H. Preeg, The Haitian Dilemma: A Case Study in Demographics, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996), by permission.
The Haiti Democracy Project has responded with the Haitian-American community in efforts to aid flood victims in Haiti. Our drives have transferred $2,500 to the victims in 2004.
The Haiti Democracy Project manned a booth and made a panel presentation at the Electricial Manufacturers’ Expo in Indianapolis on September 20–22, 2004. As a result, multinational giant Tyco is actively interested in investing.
The project welcomes the participation of all concerned. Tax-deductible contributions may be made payable to Haiti Democracy Project and mailed to 2303 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. Click here to donate on-line. Our IRS 501(c)(3) tax exemption was received on December 17, 2003.
By Paul Paryski
Jared Diamond in his recent book Collapse has indicated that one of the major factors that cause the collapse of nations and states is the destruction or misuse of their natural resource base. He cites Haiti as an example. He is not the first, nor will be last to come to this conclusion. In 1988, a USAID-funded Environmental Profile of Haiti stated that the destruction of Haiti’s environment is and will continue to be one of the major causes of political, social unrest and violence in Haiti as well as one of the reasons for its continuing poverty.
Haiti’s economy has been based on agriculture, both for domestic consumption and for export, tourism, assembly industries and the parallel economy of micro-enterprises. All of these have been severely and negatively impacted by the destruction of Haiti’s environment. Massive deforestation in such a mountainous geology, the result of Haiti’s poor peasant farming every square meter of land on steep slopes in order to survive has not only caused extensive erosion and loss of soils, but the death of thousands of the poor and destruction of homes and infrastructure such as highways, irrigation systems, power lines and dams. All but 2 percent of Haiti’s forest cover has disappeared. Without adequate transportation systems and electricity, no one can expect investment and economic development. Water pollution is the major cause of high rates of infantile mortality and other disease. The loss of fertile soils and the failure of peasant agricultural systems have forced a major movement of people into the slums of Haiti’s cities with their total lack of sewage systems and potable water and the importation of food aid.
When Columbus first landed in Hispaniola 1492 and saw forested mountains, fertile plains, deep, clear rivers and abundant and unique wildlife , in awe he described the island as a paradise. In recent decades, the deadly mix of poverty, environmental destruction, political traditions based on violence and “kleptocracy,” and unsuccessful foreign intervention have created a failed state in which the hope for the realization of democratic government and democratic processes is very dim indeed. It is perhaps unrealistic to expect the poor and starving, whose only hope lies in corruption and lawlessness, to participate in an informed democratic process.
Until the process of environmental destruction can be halted and reversed through not only reforestation and environmentally appropriate agro-ecology, but by establishing an economy alleviates poverty, there can be little prospect for democracy in Haiti. Therefore the Democracy Project supports any and all efforts either by the Haitian government or the donor community to restore Haiti’s tragically wounded environment. With some effort, perhaps Haiti, as symbolized by Henri Christophe’s coat of arms, can rise like a phoenix from its ashes.
Haiti Democracy Project, 2303 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
phone : (202) 588-8700 / E-mail: Haiti@haitipolicy.org
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