Haiti Democracy Project


January 18, 2001

Civil Society Appeal for a Solution to the Crisis

Presented by the Civil Society Initiative

(a group of seventeen organizations)


The May 21 elections Political fallout
The economy Solution
Public finances


After three decades of dictatorship which virtually halted the country's political and economic development, the Haitian people hoped that 1986 would begin an era of democracy, political stability, economic progress and social justice. On the contrary, for the past fourteen years, politics has been in a severe state of turbulence, marked by coups d'état, failed elections and institutional crises. Democracy has gone into crisis, the economy has regressed, and poverty has increased. The manifold social, political and economic crisis the country is facing has become chronic and is worsening every day.

The year 2000 senatorial, municipal and local elections should have given the country a new opportunity both economically and politically. Unfortunately, the irregularities in the electoral process and the resulting frustrations and protests are threatening to throw the country into a new cycle of social turmoil and economic recession.

One of the sources of blockage is the absence of a real dialogue among the actors on the national scene. Instead of talking, negotiating, liquidating past disputes and creating a normal environment for future relations, they prefer to ostracize each other.

The organizations and institutions of the Civil Society Initiative believe that at this particularly critical moment in Haiti's national life, only genuine negotiations can open the road to a lasting political and economic recovery. With that in mind, we, of the Civil Society Initiative, address an appeal and propose a process of dialogue between the protagonists of the political crisis. We hereby present the facts concerning the elections and their foreseeable consequences. We submit to the Haitian people and to the concerned actors a resolution mechanism and we state our appeal.

II. Recent events

Senatorial, municipal and local elections were held on May 21, 2000. The pre-electoral period was marked by physical violence and intimidation. Party workers and candidates were killed or assaulted, political-party headquarters and electoral bureaus were burned down. The procedures stipulated in the electoral law and the scheduled dates in the electoral agenda were not respected. The opposition had considerable difficulty in campaigning.

In spite of these obstacles, many candidates participated and voter participation was over 60 percent. On election day, despite many irregularities, particularly the late opening of many voting stations and the incidence of acts of violence and intimidation, things were relatively calm. That night the established procedure for counting the ballots was not respected. The police, or sometimes some armed groups, took away the ballot boxes from some voting places before the votes could be counted in the presence of the parties' representatives and the independent observers. The excuse for moving these boxes was the lack of lighting, for which a solution could have been found in advance. These irregular operations encouraged all kinds of fraud, from ballot-stuffing to ballot-box switching.

But most important was the counting method used to determine the winners of the first round of the senatorial races. Seventeen seats had to be filled: two for each department, except the Departement du Centre where three seats were vacant. Eight of the nine departments had senate races; elections in one, the Departement de la Grand'Anse, were postponed.

The electoral commission announced that all seventeen seats were filled in the first round. In fact, the electoral law stipulates that one must have 50 percent plus one of the votes in order to be elected to the senate. The electoral council, instead of counting 50 percent plus one of the total of the votes as required by the law, counted only the votes cast for the four top vote-getters in seven departments and for the six top finishers in the Centre. By this subterfuge they simply discarded a great number of votes in order to declare first-round winners. Candidates who should have gone to a second round were declared elected in the first round.

In the elections held on May 21, how many senators really had the required number of votes to be elected in the first round? This has not been officially determined. According to the electoral council president, Mr. Léon Manus, who went into exile because of threats he received, only five out of seventeen senators would have won on the first round. According to the OAS mission, that number would be nine. The main point is that the second round was canceled without due process at the senatorial level, thus eliminating the possibility for the opposition parties to win any senate seats.

Furthermore, if the opposition had participated in the legislative second-round elections, it would most likely have won a respectable number of seats in the lower chamber. This would have given the legislature a chance to fulfill its oversight mission by introducing some sort of pluralism. The fraud committed during the night and in the senatorial-vote-counting scandal resulted in the opposition's boycott of the remaining electoral process, including the first round in Grand'Anse.

The departure from the electoral commission (CEP) of its president plus two members representing the opposition parties because of threats; their replacement by the executive in an arbitrary fashion and without consulting the opposition and civil society; the lack of credibility and the partisan attitude of the new CEP gave enough reasons for the opposition parties not to participate in the presidential and senatorial elections held on November 26. The OAS and the international community denounced these serious irregularities. Some important civil-society institutions have also condemned these unacceptable CEP practices.

The Haitian electorate also expressed its disapproval through a very weak participation in the electoral process following May 21. As for the November 26 elections, many observers reported a turnout of no more than 10 percent..

In light of these facts, it can be stated that the party in power, Fanmi Lavalas, has caused serious harm and damage, first to the Haitian citizens whose votes were ignored in the counting, second to the candidates and parties who did not receive fair treatment, and finally to the Haitian people because they were not able to participate in the electoral process to the end because of the serious irregularities.

III. Consequences

Besides the harm caused to the Haitian people, these disruptions of democratic norms will undoubtedly have serious consequences for the whole nation and call for immediate correction. These consequences are of a socio-economic and political nature.

3.1 Socio-economic consequences

As previously indicated, the successive political crises the country has faced for the past the past ten years are the main cause of the serious deterioration of the national economy. Haiti is positioning itself among countries qualified as failing states alongside Somalia, Liberia, Bosnia and Colombia, to name a few. While the world is experiencing an unprecedented scientific, technological and economic revolution, our country has known for the past ten years a particularly dangerous economic and social decline.

Due to ill-governance, particularly because Haiti has not kept its promises and obligations to carry out administrative, judiciary and economic reforms, as well as insure public security and respect of democratic rules, international aid has been substantially reduced and national and international investment has not materialized. This has severely strained the national economy:

National production of goods and services has dropped considerably during the past ten years, from 6 to 4 billion gourdes. This represents a per capita income of less than 3,000 gourdes (three thousand gourdes) per year, equivalent to less than US$ 0.50 per day. Need it be recalled that, at the start of the third millennium, our country is among the thirty poorest nations of the world and continues to show the lowest human-development index of the Americas? Sixty percent of Haitians live below the level of absolute poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs.

During the last ten years, the wealth produced by the country has continually diminished and has been largely absorbed by the demographic growth. Thus the disturbing deterioration of the living standards of the population.

In order to compensate for this decrease in national production we had to import more. Indeed, during that ten-year period, our imports went from US$400 million to $1 billion. During the last year of that period our exports did not reach $400 million, creating a balance-of-payments deficit for Haiti of more than $600 million. This was financed in great part by transfers from Haitians leaving abroad as well as by other unrecorded transfers.

A linear projection of present trends in demography, production and unemployment indicates that the great majority of the population will continue to live below the level of absolute poverty.

Consumed by internal quarrels, divided on all essential matters, paralyzed and unable to resolve matters through compromise, Haitian society will fall farther behind in a world that is changing faster than ever and will become isolated and marginalized.

Public finances show a similar deterioration. In a ten years, public revenues went from 1 to 6 billions gourdes. This would be good if spending had been well distributed and if spending and revenue reallocation were done according to the population's needs.

What we see is a state spending without control, often without a budget, with no attention to the basic needs of the population, with no parliamentary oversight, up to a budgetary deficit of 2 billion gourdes during the past fiscal year.

In order to handle this deficit the state has issued new currency without any economic justification, thus raising inflation. Over ten years, the money supply has gone from 5 to 20 billion gourdes. The gourde has been devalued and consequently the exchange has gone from 7 to 20 gourdes per U.S. dollar.

This devaluation has brought serious consequences for the consumer, the investor and the economy in general.

For the consumer, the cost of living has gone up. For example in 1999-2000, clothing has increased 25 percent from the year before, transportation 21 percent, energy and water, when available, 18 percent, and education and health, 14 percent.

For the investor, the cost of money has gone up, because of the restrictive policy imposed by the state on the banks. Those who can get loans are lucky to find them at 30 percent.

The economy in general is a mess. No one wants to invest in such a state of financial uncertainty. Most of the national savings is in U.S. dollars and is being sent abroad for investment in more secure economies.

On the social front, insecurity is prevalent. Armed assaults, murders, holdups, daylight burglaries are common. Journalists are threatened and killed in the line of duty. Activists of some political parties make verbal incendiary and aggressive threats. Some categories of people enjoy total impunity. Corruption seriously affects all functions of the judiciary, which does not inspire confidence in the citizenry. Fear is in the streets and in the hearts. Drug consumption is rampant and vulgarized: a doze of cocaine is sometimes cheaper than a loaf of bread. Due to the lack of traffic enforcement, major road accidents are on the increase and are a leading cause of mortality. The national police force is overwhelmed and it is felt they are neither willing nor capable of doing anything. The population no longer trusts the institution. Those who can, pay for private security services, which constitute one of the most flourishing industries in the country. Many leave the country, while the great majority trusts in God.

The health situation is no better: chronic malnutrition has reached 32 percent of the population. Due to the lack of education and sanitary training, AIDS is devastating. If school attendance is rising, thanks to the efforts of the educational private sector, the quality of instruction has yet to be raised.

If the social and economic situation keeps going downhill, Haiti will no longer be considered a country or a nation, but will be an ungovernable chaotic entity. The crime rate will go up together with poverty. Drug trafficking will increase and will corrupt what remains of institutions in the country.

How can this erosion be stopped if the international community isolates Haiti, if international aid or credits are withheld from our economy? All indications, whether coming from the European Community, or from the party which starting January 20 in the United States controlled the executive and a majority in Congress, all indications are that, if the serious irregularities in the Haitian election are not corrected, international assistance and foreign investment will stop. The country cannot afford another decade of economic decline after the twenty years of economic failure from 1980 to 2000. If nothing is done, our nation will undoubtedly fall in complete disarray and anarchy and become ungovernable.

3.2. Political consequences

Maintaining the elections of May 21 and November 26 as a fait accompli will bring very serious political consequences. First, this will be an important setback to the institutionalization of democracy. Despite some convulsive movements, the democratic process has advanced since 1990. At times, it has been chaotic, but corrections have always followed. The Haitian population is learning and getting used to democratic values like the respect of the popular vote and the inadmissability of coups d'état as a solution to political difficulties.

The issues at stake in the year 2000 elections are how to correct the fraud, how to maintain the importance of the legislative branch and local government, and the preservation of political pluralism. Accepting the status quo is equivalent to rejecting these values. Democracy is a hard apprenticeship, with its share of trials, errors and corrections. If lessons are not learned the population will doubt the advantages of democracy. The enemies of democracy will resurface and will try to reinstate a totalitarian regime. The opposition will also resort to nondemocratic action in order to exercise its right to participate in the country's government. At this stage, the door will be open to violence, dictatorship, anarchy and chaos. Public liberties will be discarded. Such a political atmosphere will discourage all investment efforts, accelerate the brain drain and deepen the economic mess. This is our future if adequate corrections are not made to the year 2000 electoral process.

IV. Ways to a Solution

In order to correct the harm and damage done to the Haitian people and to the electoral process, to prevent the above-mentioned consequences, and to rekindle hope in the Haitian population, a political agreement must be reached. Some avenues can be explored. In this document, we will outline two positions presented respectively by the opposition parties of the Convergence Démocratique and by the leader of the party Fanmi Lavalas in his letter to President Clinton. Indeed, in an annex to his letter to President Clinton, Jean-Bertrand Aristide committed himself to correcting the problems created by the May 21 elections. He mentioned the possibility of redoing the second round for the contested senators, or even the possibility of settling that matter through "other credible means." Besides these two proposals, the Civil Society Initiative is working on other options, which can be introduced at an appropriate time during the negotiations.

4.1 The protagonists' proposals

4.1.1 Fanmi Lavalas

On February 7, 2001, installation of the president elected on November 26, with an coalition government. Formation of a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Organization of the second round of elections for the May 21 contested senators.

4.1.2 Opposition

On February 7, 2001, installation of a president and a consensus government of national unity; elaboration of an alternative program, organization of general elections with a consensual CEP.

V. Solution Mechanism

A solution can be reached in four steps.

5.1 Promotion of the Negotiating Process

The present document entitled "Civil Society Appeal for a Solution to the Crisis" will be handed out to all concerned parties, local and international, distributed to the press and publicly discussed. A massive press campaign will take place.

5.2 Formation of a Facilitation Commission

This Commission will have seven members, five of whom will represent the institutions of the Civil Society Initiative Group launching this appeal. Fanmi Lavalas and the opposition parties, via the Democratic Convergence, will appoint one member each. The first five members will come from the religious institutions, private business and private social sectors. These must be people of unquestionable integrity, impartiality, objectivity, with a strong sense of common well-being, a good knowledge of political questions and ability to negotiate. National or international negotiators may assist the commission. The commission will work closely with representatives from the OAS and the United Nations, who will follow the entire process and represent the international community in these negotiations.

5.3 Bilateral and Multilateral Meetings

The commission and its associated members will meet with the concerned parties, first separately and then with other partners, in order to hear their points, discuss the stakes, options and alternatives and to come up with constructive proposals.

5.4 Final Session

Once the results of the bilateral and multilateral meetings are satisfactorily reached, a final session with all concerned parties will be organized. The results of the previous meetings and the terms of the final agreement binding all parties will be confirmed and finalized. Then, the agreement will be signed.

VI. Conclusion

A careful appraisal of our social, political and economic situation reveals particularly alarming signs forcing us to admit that our country is slowly but surely sliding into anarchy and hell. This calls for immediate action. We, members of the civil society, choose hope and choose to be actors in the national life. We refuse both to give up and to go to excesses. We refuse to believe fatalistically that we are victims of a course that cannot be changed. We pledge and affirm our commitment to change things in Haiti, our country. We shall be indefatigable in the search for a negotiated solution. We believe and we know that Haitians can together find a happy, nonviolent answer to their problems. We must offer the future generation something different. We cannot bequeath them this somber picture of continuous discord, of uncontrollable and irrational internal battles.

It is urgent to change this picture as the bicentennial of our national independence is quickly coming upon us. Is it beyond our capacities to continue to strive to maintain alive and true our motto: "L'Union Fait la Force"? We have lost or are about to lose our cardinal values. Elementary respect for life and private property has become a highly expensive luxury here. Distrust has replaced solidarity.

At this point, we can no longer indulge in whining like helpless people. We must be clearsighted and courageous to engage in dialogue when necessary, even when it is extremely difficult. We must talk with those who think as we do, and also with those whose visions and approaches are different from ours. We have what it takes to do it. We love our country, and thus our country deserves this as a present from us. We must build the way to dialogue.

Right next to us the Dominican Republic and the United States have taught us lessons in democratic practice: placing public interest above personal interest. Is this beyond our reach?

We choose to believe that each Haitian is a brother to the other rather than repeating: "Depi nan ginen neg rayi neg" (Ever since Africa black men hate black men). We choose to believe that the party in power and the opposition can, together, agree on a common ground. Yes, we choose to bank on hope.

Thanks to Stanley Lucas for providing initial translation
Commentary | Archives| Links | Mission | What's New |Top
Haiti Democracy Project · A continuation of the Center for International Policy's Haiti Project


· Bookmark it!
2303 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 · (202) 588–8700 Haiti@inxil.com · James R. Morrell, executive director