The appetite of Fanmi Lavalas: a story that forever repeats itself . . .

By Jean-Claude Bajeux

Director, Ecumenical Center for Human Rights

August 5, 2000

Blessed by the gods, here and abroad, the Lavalas movement had generated an interest, a curiosity, an enthusiasm among many, here and abroad. Was it the end of the historic Haitian "curse?" Had the nation finally found its way?

The person in charge of a German organization wrote to me recently and reminded me that there was the feeling at the time that a popular revolution drawing its inspiration from the Bible was taking place in Haiti. The coup d'état was to reinforce international support for the movement and the mobilization within the country. The 165 nations of the UN voted unanimously to condemn the coup and asked for the return of the legitimate president which took place with the landing of 22,000 soldiers. The message had relevance for the whole world: democracy against dictatorship. In July 1995, a colloquium on Democratic Transitions placed the country in the context of the general march of poor countries towards development linked necessarily with an ethics of respect for the rights of each and every one. The dismantling of the army led one to believe that the country would become more and more integrated in regional, continental and transcontinental groupings, thereby breaking with the de facto isolation that had prevailed throughout its history.

But, it seems that Lafanmi took an abrupt 180-degree turn which put it at odds with the position that Lavalas had taken to date, thereby placing it in confrontation on all fronts with its interlocutors abroad as with the bulk of the democratic movement in Haiti. The continued failure of the Lavalas government to organize credible elections culminates on May 21 in a procedural and logistical disaster which puts the country in a painful situation vis-à-vis the international community, not to mention the deep frustration of citizens. After three years of institutional vacuum, without a parliament and with a cabinet which was not ratified by the chambers, three years without a budget and with all development projects practically blocked, Fanmi Lavalas intensifies the internal crisis and puts the country in conflict with the international community on the issue of procedure, which should have never been a problem on the face of it. For it is clear that both the Constitution and the Electoral Law require that the senators and deputies obtain an absolute majority to be elected in the first round. It is on this issue that the OAS, the United Nations' Secretary General, the White House, the Congress, the American Senate, the European Community, the governments of France, Canada, CARICOM, etc. intervene to stress that one could not invent a new method for calculating an absolute majority. Thus, the procedure invented by the mathematicians of the CEP being in violation of the constitution, more than a dozen senators allegedly elected would have had to go into a second round. One might recall that the same kind of problem provoked the break between the president and the then-prime minister. Then, it was about the blank ballots. It is worth noting that the conflict with the international community is carefully limited to constitutional procedure, thus to a matter of principle. All the rest, that is all the fraud and abuse surrounding the counting of the votes were left out of the debate although we know the extent of the disaster. The conflict was circumscribed to a matter of principle, as was done with the issue of the return of the elected president but, in this case, it would have been easier to resolve the matter if only there was a will to do so.

Why then place the country in this predicament which will poison its relations with the outside world for years to come and render the internal crisis even more acute? Why antagonize support essential to the development of the country? Why this obstinacy in a behavior which appears to be at the very least suicidal? Why the violence of a claim for a total victory which eliminates all the other parties and gives to Lafanmi all existing elective positions? More time is needed to answer these questions. Without indulging in metaphysical theories ("Jupiter makes mad those he intends to destroy") one can at least for the time being come up with three explanations.

First of all, the decision to overlook the absolute majority required by the Constitution while arguing that the decision to have all the candidates elected in the first round "is an expression of the people's will" puts us in front of a fait accompli. From now on, it is up to the party -- as the party of the people -- to determine when and how the Constitution comes into play. Secondly, there can be representation of the Haitian people only through Lafanmi. There can only exist a minute minority that cannot ask for anything because it does not represent the people and is therefore guilty of all the ills of Israel. Thirdly, no senator from a third party can be allowed to win so as not to endanger the impunity of the members of Lafanmi... And the CEP was forced to accept these three guiding principles with a knife under its throat.

This is where we are in this year of grace 2000. Already, we can assess the impact of Lafanmi's about-face on daily life. Already, the discourse that we hear is singularly similar to the discourse of another age, the discourse of the "time before." It appears that the 20 years of democratic discourse never existed and we hear the same sloganeering, so-called nationalist, so-called patriotic that was shouted by Figaro and his ilk in the 60s, not to mention the grimaces of the military and FRAPH during the coup years. "Aristide or death," it is our death that is announced as in Duvalier's time, it is the "macoute" language buttressed by AK47s. "We took it and we took it forever!", what a strange slogan in the mouth of the President of the Republic! No to mention the threats to burn and loot hurled by the hired commandos. And, surreptitiously, a shameful fear already controls attitudes, demarches and speeches.

We could make fun of formulas such as "endogenous paths to development" if only we did not recall the case of Sékou Touré's Guinea: peoples pay dearly for the intoxication of their leaders. "Love it or leave it" -- such was the slogan of a famous putschists. This world in which they want to lock us up we know well: it is the world of the tramp. Three hours of electricity daily, construction projects that are never completed, the destruction of the environment, water once a week, impassable roads to Cap Haïtien, Hinche and Jérémie; no need to draw it for us, we know the march in reverse. The children of poverty lock themselves in poverty. Already, Le Monde of August 4, 2000, had published an article by Raoul Peck entitled: "Haiti: the return of fear."