Haiti Democracy Project


May 23, 2002

How can the private sector become a stabilizing force in Haiti and contribute to resolving the country's prolonged crisis?

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.

A 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 severe disabilities.

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

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