The U.S. Policy Imperative in Haiti,

and How to Achieve It

December 9, 2002


I. Recent Developments

II. A Backward Glance

III. The Abiding U.S. Interest in Haiti

IV. Obstacles to Be Addressed

V. The Way Forward: Four Recommendations

V. Conclusion

I. Recent Developments

The past six weeks or so have been busy ones in Haiti. October and November brought a series of events that together revealed much about the now palpably unraveling political situation in this deeply troubled island nation, which lies so hard upon our southeastern shores. December, having opened with the widespread suppression of a variety of non-violent protests against the current regime's anti-democratic practices--including a mass and march to commemorate the first anniversary of the brutal slaying of a young provincial journalist by members of a street gang closely aligned to the ruling party--promises to be even more of an eye-opener.

The October 29th amphibious landing of hundreds of Haitian refugees on the Rickenbacker Causeway (linking Miami proper to Key Biscayne)--whether orchestrated in whole or in part by the government, as some of its Haitian critics continue to claim, or "just" another heart-rending bid for relief from the worsening economic uncertainties and political tensions that so beset Haiti's impoverished and vulnerable general population--was surely a long overdue wake-up call that the Administration's current approach to Haiti is simply not working. Obviously, the U.S. can ill-afford either to be held hostage by an increasingly hostile regime willing to send its people forth in rickety boats across dangerous seas as harbingers of its own distress (as it was in the early 90s, under admittedly different circumstances), or to be inundated by a new wave of Haitian refugees desperately seeking to escape the looming sociopolitical implosion of their own country.

In November, the failure of the Haitian government to honor any of its substantial commitments under standing OAS Resolutions 806 and 822 became painfully obvious, as both the initial deadline and a two-week extension for compliance with one of 822's most important provisions--the establishment of a neutral and credible Electoral Council--passed with little appreciable progress towards organizing free-and-fair elections some time next year. Understandably, not a single one of the five independent institutions representing Haitian civil society, and slated to name delegates to the nine-member electoral body, were willing to ask their appointees to assume official responsibilities in the absence of any significant indication from the regime and its supporters that they actually intended to "walk the walk" rather than simply "talk the talk" of a government-guaranteed security climate conducive to an open national debate during the campaign and an honest political contest at the polls.

Meanwhile, the "lag" that always seems to characterize outsiders' understanding of Haiti's byzantine political dynamics--quite justifiably regarded as enigmatic, at best, by even the most seasoned analysts--has been emphatically exposed over the last month, as thousands of people from all walks of life united and took to the streets in a series of unprecedented anti-Aristide demonstrations across the country that few would have been comfortable predicting even as recently as early autumn. The international community, it seems, remains about as far "behind the curve" as ever when it comes to gauging Haitian popular sentiment--staged counter-demonstrations and disruptive violence by the ruling party's paid minions notwithstanding. And under such circumstances, the painfully apparent reflex of international diplomats to privilege the appearance of evenhandedness, even at the expense of the plainspoken and increasingly obvious truth--no matter how "understandable"--is particularly regrettable. One is inevitably left wondering which part of the "honest/broker" role these Janus-faced go-betweens most value.

Almost simultaneously, in the provincial capital of Les Cayes, President Aristide himself dizzyingly raised the stakes of what is obviously an increasingly high-risk game for all involved by playing the most dangerous card in the whole deck of Haitian politics -- the race card. Using rhetoric that smacked of his earliest days as a firebrand priest -- and, not incidentally, of the young Papa Doc himself -- he unashamedly told a gathering of his dwindling "base" that those who appear to oppose him actually oppose them, "the people," and that they do so because of the color of their skin, the kink in their hair and their poverty, rather than on the basis of any more principled disagreement with the current regime. This, from the self-styled "President of all Haitians," was nothing short of an open declaration of class-and-color war; a war that is apparently going to be waged not only against the political opposition, per se, but against the entire national bourgeoisie, the business community, much of Haiti's educated middle class, and anyone else who has the temerity to stand up against what's going on under Aristide's tutelage, as so many have in the past few weeks.

Clearly, the time has come to reevaluate both the importance and the impact of U.S. policy in Haiti; a policy which is currently being implemented largely by proxy, through the good, if thus far ineffectual, offices of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, under the authority of the recently adopted Inter-American Democratic Charter (September 2001).

II. A Backward Glance, with the Clarity of Hindsight

The clarion call of liberation, participation and inclusion sounded in Haiti more than 16 years ago now, with the bloodless ouster of the Duvalierist dynasty in February 1986, followed little more than a year later by the ratification of a new Haitian Constitution, on March 29, 1987.

Unfortunately for Haiti and her people, those heady days, full of promise for a better future, are long gone. Efforts to implement the democratic reforms embodied in the new charter were effectively stymied almost from the outset.

First, the heaviest resistance to Haiti's democratization came from recidivist forces within the Army, intent on reestablishing the traditional primacy of the military as "king-makers" in Haitian politics--a role which had in fact been successfully undercut by the Duvaliers themselves. These culminated in the September 1991 coup d'état against the recently elected President Aristide, which inaugurated a three-year period of bloody de facto rule, ultimately reversed by a U.S.-led international military intervention.

Subsequently, however, a populist demagogue, his cronies and his clients--all apparently quite willing to pervert the nation's fledgling transition in the interest of consolidating their own personal powers and privilege--emerged as the greatest threat to Haitian democracy. Together, they have worked to undermine the electoral process, infringe upon basic human and civic rights, simultaneously co-opted and emasculated the country's inexperienced National Police for their own purposes, and rehabilitated violence and the arbitrary exercise of power as the instruments par excellence of Haitian politics. Surely, there is precious little comfort to be drawn from noting that at least, this time, the leader of this ongoing assault has been "duly elected, and even that mitigates the severity of this ongoing assault.

Thus, the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Haitian people--aspirations which contributed mightily to the downfall of the Duvaliers, which found their articulation in the 1987 Constitution, which handily swept President Aristide into his ill-fated first-term presidency in December, 1990, and which motivated the long-suffering and ultimately successful resistance of the vast majority of Haitians to the re-imposition of military rule from 1991 to 1994--have not simply been consistently frustrated. They have been betrayed.

With the withdrawal of some 20,000 U.S. troops in March, 1995, our nation's once proactive policy toward post-Duvalierist Haiti moved rapidly from one of nation-building to one of neglect. This is not to say that significant levels of U.S. support to improved governance and democratic institutional development did not continue for several more years; they did. Rather, it is simply to suggest that, in the single-minded pursuit of their respective programs, neither the Department of State, nor USAID, nor the Department of Justice appear to have been prepared to have to hold the recently restored democratic government of Haiti itself accountable, in terms of even the most minimal standards of democratic practice itself.

As a result, the present Haitian constitution--which, following its virtually unanimous approbation in a 1987 referendum that still boasts the highest voter turnout in Haitian history, is presumably the binding national charter under whose mandate and in accordance with whose terms any and all "nation-building" should have proceeded--has instead consistently been honored only in the breach. Even the much more fundamental tenets of good governance anywhere--such as transparency and the primacy of the rule-of-law--have consistently been violated throughout the post-return period, and by those very institutions and actors who were the ostensible "beneficiaries" of the bulk of U.S. assistance at the time.

Thus, when the progressive breakdown of democratic order and institutions reached proportions that could no longer be ignored by even the most sympathetic observers--with the unabashed stealing of the May 2000 national legislative and local elections by the ruling party--it was already too late, in some very real sense. The resulting political impasse continues to frustrate all attempts at mediation, and apparently brooks no compromise. It has also left Haiti with not a single public official who might even arguably be regarded as constitutionally legitimate, save the controversial president himself of course.

At the time of this writing, Haiti undeniably finds herself poised on the very brink of wholesale state failure and generalized economic collapse. In the continued absence of stern and stringent corrective measures, its further degeneration inevitably portends dire consequences not only for the Haitian people, but for her neighbors, for the United States, and for the entire hemispheric community, as well.

And while the patently self-serving and exculpatory "Haitian problems, Haitian solutions" mantra of the international community and its representatives may be comforting at this point, it simply does not ring true. After all, it was our troops that returned President Aristide to power, our money (and plenty of it, truth be told) that shored up the increasingly tenuous façade of "democratic transition" under Lavalas long after it should properly have fallen away to unmask its own corrupt and venal interior, and our experts and the bureaucrats who ran them who persisted in turning the proverbial blind eye as Haiti lurched purposively toward one-man, one-party rule.

Having had something of a hand in making this particular bed, in short, it's high time we lie in it.

III. The Abiding U.S. Interest in Haiti

Fortunately, there is little fundamental disagreement about either the long-term objectives of this policy amongst sincere democrats everywhere. These properly focus on the eventual creation of a stable, legitimate government that would provide a predictable environment in which economic development could take place.

Not incidentally, of course, such progress is expected to relieve the pressure of illegal emigration to the United States, whether by economic or political refugees, and to reduce the threat of another mass exodus, as occurred in the early 1990s. Yet this U.S. interest also broadly (and happily) coincides with that of Haiti's poor majority, for whom the delivery of even minimal government services and a marginal increase in real incomes would be an enormous advance over their current desperate--and deteriorating--straits.

It is also consistent with important (although admittedly subsidiary) U.S. interests in curtailing Haiti's increasingly prominent role as a transshipment point for the international drug trade's stateside market, and mitigating the spillover effects of its chronic turmoil on other countries in the region, most notably the neighboring Dominican Republic, and nearby Jamaica and the Bahamas. According to the World Bank, these latter "externalities" have already gone well beyond the most visible impact of illegal migration itself, to include serious threats to public health, the environment and even political stability, in more than one Caribbean nation.

The IRI's Georges Fauriol has aptly captured this overriding U.S. interest in a deceptively simple goal statement: "Foster modern governance [in Haiti] through a democratically competitive political environment." But therein lies the rub, of course. For beyond this clarity of purpose, there has been nothing fortunate about recent U.S. Haiti policy experience at all, and certainly nothing that is terribly clear--in terms of how, precisely, to go about achieving such a laudable objective at this point.

After more than two years of stalemate and ever-deepening division over the illegitimate results of the May 2000 legislative and local elections, it hardly takes a Svengali to see that a new, unimpeachably free-and-fair elections are going to be a necessary first step in resuming Haiti's long-interrupted and clumsy march toward some semblance of democracy. It may well require a Houdini, however, to slip the chains of Haitian traditional political culture and actually bring them off.

Those critics who maintain that "elections alone do not a democracy make" are right, of course--if nothing else, Haiti's lamentable post-return history of one failed national election after another, driving the country deeper and deeper into crisis and further and further from any democratic progress, eloquently proves their point by negative example. Yet their not being sufficient doesn't mean that unimpeachably free-and fair elections in Haiti are any less necessary, not only to put a definitive end to the current crisis, but if Haiti is ever eventually to re-start its halting progress on the road to one-day irreversible democratic reform. If, that is, all the other things besides elections that building a real democracy requires are ever again to be undertaken with any reasonable hope of success.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the current political environment is about as far from democratically competitive as can be imagined (although the continuing failure of Lafanmi Lavalas to consolidate one-party rule subsequent to the 2000 elections--in the face of stiff, non-partisan and still-growing opposition from both within and beyond Haiti--should hardly be gainsaid). The international community, for its part--with the U.S in its customary lead role (even if tactically "behind-the scenes," and under a new and otherwise quite preoccupied administration)--once again finds itself playing "catch-up" in Haiti, and this time under profoundly difficult circumstances. Circumstances, in fact, that themselves represent the culmination of literally years of degradation--not simply of the democratic process and its niceties, but of the very integument of Haitian society itself. Criminality, corruption, duplicity, mistrust, abuse and impunity are the order of the day. Violence, in all its forms, has reemerged as the common currency of both public and private life.

How to get the country from where it is today to where it must be in order to hold the kind of elections that all agree are now required is, therefore, the primordial question facing U.S. policymakers.

IV. Obstacles to Be Addressed

With an objective this self-evident, coupled with a clear-eyed understanding that the U.S. must act relatively quickly and relatively decisively to defend its own interests in this matter before those interests are even further compromised, what remains to be worked out are, essentially, the details, the logistics. While the devil may indeed prove to be in these details, it is well worth asking what, exactly, is standing in the way of moving forward towards this interim objective?

(1) Haiti is an armed camp: By all reasonable accounts, an unprecedented number of automatic weapons are currently in circulation in a country that until relatively recently boasted the lowest rate of extra-familial criminal violence in the hemisphere. "Insecurity," as the Haitians delicately put it, is rampant; it is safe to say that no Haitian today feels entirely safe, either on the streets or at home.

It is essentially immaterial to our current purposes to question who is responsible for the distribution and circulation of these arms, or for inciting and countenancing the violence and criminality which they enable. It really doesn't matter. What does matter, however, is the irrefutable validity of the sophomoric observation that there is little or no hope for even relatively peaceful elections to take place, given the level of political tension in the country, until a serious and effective national disarmament campaign is undertaken.

Equally self-evident is the incapacity of the Haitian National Police to mount even the semblance of such a campaign, let alone to prosecute it successfully--again, regardless of why this is the case, or who may be to blame.

(2) No one trusts anyone else, at least when it comes to politics. This is literally true, and despite the international community's constant remonstrance on this point, this will not even begin to change substantially until after the long-awaited unimpeachably free-and-fair elections take place, if then.

Again, it is sufficient for our purposes here simply to make this observation, and not at all necessary either to apportion blame or council "confidence-building" measures. Too much precious time has already been wasted in this regard. In today's poisoned political atmosphere, only neutral, binding, and demonstrably disinterested arbitration can reasonably be expected to shepherd a deeply riven nation through the upcoming electoral process.

(3) There is no existing national-level institution that enjoys legitimacy based on universal accord. No institution has managed to remain above the fray, whether by design or simply by attribution. All are subject to--and have been, or will be, subjected to--charges of partisanship. What we may think of as the "civil society dodge"--apparently so beloved of the international community of late--is little more than just another illusion in the current climate. Church, human rights groups, civic organizations, whether partisan in their actions and intentions or not, will all eventually be tarred by the same brush, to serve the partisan ambitions of others, if for no other reason.

(4) The country finds itself in a rather serious constitutional hiatus. Again, with their customary linguistic delicatesse, the Haitians refer to this as an "extra-constitutional" periods, or periods of "exception."

In the public sector, there has been no constitutionally legitimate government since the resignation of Rosny Smarth in June 1997. The Alexis government was neither properly nominated, nor ever fully ratified by Parliament prior to its summary dissolution in 1999. Aristide's previous and current Prime Ministers, and their governments, cannot be considered constitutionally legitimate absent ratification by a constitutionally legitimate legislature, which the May 2000 elections clearly failed to establish. The judiciary, of course, has never been re-constituted or reformed according to constitutional prescripts.

Fortunately, as extra-constitutional circumstances have been the reigning norm virtually since the passage of the national charter, Haitians actually know how to deal with this problem: extra-constitutional solutions have been deemed permissible by one-and-all, in principle and in practice, during periods of exception.

(5) The president has, quite blatantly, overstepped his bounds, and persists in doing so. The only thing near to an even arguably legitimate public officeholder is President Aristide himself (though some would make the counterargument that his November 2000 re-election was sufficiently tainted by the fraud of the previous May legislative election to have drained it of legitimacy).

Far more disturbing, actually, is the prima facie case that, as president, Mr. Aristide has arrogated to himself powers and prerogatives that go well beyond the clearly mandated and strictly delimited attributes of the republican presidency as laid down in the Constitution (Article 150 expressly forbids this); and, in other instances, has failed to discharge some of those most critical responsibilities that are properly his, such as safeguarding respect of the Constitution itself, the stability of [public] institutions, and the continuity of the State.

These, then, are the principal obstacles to progress towards elections. The rest is mere window-dressing and posturing. What can be done to address them, and by whom?

V. The Way Forward: Four Recommendations

(1) Disarmament. The World Bank, which apparently has the greatest accumulated experience in this domain, and disposes of the requisite resources, should be immediately enlisted to design and execute the "demobilization" and "re-integration" of what amount to Haiti's irregular militias (gangs, cannibal armies, etc), and to collect as many automatic weapons as feasible from armed individuals in a to-be-determined reasonable time frame.

These sorts of programs have apparently worked under even more difficult--if not strictly comparable--circumstances, in Africa and elsewhere. There must come a day, in the foreseeable future, when only Haitian criminals will have guns (together with whatever once can still make of the HNP, of course). At least they will then be more readily identifiable as such, and the deniability and ambiguity that now surround Haitian political mayhem and violence, virtually guaranteeing impunity, will be significantly reduced.

Security for the elections themselves will have to be provided by armed international monitors, with specific and transparent rules-of-engagement. There is simply no other option available. It is reasonable to project that between three and five such "monitors"--with the necessary experience, backing and consistency of command, of course--could adequately cover a communal section. This suggests that a force of some 2,000 to 3,000 "election security monitors" will be required overall. They would operate by request of the Haitian government and by U.N. Security Council resolution.

(2) Arbitration. The international community, with the U.S. taking the lead, must re-assume its fair share of the burden of giving Haiti another--perhaps its final--chance, by providing critical binding arbitration services in the otherwise potentially endless conflict that has engendered the current crisis and threatens to engulf the nation.

The international legal mandate for such an imposition can likely be found in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which must obviously be applied more stringently than has hitherto been the case. There are also probably a significant number of real-life precedents to be called into service here, both to justify and guide the conduct of such arbitration. All decisions in this context would obviously have to justifiable in terms of moving the country towards elections, period.

Once defined and engaged, this initiative must be backed by the required "muscle," whether literally or figuratively, and here the U.S. must once again take the lead.

(3) New transitional government. At this juncture, the Haitian side of the "neutral arbiter" burden cannot be shouldered entirely by the proposed new CEP and dependent organs, no matter what putative powers they are endowed with in advance. NO extra-constitutional CEP--no matter what its composition--will ever have the teeth required to impose its rightful will in electoral matters until at least two things happen. First, the CEP's financing--which comes primarily from the international community, in any event--must flow to it and be accounted for completely independently from the executive branch. (No sitting government has ever permitted this in the past.) Second, the CEP must be backed by special units of the HNP, trained and charged for this singular purpose (similarly to the judicial police, for example). This should include not only personal security details for all members, staff and offices, at least at the national level, but also monitoring and enforcement units that can execute CEP regulations and decisions during the electoral period.

Even if these conditions could now be met, however--and perhaps they will be--the current climate of profound suspicion, mistrust and fear clearly call for a much more dramatic "confidence-building" measure than those proposed thus far. Since the sitting government is admittedly illegitimate, and the overall situation is "extra-constitutional," however, such an exceptional measure is possible to justify and orchestrate: Move expeditiously to the creation of a transitional government charged solely with the conduct of everyday affairs and the all-important task of getting the next elections organized and executed properly. There are ample Haitian precedents for this way of crawling back from an extra-constitutional situation. This Haitian familiarity with the model means that U.S. pressure for a transitional government would work with the grain of Haitian politics, not against it. With Aristide still in the presidency it would require his acquiescence but this could be obtained if the combination of the upsurge of civil society and foreign pressure made it clear that was the only way of saving his presidency.

Indeed, a clear precedent for this exists in recent memory, and was itself consistent with U.S. policy concerns and influence in Haiti. In early 1990, as it became increasingly clear that General Prosper Avril was unwilling to move forward towards national elections with all deliberate speed, the U.S. successfully pushed for the creation of a structure that would somehow produce elections. Under the stewardship of a hand-picked supreme-court justice, Ertha Pascal Trouillot, and with an army that stayed in its barracks, Haiti and the first Bush administration uneasily lurched toward elections. In less than a year, this ad hoc institutional arrangement improbably brought off what many would argue were the only reasonably free-and-fair elections held in post-Duvalierist Haiti to date--those that brought the election of then-coalition candidate Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the palace as Haiti's first democratically elected president.

As project adviser Prof. Henry F. Carey and other election observers have pointed out, even this successful election was deeply flawed and only Aristide's wide margin of victory made it possible for the results to have legitimacy. Any legitimacy, however, was like water in the desert. Similarly, today Haiti is in desperate need of the legitimate government that truly free and fair elections could produce.

Qualification to serve in any capacity in the essentially technocratic transition government proposed here would properly (and minimally) include at least four components: A relatively widely acknowledged reputation for personal integrity; a background outside of politics; a track-record in successful management, either in the public or private sectors, or in civil society; and a willingness to forgo, in advance and in writing, the right to stand for elective office not only in the upcoming elections, but for an agreed upon period of time following their service.

(4) A constitutional presidency. The president must act in accord with the constitution and international human-rights law. Should Aristide prove sufficiently resilient to survive the current wave of protests calling for his resignation, the United States should demand that he immediately begin acting as the constitutional president of Haiti; to wit, that he abide transparently, demonstrably and actively by the constitutional strictures that limit the purview of his duties to those specified by the constitution, and explicitly proscribe any other powers or role for him. "The president of the republic has no other powers than those attributed to him by the constitution." (Article 150)

While international law has no concern with internal Haitian constitutional issues, it is, as the U.N. high commissioner pointedly noted, deeply concerned with justice to the perpetrators of human rights violations.

Any and all further violations of these strictures, Mr. Aristide should clearly be made to understand, would obviously carry the most severe international sanctions permissible under international law and treaties.

Although it is traditional for most Haitian presidents and rulers to leave safely with their usually ill-gotten gains, U.S. policy-makers should make Aristide understand that international law is advancing in this regard and that while today the United States could still muster the resources to arrange safe haven, it might not if the human-rights situation deteriorated any further in a manner that implicated him.

V. Conclusion

To recapitulate, these appear to us to be four elements of a successful U.S. policy toward Haiti:

1. Disarmament

2. Arbitration

3. Transitional government

4. A constitutional president

When--and only when--these four key planks have become the basis for U.S. policy in today's Haiti, does it make any sense at all to start thinking seriously about bringing off the electoral process itself sometime in the foreseeable future. This, admittedly, will also be no small challenge, either logistically, or in terms of cost. Until that time, we may continue to dismiss Haiti as a "mere" distraction in today's post-9/11 context, but we do so at significant peril to ourselves, and many, many others.