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Read Part I of this interview.
Darren Ell: What has been the reaction in Canadian and American political circles to the banning of Fanmi Lavalas from the 2010 elections?
Roger Annis: I'm not aware of a single Canadian political party or representative aware of the undemocratic character of the upcoming election in Haiti or voicing concern about it. Interestingly, the federal government is by all accounts following developments closely. Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon was in Haiti for three days in early May to get a first-hand look at Canada's support for prisons and police training and equipping. He announced new spending in those areas and he was an early voice speaking in support of a sham election.
Haiti Liberte has called the sham election "the first order of business of the Haiti Interim Reconstruction Commission." In other words, while we were treated to words and speeches by the foreign powers following the earthquake in favor of meaningful aid and reconstruction, what we have received is an inadequate or failed relief effort combined with a near-stealth plan to impose a fraudulent election that will, again in the words of Haiti Liberte, "lead the country towards a deepening dependence on the imperialist countries, feet and hands tied as in the olden days of slavery."
Brian Concannon: There has been very little interest in American political circles. Representative Maxine Waters, who regularly stands up for justice in Haiti, has been trying to raise interest in the US House of Representatives, with little result so far. Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a report in June that strongly criticized the political party exclusions, and suggested that the US reconsider its support for the flawed process. That report had little impact.
The US Administration, like much of the official International Community, believes that President Preval’s team has done a good job managing Haiti, including advances in financial accountability and transparency, and would like to see that team continue to run Haiti. This is a short-term expedient that will come back to haunt the US, Canada and other countries because the elections will not produce a government with the political or moral legitimacy to effectively implement a reconstruction plan. The government will have to make very difficult decisions (such as about rural versus urban spending, initiatives supporting the middle class versus the poor, etcetera) and request its citizenry—already tired and angry—to make more sacrifices. This will be very difficult for a government lacking popular support.
To some extent, the Haitian government and MINUSTAH (the UN forces) will be able to keep basic peace by force of arms, but that will not allow effective governance. I also fear that citizens who feel they cannot choose their government through the ballot will engage in more disruptive tactics, which will lead to social unrest and possibly a violent response by the police and MINUSTAH, which will in turn touch off a cycle of violence.
Akinyele Umoja: A minority has called for the inclusion of Lavalas because they know if they don’t, the elections could be easily exposed as unfair. Others hope for some minor Lavalas representative to be included and co-opted into a different platform. The dominant view remains unchanged. The blocking of Lavalas has the blessing of the US and surely the blessing of Bill Clinton.
How about Canadian and American media? We hear a lot about Wyclef Jean but nothing about Fanmi Lavalas.
Roger Annis: Canada's media has failed to inform Canadians about the flawed election in the making, including the formal exclusion of Haiti's only mass representative party, Fanmi Lavalas. This is not simply oversight or ignorance. I have conducted extensive correspondence with programs and senior news editors at CBC Radio about this matter, for several months now. They are either disbelieving or disinterested. The same can be said for the editors of Canada's print media.
This is not a proper response from a serious media outlet, but sadly, Haiti does not seem to merit the same standard of journalism that might apply to similar situations in other countries. Imagine, for a moment, that the government in Venezuela was conducting that country's electoral affairs in a way similar to Rene Preval's discredited regime in Haiti. Canada's editors and news writers would be screaming, and writing, at the top of their lungs. And we wouldn't hear the end of it from the federal government.
All this places major responsibilities before the Haiti solidarity movement and to anyone else in Canada concerned about Haiti's fate. Will we let this sham electoral process pass unchallenged? I am confident that we won't, that we will find the means to assist the people of Haiti who are waging the battle for democracy, social justice and electoral accountability. That's what got the Canada Haiti Action Network started in the first place, in 2004, and it's where we must keep moving.
Nora Rasman: Due to his international notoriety, Wyclef Jean brought the elections issue to the forefront for a short time when he declared his candidacy, was rejected and repealed. It is positive that any attention around elections has been generated, but very little media coverage has addressed the fundamental problems with the upcoming elections. If the immediate concerns of those affected by the quake are not addressed, the reconstruction and long-term rebuilding process will exclude the Haitian majority and increase the possibility of political instability.
Brian Concannon: The mainstream American media has a bias towards covering personalities over policies in all elections, including our own. Reporters and editors claim that it’s what Americans like to read. The Wyclef Jean coverage carries that bias to an extreme. It has devoted extensive space to a clearly ineligible candidate with no political experience running with a party that has never won any elected office. At the same time, it ignores the disqualification of the party that has won every free election held in Haiti for 20 years, always by a landslide.
The US equivalent to what’s happening in Haiti would be President Obama forming a new party before our 2012 elections, and announcing that the Democrats and Republicans were disqualified, then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—who was born in Austria and thus constitutionally barred from the Presidency—announcing his candidacy, then the press foaming at the mouth about how his entry into the race has energized action hero movie fans, while ignoring the disqualification of the parties that win every election.
Kim Ives: Wyclef Jean made it clear that he would head a pro-US administration and work with the UN and USAID. Meanwhile, Washington and its media are trying to “turn the page” on the Lavalas movement. The first stage is always to ignore and minimize it. If FL continues to stymie Washington’s agenda in Haiti, the mainstream media will set about demonizing the FL and its leaders, just as it did six years ago.
Is it fair to say that the international community does not want to see democracy in Haiti? And if so, why, especially considering Haiti’s great need and the sums of money promised for reconstruction by the international community?
Brian Concannon: The international community wants to see a “democracy” in Haiti that betrays the desires of Haitian voters in favor of the dictates of the international community and Haitian elites. This is obviously problematic from a moral and ethical perspective, but it is equally problematic from the perspective of a North American taxpayer. President John F. Kennedy famously remarked that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The International Community seems intent on proving this maxim over and over. As long as Haitian voters are not allowed to choose their leaders, there will be violence in Haiti (mostly coming from anti-democratic forces, but some from democratic forces as well), which will imperil any money provided for Haiti’s reconstruction, and provoke continued expensive military intervention in Haiti.
Akinyele Umoja: I resent the term “international community” because it doesn’t refer to the people in these countries. It refers to very specific interests in the US, France and Canada. In the US, the Monroe Doctrine states clearly that the US will control the Caribbean and the Americas to suit its needs. The US doesn’t like any country that seeks a political or economic course independent of its own. Ordinary people would support democracy in Haiti, but they get so much disinformation that they don’t know what’s really going on.
Kim Ives: The US, France and Canada cannot tolerate any sovereign and nationalist state in Latin America, least of all Haiti. Their subversion and coups d’etat of the past show that clearly. In particular, the US won’t stand for it because of Haiti’s geopolitical position across the strategic Windward Passage from socialist Cuba and its sharing of the island with the Dominican Republic (DR), an important US ally and business partner. Any radical progressive social change in Haiti would have a huge impact on the DR, where many Haitian migrants and Haitian ancestry Dominicans live, many travelling back and forth between the two countries.
Haiti is also, after Cuba, the most populous nation in the Caribbean, and in many ways, Latin America's most African country. Racism has played a major role in Haiti's subjugation, denigration, and constant political crises—stoked by North America and Europe since Haiti's ground-breaking 1804 revolution.
The great sums of money promised to Haiti after the quake are primarily earmarked to go to US contractors like Halliburton, DynCorp, and Kellogg Brown & Root [now KBR]. The “reconstruction” is a golden opportunity to channel billions to the Pentagon’s principal contractors and rebuild Haiti as Washington sees fit (ie; more like Puerto Rico, a US colony whose national economic independence has been almost completely repressed, subjugated or consumed by US multinationals, which have polluted the environment, doctored the legal and political system and corrupted the Indigenous culture). This is why the US has essentially taken over the Haitian government through the Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti (CIRH).
How important is this election to Haitians, especially given the struggle for survival since the earthquake?
Nora Rasman: The exclusion of FL has added skepticism to people’s views on the usefulness of these elections. For many of the camp leaders and those living in camps, elections are not a priority because there are so many other outstanding immediate issues on the table, including securing basic goods and services on a daily basis. People affected by the earthquake—particularly those who have been internally displaced—are challenged to obtain consistent access to food, water, health, sanitation and washing services, education or job opportunities.
Akinyele Umoja: In the camps, the main issue is survival: safety, health and food. But people are tying it to politics. They see themselves as Lavalas, so they feel that if their party was allowed to participate, they would be interested in the elections, but with the current group of candidates, they just see it as a sham that will not help them at all.
What can concerned citizens in Canada and the US do about this issue?
Brian Concannon: Concerned citizens outside of Haiti need to protect our ideals, our tax dollars and Haitian voters against our own governments’ polices, by 1) staying informed about Haiti, and 2) staying involved. The IJDH has a program called "Half-Hour for Haiti," which helps people do both. Anyone can sign up on our website.
Nora Rasman: Concerned citizens abroad can argue for free, fair and transparent elections to move forward. Holding your government, as well as national and international non-governmental organizations, accountable for their activities is of the utmost importance. To this end, we suggest that people become engaged by contacting their elected officials to tell them the crisis on the ground has not ended while emphasizing the need for Haitian civil society organizations to be part of the long-term planning for reconstruction, including the electoral process. Or building concrete relationships with solidarity organizations in Haiti, the US and Canada, organizations that support a fair and representative electoral processes.
Akinyele Umoja: We need to challenge our own governments. In the US, we need to ask ourselves the question of how Aristide can be returned to the country because we took him away. We need to understand our own government’s involvement in the impoverishment of Haiti. If people hadn’t stood up around the world against apartheid in South Africa, it wouldn’t have fallen, and we need to do the same work around the issue of Haiti.
Kim Ives: People should provide material and financial support to the resistance being carried out by coalitions like PLONBAVIL, groups like the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Bureau des avocats internationaux (BAI), and media like Haiti Liberte.
Originally from Saskatchewan, Darren Ell is a teacher, photographer and freelance journalist residing in Montreal. Between 2006 and 2008, he documented the legacy of the 2004 coup d’etat in online publications with the Citizenshift, The Dominion and Haiti Action. His photographic installation on this subject, Haiti Holdup, was exhibited at Concordia University in Montreal.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.