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Aristide in past tense: homework to be corrected by Préval,
Haiti's new elected president

(by Emmanuel W. VEDRINE)
Feb. 20, 2006

Jean-Bertrand Aristide
René Preval
Jean-Bertrand Aristide
René Préval
(Associated Press)

First, I am not a supporter of any of the presidential candidates who participated in Haiti’s recent and peaceful elections but rather a supporter of democracy. In my writings, I usually talk from my heart and from observations of the “Haitian Reality”, a subject I’ve been working on the past four years.

Conscious critics who are familiar with Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Administration would say he has also contributed a great deal to his failure (e.g., if we can go way back to the “grands mangeurs’ time”* (under Aristide II, the late 90’s), and failure to take some good advice into consideration). He pretty much knew how much corruption was going on. “Critics accused Aristide of corruption and despotism during his second term but he remains popular in the slums…” (Jim Loney and Joseph Guyler Delva).

Anyone who supports the burgeoning of Haiti’s fragile democracy would certainly be against any type of “coup d’état”. But unfortunately, there is clear evidence of an attempt to do an electoral one recently by some members of the Haitian “CEP” (Conseil Elektoral Provisoire, The Electoral Council), together with some invisible hands) by manipulating the votes. Manipulation of the elections results (if the problem wasn’t solved a week after the elections) would only continue to lead Haiti to total chaos, including the possibility of a civil war. The country has been already divided and it would be worse this time. Why did the CEP take so long to publish the final results of these elections when they could have done so in three days as were scheduled to and with the help of technology? People across the country knew about these manipulations that were going on and what’s worse, even some presidential candidates running as René Préval’s rivals, recognized him as the winner.

The people elected Préval. I respect their will,’ Dany Toussaint, a presidential candidate who won about 7,000 of more than 2 million votes cast, said on local radio. ‘I recognize they did not vote for me.’ …

Other presidential candidates also conceded Préval had won, including Chavannes Jeune, who is running fourth, former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, who won just over 2 percent of the vote, and ex-Prime Minister Marc Bazin, who took under 1 percent.

‘A runoff ... would not solve anything,’ Paul said. ‘Let us look for balance in parliament and forget about the second round. That will be proof of political intelligence.” (Joseph Guyler Delva and Jim Loney, Feb 14 (Reuters)

People who have massively voted in favor of their favorite leader are not stupid when they have been waiting for these results since Friday (three days after the elections). Isn’t it a shame for an institution like the CEP when even presidential candidates, including those who are members of the recent coalition and who were Préval’s rivals were ready to concede his victory?

Going back to Aristide in past tense, too bad his political career ended up in chaos in early 2004 (precisely the end of February) when he was forced to leave power a second time without completing his term (pressured by rebel groups which had a tremendous psychological impact on him and made him kneeling before the UN for help). But at the same time, we can ask this question: has Aristide ever taken good advice into consideration? If he has, certainly it would avoid the root of the whole thing, for instance willingness to step down when he was overwhelmed with pressure from the “Group 184”* and from the International Community to do so when things were getting real bad in Haiti, the beginning of 2004. Insecurity, by the violent armed “chimères*” who took the streets, threatened the life of the people. They also ransacked many people’s business and properties which were on top of the list of these chaos.

Also, part of Aristide’s failure has to do a great deal with the legislative elections of 2000 which, in a way, opened the door for his rivals to bombard Lavalas with critics for frauds. “Haiti has experienced a persistent period of political instability since the contested legislative and local elections of May 2000” (Canadian International Development Agency). The intensification of that crisis led to an armed uprising, forcing Aristide to go into exile on February 29, 2004.

Aristide spent so much money for his personal security ($9 million a year for 60 or so bodyguards provided by an American security firm, The Steele Foundation1. Something he did that for about 10 years. Over $90 millions for a guy’s personal security even when he wasn’t in office (but still remained in the capital). Millions and millions also spent in lobbying folks in Washington. “Haiti’s government while controlled by president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his party, spent $7.3 million between 1997 and 2002 lobbying the U.S government as more than 80% of the country was impoverished… Haiti’s island neighbor, the Dominican Republic – with a population of 8.4 million – spent $1.18 million on lobbying for the same period…”2.

Only $10 million invested in Agriculture would do so much to help Haitian peasants (since agriculture used to be the main source of income for over 80% of the Haitian population). Responding to an on-line comment where a Haitian educator sees “education” as the primary need for Haiti, I challenge that telling him: education is an important issue in the development of Haiti, but it depends on how one approaches it. Haiti is not going to move a step forward without a radical change in agriculture. Can we succeed with literacy while people in Haiti are dying of hunger? Would the mass (the majority of the population) care about how to read and write when they can not eat, can not get a job, can not have any activities to give them some cash? The answer is “no”. Now what happen when there is nothing done, trying to put agriculture on its real rails? The answer is: these poor, innocent people fled by thousands (illegally) to the neighboring country, to other parts of the Caribbean, including the famous shores of Miami, taking risks traveling by “kantè” boats where sharks have devoured many thousands. Wasn’t Haiti one of the best producers of coffee in the Americas (under Estime’s Administration)? The incoming head of state must think about that, putting agriculture back on its rails. Can Haiti have again the flourishing tourist industry of the 50’s, a sector that brings billion of dollars to the neighboring country, the Dominican Republic?

Some people always think that Aristide and Préval are “twin brothers” due to their political ties through the former “Lavalas government”, but at the same time Préval has never been a member of Aristide's Lavalas Family Party (Associated Press, Jan 17, 2006). They have certain things in common, but most Haitians who know about the two brothers will say that they are not real “identical twins”. Will Aristide go back soon to Haiti? The speculation has been circulating and some critics affirm that many Aristide’s supporters casted their votes for Préval, hoping that he will bring him back from exile. “Some hard-core Aristide supporters in Haiti's slums dream that Préval would bring him back from exile in South Africa. But even many of Aristide's most fervent supporters say they have moved on, and want to start a new political chapter in Haiti's history with Préval, who built roads and schools when he served as president from 1996-2001.” (Susan Milligan,The Boston Globe, Feb. 10, 2006). When that question was directed to Préval, his answer was a diplomatic one, referring to the constitution that forbids exile of citizen and he also reported that it all depends on Aristide, not him. At the same time, we can see a sort of ambiguity when Aristide recently declared in an interview with International News Agencies that the date of his return will emerge from consultations among Préval, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community and his host, the South African government.

Préval is not the guy who talks or likes talking, and there was that slogan when he was in power: “Y ap pale, l ap travay” (They are talking [those who were talking, criticizing him], he is working). Préval would surprise people working in state jobs (to see if they were on time at work) with his surprised visits, and would sometimes patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince at night (along with the police), something Papa Doc also did (re: in interview with a Swiss Press). Préval is also known as one of the very few presidents who stayed in Haiti after completing his full term in office (February 7, 1996 - February 7, 2001), and quietly went back to his native province, Marmelade and worked with the people such as helping them with reforestation projects.

Certainly, those who supported Aristide (in the past) have casted their votes for Préval in the recent elections. No doubt about it! And “Father Jean-Juste, a close supporter of Aristide who was recently released from prison to travel to Miami for health issue, urged the population to vote for Préval. Since he got elected, the very first thing he must do is fixing the security machine and punish anyone who would try to break it (by setting examples). “Disarmament must go hand-in-hand with social programs” he affirms, in reference to DDR (Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration).

Security for every citizen should be on the slogans from now on to send a strong message to the incoming head of state. Now, in dealing with the security issue, he must disarm all gangs, and making it tough for unauthorized people to circulate freely with firearms. Bandits should hear that message the very first day of his inauguration. If that machine does not get fixed in less than 3 months, not only he new president will fail, but he will also have a pretty bad place in history. “After he is inaugurated on March 29, he will lead a nation where heavily armed street gangs wage gunfights with U.N. peacekeepers, where the rich and poor are divided by mistrust and hatred and where a rash of kidnappings is driving out business owners” (Andrew Selsky, Feb 17 (AP).

In the new administration, he must include credible and qualified people from other parties, and people from the business sector. He wasn’t running as “independent” as we know, but at the same time, in order to succeed he must try to reach across party line, a whole rainbow, representing Haiti. The politic of exclusion is one of the things that makes Haiti going backward. It makes sense for someone to hold a high positions based on qualification and honesty rather than militancy.

Haiti needs qualified and honest Haitians (despite of their social class, genre, and their political affiliation) to work together. We are pretty sure that the South African Nobel Laureate, Bishop Tutu, did not come to Haiti in vain but to grasp the opportunity to deliver a message of peace and unity, one for Haiti’s incoming leaders and for every Haitian and as a cure for the country’s wounds (going back over two hundred years).

The country is divided (economically, politically and socially). There are so many wounds to be cured quickly and some have been already infected. So, those of us who expect real changes to occur in Haiti, see a head of state who should try to connect everyone to work together for a country and for the benefit of its citizen. I know it is not quite easy to do in a wink of time, but by trying hard as soon as possible can absolutely bring positive results.

Like it or not, the recent elections reflect ‘the will of the Haitian people’ witnessed by International Community. In other words, they have shown the whole world their determination to vote (for whatever the candidate of their choice), hoping for the changes they expect would better their situation. That ‘will’, however, must be respected. Their massive participation in these elections clearly showed that they want to finish off with “dictatorships” in order for Haiti to go forward, by walking in the path of democracy. A commentator on the well-known Haitian forums “Haitian Politics”, Jean-Michel Voltaire (in the three paragraphs quoted below), sends quite a strong message about respecting that ‘will’, respect that everybody deserves and that everybody, including the president, shouldn’t be above the law.

“... It's time that Haitian-political elites respect the will of the people. When the political and business leaders talk about democracy, it appears that they are talking about a government of the elites, for the elites, and by the elites. That's not democracy. That's tyranny. In a democracy, the leaders derive their power directly from the people. They are the representatives of the people and are subject to the will of the people. They are removable from office by the people. So, if someone will not respect the will of the people or think the people are too stupid to make their own decision, we are not talking about democracy.

I have said it before, and will say it again. The Haitian-elites are a minority and must understand that. So, in order for them to gain the presidency, they have to convince the people that they are worthy of their confidence. They cannot claim that they are entitled to lead just because of their wealth or status. Those days are over.

However, the rights of the Haitian-elites must be respected. They should not feel threatened in their own country and should not be harassed. Their property rights must be respected. They are Haitians and must be part of the solution. That's the reason we need to strengthen Haiti's institutions, particularly the judiciary and the police, to equitably enforce the laws. No one, including the President of Haiti, is above the law. If the President commits a crime, he must face justice like any other ordinary citizen. That's what we should advocate, instead of taking arms against one another .” (Jean-Michel Voltaire, Esq.).


* Chimères: a derogatory term for the unemployed that has become synonymous with both ‘gangster’ and ‘Aristide-supporter.’ (Lyn Duff).

*Grands mangeurs (big eaters - newly rich who made a fortune under Aristide II).

*Group 184 (G-184). A group of 184 Civil Society Organizations. The Group of 184 (G-184), is headed by Andre (Andy) Apaid, a US citizen of Haitian parents, born in the US. ( Haiti Progrès). Andy Apaid owns Alpha Industries, one of Haiti's largest cheap labor export assembly lines established during the Duvalier era. His sweatshop factories produce textile products and assemble electronic products for a number of US firms including Sperry/Unisys, IBM, Remington and Honeywell. Apaid is the largest industrial employer in Haiti with a workforce of some 4000 workers. Wages paid in Andy Apaid's factories are as low as 68 cents a day. (Miami Times, 26 Feb 2004). The current minimum wage is of the order of $1.50 a day:

‘The U.S.-based National Labor Committee, which first revealed the Kathie Lee Gifford sweat shop scandal, reported several years ago that Apaid's factories in Haiti's free trade zone often pay below the minimum wage and that his employees are forced to work 78-hour weeks.’ (Daily News, New York, 24 Feb 2004)

Apaid was a firm supporter of the 1991 military coup. Both the Convergence démocratique and the G-184 have links to the FLRN (former  FRAPH death squadrons) headed by Guy Philippe. The FLRN is also known to receive funding from the Haitian business community.

In other words, there is no watertight division between the civilian opposition, which claims to be non-violent and the FLRN paramilitary. The FLRN is collaborating with the so-called ‘Democratic Platform.’ (Michel Chossudovsky, “The Destabilization of Haiti”, Feb. 29, 2004)

  1. Steve Miller, Washington Times, 2004-03-06; Haiti Democracy Project web page, item #1853).
  2. Steve Miller, Washington Times, 2004-03-06; Haiti Democracy Project web page, item #1853).

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. Agriculture the first Target for Haiti's Development. Boston Haitian Reporter, July 2004.

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. Good luck to Haiti’s next president. Boston Haitian Reporter, Vol. 6. issue 12.

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. How much will Haiti benefit from a coalition of presidential candidates the eve of its presidential elections? Boston Haitian Reporter, winter 2005.

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. Pou yon revolisyon nan ‘mantalite’ Ayisyen.

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. What can be done in Haiti under a Third visual occupation?

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. Vote ak konsyans (text circulated on-line, Feb. 6, 2006).

VEDRINE, W. Emmanuel. “A Healing Paradigm For A New Haiti”.(Unpub. manuscript)

VOLTAIRE, Jean-Michel. Comments sent to the “Haitian Politics Forum”.

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Emmanuel W. Védrine
P.O.B. 255962
Dorchester, MA 02125-5110 (U.S)
e_vedrine@hotmail.com, e_vedrine@yahoo.com

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