Averting Election Theft in Haiti
by Rep. Maxine Waters
www.AlterNet.org, February 17,
The Haitian people's choice for president
narrowly won yesterday, despite the best attempts of the country's
wealthy U.S.-backed elite.
A blatant and shameful attempt to steal
a presidential election was blocked yesterday in Haiti, the Western
Hemisphere's poorest country. This outrageous injustice was being
perpetrated by the same forces that have been oppressing the Haitian
people for decades.
In the past, Haiti has been ruled by brutal
dictators such as Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. These dictators
controlled a brutal army that protected the interests of a small
group of wealthy elites and foreign industrialists, while repressing
the poor. The people of Haiti have been exploited in every conceivable
way. Haitians worked in sweatshops for foreign industrialists,
receiving just pennies per day. The elites and the industrialists
profited from cheap labor without doing anything to develop the
economy or improve the country's infrastructure. Those who protested
the exploitation and demanded better living conditions were arrested
or killed by the army. The U.S. government trained the army and
supported the elites.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a
priest who came from Cite Soleil, an impoverished region of Haiti,
and advocated for the nation's poor. He was democratically elected
by the people of Haiti in 1990, representing the Lavalas Party.
He was elected on a platform of better working conditions for
workers and improvements in health care, education and the quality
of life for the poor. The elites hated President Aristide and
were threatened by his platform, which required them to use a
small fraction of their wealth for the good of the country. He
was deposed less than a year later in a coup d'etat by the Haitian
army. With the help of a death squad, the army terrorized the
population for the next three years until the United States intervened
under President Clinton to allow President Aristide to return.
The wealthy elites did everything within
their power over the next decade to make it impossible for President
Aristide and the Lavalas Party to govern the country effectively
or implement policies that benefited the poor. Andre Apaid, a
notorious sweatshop owner who holds an American passport, organized
the Group of 184 to oppose President Aristide. Although President
Aristide disbanded the army after his return, many of the soldiers
did not disarm. Instead, they worked with the elites and the foreign
industrialists to maintain control of the impoverished population.
The Bush administration worked with the
Haitian elites to force President Aristide to step down. The International
Republican Institute, which is affiliated with the Republican
Party, funneled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Aristide-haters,
and Roger Noriega, President Bush's former assistant secretary
of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the former chief of
staff for Sen. Jesse Helms, conspired with Andre Apaid to organize,
train and finance the opposition.
In January 2004, former soldiers and other
heavily armed thugs took over several Haitian cities and then
marched into the capital, while the Group of 184 staged confrontational
demonstrations throughout the country. On Feb. 29, 2004, U.S.
Marines and embassy officials entered President Aristide's home
and told him to leave immediately or he and thousands of other
Haitians would be killed. President Aristide was flown aboard
a U.S. plane to the Central African Republic and left there.
After the 2004 coup d'etat, the Bush administration
installed an unelected interim government led by Interim Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue, who came from Boca Raton, Fla. Human
rights violations have been widespread since the coup. Amnesty
International has documented numerous cases of extrajudicial executions
attributed to members of the Haitian National Police, and the
interim government has imprisoned hundreds of political prisoners
The U.S. government promised to help Haiti
organize elections in order to restore democracy. The interim
government was supposed to oversee these elections. However, the
Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which had the responsibility
for organizing the elections, did not include any representatives
of the Lavalas Party, the party that represented the poor majority.
The CEP refused to place any polling stations in several of Haiti's
most impoverished areas, including Cite Soleil, a home to over
60,000 registered voters. It was a blatant attempt to disenfranchise
Several of Haiti's political prisoners
could have run for office if they had not been in jail. Yvon Neptune,
the former Prime Minister of Haiti, and Annette August, a popular
Haitian singer, have both been detained illegally for over a year.
Both are prominent members of President Aristide's Lavalas Party,
but neither was able to participate in the elections.
Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest
who ran a soup kitchen for poor children, was arrested last July
and held without charges for six months. He was released in January
only because he was diagnosed with leukemia, and an international
outcry demanded that he be able to receive medical treatment.
When several of Father Jean-Juste's supporters tried to register
him as a candidate for president last fall, they were told that
candidates must appear in person in order to register.
Ironically, the Lavalas Party did have
a candidate in the presidential election. The interim government
certified a local politician named Marc Bazin as the Lavalas'
candidate for president. This would be comparable to the U.S.
government arresting John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean
before the 2004 New Hampshire Primary and then letting the Republican
Party choose a Democrat to run against President Bush.
Haiti's so-called democratic elections
have always been under a cloud of suspicion because of the interim
government's efforts to manipulate the electoral process. The
elections were scheduled, postponed and rescheduled several times.
Violence was rampant throughout the country, and there were shootouts
between the Haitian National Policy and armed gangs allied with
various political factions.
Finally, the elections took place on Tuesday,
Feb. 7, and they were rife with impediments to voting, especially
in poor neighborhoods. Numerous polling stations opened several
hours late because election workers did not show up on time or
did not have the proper supplies. At one polling station outside
of Cite Soleil, thousands of voters arrived hours before the polls
were scheduled to open at 6 a.m., but they still had not cast
a single vote by 11:30 a.m., because the election officials did
not have any ballots.
Despite all of the obstacles, voters lined
up and waited for hours, determined to exercise their democratic
Early results showed an overwhelming victory
for Rene Prval, the candidate with widespread support among the
country's poor. Many polling stations posted their results the
day after the election, and Prval won between 60 percent and 90
percent of the vote in all of these polling stations. By Thursday,
the CEP was reporting that Prval had 61.5 percent of the votes
counted thus far. The candidate in second place, Leslie Manigat,
had only 13.4 percent. A sample of the results by the National
Democratic Institute predicted that Prval would win the election
with 52 percent to 54 percent of the votes, and a survey by the
Organization of American States showed Prval with an estimated
The anti-Aristide elites hated Rene Prval,
because the latter was elected president of Haiti in 1995 as a
member of the Lavalas Party and succeeded President Aristide.
President Prval served as president until President Aristide's
reelection in 2000, and he is believed to be influenced by President
Aristide. The elites' opposition to Prval is based on their belief
that he would carry out President Aristide's policies, policies
that benefit Haiti's poor.
The anti-Aristide elites reacted to the
news of Prval's decisive victory by trying to steal the election.
Evidence of election fraud was abundant. For example, hundreds
and possibly thousands of burned ballots marked for Prval were
found in a garbage dump. On Feb. 12, Jacques Bernard, the executive
director of the CEP and a longtime opponent of President Aristide,
miraculously discovered Prval's lead had dropped below the 50
percent required to avoid a runoff in March.
The counting rules used by the CEP seemed
to be designed to deny Prval a victory. About 125,000 ballots,
or 7.5 percent of the votes cast, were declared invalid by the
CEP because of alleged irregularities. Another 4 percent of the
ballots were allegedly blank but nevertheless included in the
vote count, thereby making it more difficult for Prval to exceed
50 percent. Who in their right mind would believe that 4 percent
of the electorate would get up early in the morning and wait for
hours outside of polling stations that failed to open on time
in order to cast a blank ballot?
The same forces responsible for the coup
d'etat were determined to prevent the candidate who represents
the poor majority from winning the election. Forcing Rene Prval
into a runoff would have given them another opportunity to steal
the election and deny the people of Haiti the opportunity to be
governed by the president of their choice.
Haven't the Haitian people suffered enough?
The man-made terror and violence coupled with natural disasters
that have been inflicted upon the people of Haiti will be recorded
in history as catastrophic events that caused tremendous loss
of life and an unbearable and tragic existence for the Haitian
After all of this suffering, it would
have been outrageous for the United States to continue its failed
policies and deny the poorest of people, who have withstood so
much pain, poverty and disenfranchisement, and who persevered
on election day, walked for miles and waited for hours, the right
to elect the president of their choice.
Yesterday, as Haitians demonstrated in
support of Rene Prval and international observers examined the
charred remains of ballots found in a garbage dump, the CEP and
the interim government finally agreed not to count the so-called
blank ballots. Excluding them from the vote count brought Prval's
share of the votes up to 51.15 percent, and Prval was declared
the winner of the presidential election, nine days after the votes
Rene Prval is obviously the elected president
of Haiti. He received considerably more than 50 percent of the
vote, and he must be granted the right to serve without further
interference, obstacles or violence. If the wealthy elites of
Haiti are willing to accept the outcome of this election and allow
President-elect Prval to govern, Haiti may be able to move forward,
and the Haitian people will finally have the democracy they deserve.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters represents
Los Angeles County and is a member of the Congressional Progressive