Saturday, August 14, 2010

US Congress Must Pressure Haiti

Photo by John Carroll

Congress must put pressure on Haiti

By Mark Weisbrot, August 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — The “international community” is in
charge of rebuilding Haiti, and one thing has
become clear: it is not interested in any kind of
democracy there, not even the low level of
“democracy” that it has committed to in Iraq or

Haiti’s provisional electoral commission has
decided, once again, that the country’s largest
political party, Fanmi Lavalas, will not be allowed to
participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for

This is the equivalent of excluding the Democratic
Party (actually something quite a bit larger) from U.S.
congressional elections in November.

So far there are no indications that the Obama
administration, which has — to put it mildly — e
normous influence over the government of Haiti,
has any objections. It had supported the last
elections in April 2009 that also excluded Fanmi
Lavalas, even though the exclusion led to a boycott
of 90 percent of voters.

To follow the historical thread, Fanmi Lavalas is
headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who became Haiti’
s first democratically elected president in 1990. He
was overthrown by the military seven months later,
in a violent coup that had a lot of Washington’s
fingerprints on it.

President Clinton restored Aristide three years later,
but Aristide offended Washington by, among other
things, getting rid of Haiti’s brutal army — which
was not so much a military force as an instrument of
political violence on behalf of Haiti’s ruling elite.

Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School was Bill
Clinton’s deputy special envoy at the United
Nations. His “Partners in Health” has nearly 5,000
people in Haiti. Testifying in late July at a
congressional briefing, he described what
happened after Aristide and his party were elected
for a second time, in 2000:

“Beginning in 2000, the U.S. administration sought .
.. to block bilateral and multilateral aid to Haiti,
having an objection to the policies and views of the
administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected by
over 90 percent of the vote. ... Choking off
assistance for development and for the provision of
basic services also choked off oxygen to the
government, which was the intention all along: to
dislodge the Aristide administration.”

It was the second Bush administration that finally
overthrew Aristide for the second time — in the
coup of March 2004.

But as Farmer notes, the process was initiated under
the Clinton administration in 2000. And the Obama
administration is currently supporting efforts to
prevent Aristide from returning to his country, a
violation of Haiti’s constitution.

If only Washington were a tenth as good at
rebuilding Haiti as it was at destroying the country
before the earthquake. But six months after the
catastrophe, less than 2 percent of the 1.6 million
homeless have homes.

Hundreds of thousands have nothing at all; and 80
percent of the homeless that do have shelter are
living under tarps where the ground under them
turns to mud when it rains.

And less than 2.9 percent of all aid money has gone
to the Haitian government, which makes
reconstruction nearly impossible. With a hundred
thousand children wounded from the earthquake,
Advertisement public hospitals are closing.

The land that is needed for shelter is owned by rich
Haitians, who have other plans. The Haitian
government has the authority to take this land, with
compensation. The international community can
make this happen.

It’s time for members of the U.S. Congress to step up
to the plate and change our foreign policy toward
Haiti, as they did after the 1991 military coup.
Congress can make sure that the aid flows to where
it is needed, that land and shelter are available, and
that Haitians are allowed to elect their own

After all that Washington has done to punish Haiti,
this is the least they can do.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for
Economic and Policy Research. Readers may write
to him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite
400, Washington, D.C. 20009-1052; Web site: www.

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