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Sestak Case: Foreshadowing Clinton's Influence on Haitian Elections?

By       Message Stanley Lucas     Permalink
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The recent Sestak case provides an interesting glimpse into the prevalence of influence peddling and political horse-trading that takes place in the U.S. This influence peddling is not limited to domestic elections; it extends beyond the U.S. borders in some cases. In Haiti, where Bill Clinton's influence is significant, it appears as if the former President is already flexing his political muscles and putting in place the right structure and atmosphere for his favorites to take the elections.

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To be sure, Haitians are grateful for President Clinton's involvement in Haiti and for his effort to raise awareness of the situation in country. At the same time, they are weary of his political involvement based on his somewhat controversial history in Haiti. For an in-depth analysis of Clinton's track record in Haiti, see "Clinton Takes His First Trip to Haiti" and the Wall Street Journal article, "Clinton for Haiti Czar?"

Mr. Clinton and his former colleagues seem to have put in place a comprehensive lock on any international and domestic decision making related to Haiti. He is the UN Special Envoy to Haiti controlling all official government aid promised to Haiti as well as the Co-Chairman of the Haiti Interim Reconstruction Commission (HIRC), which will tender and approve all reconstruction contracts. He has the Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative, and Clinton Bush Haiti Relief Fund, which together account for a significant portion of the private donations. Further, Clinton's former staff and allies sit in all key international policy positions in the U.S. Government, including the State Department (his wife Hillary Clinton), the White House (Rahm Emmanuel) and CIA (Leon Panetta). Arturo Valenzuela, the current Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, was a former special assistant to President Clinton. Additionally, Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, chairs one of two U.S. non-government organizations that monitor international elections, the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Despite his prime positioning to deploy aid, there is a surprising disconnect between all the money that has poured in to provide aid to the Haitians and the aid actually getting to the people. The numbers are disheartening at best: Five months after the quake, 1.7 million people are still sleeping in 1,350 makeshift camps without shelter, electricity or access to regular healthcare or meals. They lack any sanitation so disease will become rampant. The camps are not managed by any organization and have become dangerous places, particularly for women and children. Women's organizations have been requesting solar lights to help address the security issues as well as simple pots and pans to cook meals for months.

Equally surprising is Clinton's exclusion of Haitians in the reconstruction planning, particularly the well-educated Haitian Diaspora community, which has been almost completely marginalized.

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For his Deputy at the UN, he selected Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has a high profile NGO, Partners in Health, conducting AIDS and health programs in Haiti. Partners in Health has received funds from USAID and about $80 million in private donations. Many Haitians have voiced concerned about Farmer's Haiti initiatives, which have been implemented by bringing in his own people rather than building capacity in Haiti. He has also meddled in politics, which has been worrisome to many Haitians. For additional information on this issue, see:

Further, not a single member of the six governing Board Members of the Clinton Bush Haiti Relief Fund is Haitian. Clearly there would be thousands of Haitians in the Diaspora community that would be qualified and eager to sit on that Board to bring a Haitian perspective to the fund. There are two million Haitians in the United States and about 60% of them are American citizens. Why the exclusion? One of the tenets of foreign aid put forward by the Director of USAID under Clinton, Andrew Natsios, is that you must not replace the client, i.e. the country receiving aid. By contrast, the Chileans are proud to see a Chilean-American, Arturo Valenzuela, lead the U.S. response to Chile's earthquake.

In addition to controlling the U.S. and international aid and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, there have also been recent legal maneuvers in Haiti that effectively give foreigners control over the reconstruction process and essentially make Mr. Clinton the co-President of Haiti. Two weeks ago, the Haitian Parliament passed the Emergency and Reconstruction Law, which excludes Haitian government institutions that have line authority over state spending, gives foreigner actors political rights, and, in anticipation of the upcoming elections, eliminates civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution (freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, among others). A Haitian Senator from Unite-Lespwa, President Preval's party, was quoted as saying that the controversial law was passed under pressure from a senior female employee of the U.S. State Department. This seems to be a stark contrast to President Obama's calls for a new relationship with Haiti based on partnership. President Obama's focus on partnership was very well received among Haitians who are hopeful that this will in fact be the new foundation for the bilateral relationship. If so, there is great eagerness to move toward implementation.

After the passage of the Reconstruction Law, the attention has now shifted to pushing forward elections despite the chaos and other serious priorities facing the country. In an attempt to capitalize on the political instability, President Preval has called for the scheduled November elections to go forward as soon as possible, and requested that the United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) conduct an assessment on the viability of elections. Both organizations determined that Haiti is ready for elections. The way both organizations hastened their recommendations has raised questions within Haitian society. Further, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, issued a report prepared by his senior staffers last week calling for elections to move forward stating that leadership is necessary for Haiti's recovery. Unfortunately, the report focuses only on procedural issues and largely glosses over the political realities.

But by all accounts, Haiti is not politically, technically or emotionally ready for elections, and according to several former Electoral Commission presidents, they will not be ready for at least 18 months. More than 45% of the voters lost their registration and identification cards in the earthquake. Residency issues will be near impossible to sort out given the 2.1 million dislocated people, among them 1.7 million living among 1,350 makeshift tent camps. The Haitian electoral council (CEP) headquarters and 66% of the voting centers in four regions were completely destroyed in the earthquake, as was the headquarters of the UN, which provides security and logistical support for elections. It should also be noted that the current CEP has been discredited among the people for being highly partisan and participating in previous electoral manipulation in April and June 2010. Eighty of the 140 municipalities have been directly or indirectly affected by the quake. In summary, only half the voters have identification; it is impossible to determine residency or district issues; and there is no infrastructure to ensure security.

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Most people believe that elections will be possible and should occur after 18-24 months, but that there are many more pressing issues (such as getting adequate shelter, food, and healthcare as well as preparing for the upcoming hurricane season). In the meantime, rather than rushing elections that could provoke further political instability, the Constitutional mechanism should be invoked when Preval's mandate is over on February 7, 2011, and a Supreme Court justice should be put appointed to organize elections and manage the day-to-day governance of the country. This provision has been invoked on two previous occasions in April 1989 and February 2004 and led to two of Haiti's most successful elections in December 16, 1990 and 2006. As a result, there is a popular perception that provisional governments organize free and fair elections and constitutional governments manipulate elections to retain power.

Mr. Preval's motivations for pushing elections are obvious: he is hoping to capitalize on the chaos to manipulate an electoral outcome that will allow him and his business cartel cronies to continue business as usual in Haiti. But it is less clear why the UN, OAS and Senator Lugar's staff advocated elections in the face of all evidence to the contrary and in consideration of the central role of elections in Haiti's political stability.

History should provide a cautionary example of the powerful symbolism and volatility of elections. Since 1995, every political upheaval in Haiti has stemmed from fraudulent, rigged elections. Make no mistake even in the face of desperate circumstances, the Haitian people will not stand for electoral manipulation. If elections are plagued by political violence and voter intimidation, which will almost certainly be the case, or if ballot tampering is detected, the people will revolt which could very well result in violence. The people's patience has been pushed to the limit after five months of sleeping on the street with no shelter or regular meals. They are fed up with Preval's corrupt government, distrustful of the international community, and living under enormously stressful conditions. Unless free and fair elections can be assured, which seems implausible under the current conditions, a political maelstrom will hit Haiti in its most fragile condition.

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Stanley Lucas is a specialist in political development projects. He has worked as a Senior Program Officer in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Lucas is currently the Executive Director for for the Washington Democracy (more...)

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