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Haitian Massacres Halt Elections But Hunger for Democracy Persists

December 06, 1987|Michael S. Hooper | Michael S. Hooper, an international human rights lawyer, returned on Wednesday from coordinating an election observation mission in Haiti.

NEW YORK — International outrage has been riveted on the horror of the political killings of 29 Haitians and the serious wounding of scores of others by security forces and "civilian" thugs acting in concert with the army on election day in Port-au-Prince. The bloody toll exacted by the military junta before the eyes of international election observers exceeded 50 in the week preceding Nov. 29. International opinion has also condemned the active complicity and participation of the National Governing Council (CNG) and the Haitian army in the months-long campaign of terror against constitutionally empowered election officials, the electoral infrastructure and voters themselves.

This bid to ensure the continuation of the old system of arbitrary terror and obscene privilege--Duvalierism without Duvalier--ultimately crushed the very electoral process that the Haitian government had allegedly championed.

U.S. diplomats paint an inaccurate picture of the political and human rights crisis in Haiti today when they refer to a "caldron of violence" or a "hopeless situation." These characterizations are often designed to cover the tracks of previous U.S. blunders. At polling places throughout the capital, voters lined up early on Nov. 29, determined to use their votes as part of the peaceful campaign to root democracy in Haiti. Even as reports circulated of a morning massacre--where 15 voters and one foreign journalist were gunned down and hacked to death by "civilian" thugs--voters at other polling places initially scattered when sprayed with automatic weapons fire, but minutes later were back on line.

It is this thirst for democracy, a refusal to be further terrorized and a willingness to make extraordinary sacrifices, that characterized the largely peaceful campaign that developed into Operation Dechoukaj--the Creole term for the movement that swept away the Duvaliers. This largely leaderless and non-ideological campaign of passive resistance continues to represent a popular consensus determined to uproot the feudal privileges of the Duvalier system through peaceful means, including widespread participation in what were to be the country's first free elections.

The democratic future of Haiti depends on the continuing success of this unorthodox but powerful coalition of grass-roots organizations joined with a broad spectrum of youth and student groups and elements of the Catholic Church. Popular support for this coalition promises that just as the last blood bath under Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier washed away his remaining legitimacy, so these attacks on the electoral machinery by the Haitian far right and army will soon be seen as the last acts of desperate men trying to cling to politically imposed privileges.

The military junta--headed by Gen. Henri Namphy--had promised to deliver democracy through fair elections. But how could it without first encouraging establishment of a rule of law, an independent judiciary and public administration, a halt to security-force abuses and the prosecution of past human-rights violators in accordance with due process?

Any examination of the failure of U.S.-Haitian policy must involve much more than a search for scapegoats if the Reagan Administration is to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in this crisis. The Haitian debacle was not a situation of trust betrayed, but rather one where U.S. policy miscalculations emboldened the unpopular military and former-Duvalierist alliance to attempt a comeback and initiate last Sunday's bloody grab for total power.

Immediately following the February, 1986 flight into exile of "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the country's last president-for-life, the Reagan Administration moved quickly to reward the Duvalier-appointed National Governing Council with unprecedented economic and renewed military assistance. This was approved even though the CNG demonstrated contempt for the rule of law and human rights from the outset. Unarmed demonstrators were shot down without warning by the army, Haitian and foreign journalists were targeted this past July, a union was banned, human-rights monitors and priests were attacked and two presidential candidates were murdered--one by a police detective directly in front of the Port-au-Prince police headquarters and in full view of the journalists he was addressing. The Administration silence on these CNG abuses has resulted in the U.S. government being perceived as a knee-jerk supporter of the junta. The price of this policy is a virulent new tide of anti-Americanism.

Haiti's constitution, approved by 99% of Haitians voting in March, provides for creation of an entirely independent civilian electoral commission (the CEP) with exclusive authority in all matters regarding elections. This unusual degree of independence was overwhelmingly demanded by the public precisely because of generalized fear that the far right, the Army and former Duvalier loyalists would coalesce and attempt to dominate once again.

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