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Op-Ed

Haiti doesn't deserve a pass

The U.S. condemned the elections in Burma; we should be holding Haiti to the same standards.

November 23, 2010|By Dan Beeton

Haiti is scheduled to hold elections on Nov. 28, and nothing — neither the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people nor the fact that more than 1 million earthquake survivors remain homeless — seems likely to convince the Haitian government or its international backers that the vote should be postponed. It should be. Why? The electoral process is rigged. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems happy to go along with the charade.

Earlier this month President Obama rightly condemned the bogus elections in Burma (renamed Myanmar by the military regime). He said: "The unfair electoral laws and overtly partisan Election Commission [controlled by the military regime] ensured that Burma's leading pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was silenced and sidelined." And NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and prevented from appearing in public.

Now that a similarly flawed process is about to be repeated much closer to home, the Obama administration should be equally adamant in condemning it.

In Haiti, as in Burma, several parties, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas, are being kept off the ballot in an overtly anti-democratic move. Fanmi Lavalas has won every election it has participated in, and authorities seem determined to prevent that from happening again. In Haiti, as in Burma, a council handpicked and controlled by the government is overseeing the electoral process. And in Haiti, as in Burma, the popular party's leader is kept from rallying supporters.

While Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is prevented from returning from exile in South Africa because the Haitian government refuses to grant him a new passport. Haitian police have fired live ammunition at pro-democracy crowds, just as demonstrations in Burma have been violently repressed. Shamefully, in Haiti, U.N. troops have provided support for this police repression, when not attacking crowds and journalists directly. Just as members of the NLD in Burma have been persecuted, thousands of Lavalas supporters were killed after the 2004 overthrow of the elected president, Aristide, in a coup strongly supported by the U.S. government.

Whereas Obama administration officials cited exclusion of key political parties in the elections as a major concern in Burma, the U.S. is providing at least $13 million in support for Haiti's elections. Even condemnation of the flawed process from 45 members of Congress in an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, from Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a report and from the nongovernmental organization community has not budged the administration from its expressed support.

"These are decisions for the government of Haiti to make. We're not going to second-guess any one decision," State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in October when questioned about the controversy.

The dangers of U.S. support for an anti-democratic process in Haiti, and likely support for the illegitimate government that would result, are serious. Frustrations among a majority of Haitians are already high, due to such factors as lack of progress after the earthquake in relocating displaced persons to suitable shelter, providing adequate sanitation or even in removing rubble. Billions of dollars in pledged aid money have yet to trickle in, even as the cholera epidemic sweeps across the country.

Observers have long warned of likely mass protests and unrest as the post-quake situation worsened. Taking away the possibility of free and fair elections will kill hope for many people for whom hope is already scarce.

If the Obama administration wants to stand on the side of democracy and human rights in Haiti, as it did in Burma, it should support the call of Haitian political parties and groups to postpone the elections until all parties are allowed to run and all eligible voters are guaranteed a vote. Since the cholera outbreak could inhibit the latter, that should be an important consideration as well. Continued support for sham elections, however, would add to a long list of U.S. injustices against one of our closest neighbor states.

Dan Beeton works with the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (www.cepr.net ). He is a former board member of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

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