strategies for a developing world…

Looking Back at Haiti Elections 5 Years Ago

020706electionday6wfIn November 2005, as Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, I released a report on Haiti entitled “Haiti: Lurching Towards 2006.” The report raised several questions, notably about the viability of elections and prospects of nation-building, all of which remain as relevant today as they were five years albeit in an even more difficult and complex environment.  Given the importance of the upcoming November 28 national elections in Haiti which will remake the post-earthquake political landscape, I thought it useful to republish this report in the hopes that it will generate meaningful discussions on the new Haiti which we all hope will rise from underneath the rubble.


November 2005

Haiti: Lurching Towards 2006

By Jocelyn McCalla

Haiti is set to hold elections by year’s end because:

1. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1608 states that elections “must take place in 2005… and that the democratically elected authorities must take office on 7 February 2006” (emphasis added)

2. France, the US, Canada, and the European Union have tired of footing the bill for elections originally scheduled for October and November that have suffered repeated delays and may end up costing as much as $100 million, earning the distinction of being the most expensive Haitian elections to date.

3. For the purposes of trumpeting their resolve to relinquish power in accordance with past promises, leaders of Haiti’s transitional government have insisted on handing power over to the newly elected leaders on February 7, 2006.

Yet a sober look at developments in Haiti since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his spouse left Haiti under escort in the wee hours of the morning on February 29, 2004 reveals that conditions for stable democratic progress barely exist and that the jury is out on whether elections tentatively scheduled for December 27 will be free, fair and credible, [i] and will not lead to a new political cul-de-sac.

Little Improvement in Human Rights Conditions

Human rights conditions in Haiti have barely improved in the last two years. The rule of law is quasi-inexistent. The UN Mission’s chief human rights officer expressed serious concern for the human rights situation in Haiti at a mid-October press briefing. According to Thierry Fagart, the mission has documented numerous instances of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extrajudicial execution, abuses of detainees in police lockups and in prisons, illegal and prolonged detention as well as torture, illegal arrests and detention perpetrated by former soldiers and vigilante groups.[ii]

haiti2006-02-13-3Lawlessness, kidnappings and violence have significantly undermined public confidence in the capital. There, the Haitian police and UN peacekeepers have been involved in firefights with both armed pro-Aristide supporters and criminal gangs in control of the slums. These are referred to as zones de non droit (no man’s land). On the eve of national elections they remain largely outside of government control. A commanding UN officer acknowledged that during a recent confrontation between the gangs and MINUSTAH, “both sides exchanged thousands of bullets,” and they fought “from sunset till dawn.”[iii] The Roman Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission and the Réseau National de Defense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) report that in the last year and a half more than 1,200 Haitians have lost their lives because of the political chaos and violence.[iv] Thousands have joined the ranks of the internally displaced.

A Marked Preference for Pro-Military, Anti-Aristide Politics

Since it was installed in March 2004, the interim regime has shown a marked preference for the rebel factions and former troops, declaring them “freedom fighters,” lending a sympathetic ear to their boisterous campaign to re-establish formally the Haitian military, and turning a blind eye to its de facto re-establishment with marauding bands of ex-soldiers taking over police stations, camping out at the Magistrates’ school,[v] setting up military-style barracks and patrolling the streets, openly challenging the Haitian police and international peacekeepers’ authority.

In Mid-April 2004, a rebel leader, Louis Jodel Chamblain turned himself in to the authorities amid fanfare and Justice Minister Bernard Gousse by his side. On this occasion, Gousse indicated that Chamblain might benefit from government pardon for “any convictions” because of “his great services to the nation.” Chamblain had been convicted twice in absentia for human rights crimes committed under military rule in 1993 and 1994 when he commanded a paramilitary organization known as the Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haïti (FRAPH) that used indiscriminate violence, intimidation and murder to support military rule.

In mid-August 2004, Haiti’s leaders knowingly and deliberately orchestrated a sham trial to reward Mr. Chamblain with an overnight acquittal of the 1993 murder of Antoine Izmery, a pro-Aristide businessman killed in broad daylight because of his opposition to military rule. Though acquitted of that charge, Chamblain remained in prison until the Cour de Cassation found procedural errors connected to the other murder case and threw out the convictions. The government declined to initiate a new trial and subsequently set him free. He is now running for a Senate seat in the upcoming national elections.

yvonneptune Meanwhile the interim regime has not been as kind or attentive to former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who stepped into the breach after Aristide’s departure, cooperating with interim President Boniface Alexandre, as well as key political sectors and Haiti’s international allies, thereby facilitating a relatively smooth transfer of power to Latortue. In June 2004, without much fanfare or promises of pardon, Neptune — for whom an arrest warrant had been issued in connection with le massacre de La Scierie days before Aristide’s exile — turned himself in to the authorities. And in prison he remains awaiting a trial whose verdict appears to have already been declared by the court of public opinion. Notable Aristide allies who have been subjected to illegal arrest and lengthy detention because of la clameur publique (popular outcry) include Annette Auguste – in jail since March 2004 — and Father Gérard Jean-Juste, who was arrested last July 2005. The latter’s plans to run for the presidency were foiled when he was taken into custody by the police at the funeral of a popular reporter, Jacques Roche, who was tortured and slain by kidnappers who still remain at large.

Under international pressure, the Haitian police and MINUSTAH moved against the swashbuckling leader of the rebel bands, a former soldier named Ravix Rémissainthe (who literally walked around with a saber by his side), killing him in a firefight. Symbolic weapons turnovers were orchestrated as part of a disarmament effort and other rebel leaders, notably Guy Philippe, prepared to take part in elections. MINUSTAH managed to reduce the threat these volatile warriors represented to the political fabric by bringing them under control. But that was not with the complete support of the government. During a speech given at the French Embassy in mid-July 2005, Latortue expressed regret that he had capitulated “to international pressure on his government not to work closely with the former soldiers” in the struggle against other armed groups in the country.[vi]

A Flawed Electoral Process

With support from the Organization of American States, the Conseil Eléctoral Provisoire (CEP) enticed Haitians into registering by promising a free national ID card that is bar-coded and that carries the card owner’s photo and fingerprint. By repeatedly pushing back the registration deadline, the CEP managed to register about 3.5 million Haitians – out of an estimated pool of 4.2 million. But by early November 2005, most voters did not have the cards in hand, polling places had not been identified or readied for the vote, and the 40,000 poll workers needed to staff the polling places, prevent voter fraud and vote manipulation had not been recruited.

Though the CEP was established in early 2004, giving it a head start, it has been essentially ineffective in managing the electoral process whose flaws became more apparent as it inched closer to the February 7 deadline. From its inception it has been plagued with infighting amongst its members, with charges of corruption, manipulation of resources and sheer incompetence characterizing its early travails. Its president resigned in protest, with another CEP member stepping into her shoes. However, months passed before they elaborated and settled on a new electoral law. Finally coming into force in February 2005, the voluminous decree (243 articles) failed to set the stage for a level playing field or a more transparent process.[vii] By mid-September, it had become quite clear to many observers of Haiti’s elections that unless significant steps were taken to accelerate the process, elections could not be held in accordance with the timetable slating national elections for November 2005.[viii]

Haiti’s allies stepped up pressure on the CEP shortly after Western and Latin American leaders met at the behest of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on September 17, 2005 to review the Haiti situation. Internal and external pressure led to steps designed to render the process more credible, including the formation of a 6-member Commission to Support the CEP, a new leadership structure and the appointment of a new Director-General with enhanced powers. Unfortunately none of these changes bore fruit. On November 4, 2005, approximately one month after its inception the new Commission gave up, stating in a media advisory that the government had failed to provide the promised support, the CEP failed to cooperate, personal connections continued to undermine institutional behavior and transparency, and certain political parties and influential civil society sectors had manifest hostility towards the Commission.[ix]

portrait_dumas_simeus Meanwhile the government, the CEP and the Supreme Court further muddied the waters with their handling of the presidential candidacy of Dumarsais Siméus, a naturalized US citizen. While Siméus was not the only Haitian expatriate to seek the presidency, the government singled him out and vowed publicly to use its power to bar him from the ballot. When the CEP released a provisional list of candidates, Siméus was indeed left off the ballot. He appealed to the Cour de Cassation which promptly ruled in his favor and ordered the CEP to include his name on the presidential ballot since the government had failed to prove his ineligibility. Although Article 16 of the electoral law states that the Court has the last word, the government immediately took steps to block the ruling.

The government established a Committee to review the nationality of all the candidates. However, when it released its review it simply noted that Siméus and another presidential hopeful, Mr. Samir Mourra, had once entered the country bearing a US passport. No comments were made on whether it had investigated the nationality of the other thirty-five candidates for the presidency or the hundreds of candidates for parliament. The Haitian Constitution bars anyone who has renounced Haitian citizenship by becoming the citizen of another country from the presidency and the parliament.

Key Obstacle to Progress: State Collapse

Expectations that Haiti will pull itself up by its bootstraps once electoral democracy has been achieved are unwarranted. While Haitians in and out of Haiti may have the will and disposition to do so, Haiti neither has the boots nor the straps. By all accounts, Haiti’s state institutions have collapsed. While interim authorities have trumpeted their ability to produce a timely budget, implying a commitment to fiscal accountability, Haiti continues to earn the distinction of being one of the most corrupt states in the world. According to Transparency International (TI), with respect to corruption Haiti inspires as much confidence as Myanmar and Turkmenistan, which are also competing for next to last place in the TI 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).[x]

Haiti’s Conseil des Sages has correctly pointed out that on-time budget delivery does not make for a sound budget. Commenting on the FY 2006 budget, the Conseil pointed to budget cuts to the National Police and public safety sector as evidence of ill-advised policy planning since more funds should have been allocated to security forces in order to ensure a safe and secure environment for elections.[xi]

Indeed, were it not for the presence of almost 9,000 international troops and UN police monitors, violence and chaos would have continued to engulf the political landscape. The Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH), weakened by policies that undermined its political neutrality, authority and effectiveness when René Préval and Aristide were President, has yet to recover from its almost complete collapse before rebel advances in early 2004. Unable to account for all officers, its leaders are still unsure of the actual size of the police force. It is widely acknowledged that corruption within the PNH is widespread and endemic. Reliable sources indicate that the police force spends almost one million dollars a month on some 2,300 individuals who are reported on the police payroll but who do not perform any police function. Thus the police force relies at best on less than 4,000 officers to keep peace and stability, with about 2,000 estimated to be on duty at any one time. Of these, Police Chief Mario Andresol says that at least 600 are assigned to guarding government offices.[xii] The force includes several hundred new recruits, many of whom are former army and rebel troops who were speedily admitted into the police force per government policy. In addition to lacking basic law-enforcement facilities and equipment, adequate training and supervision are largely absent. As a result, police officers have become a law unto themselves, despite proclamations to root out corruption, eliminate abuses and develop a professional police force.

The judiciary has shown a similar lack of improvement. Haitian and international human rights observers, political leaders and foreign diplomats report corruption and maladministration as the defining features of the Haitian judicial system. These are facilitated by patent lack of competence and oversight. The International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) which conducted an assessment of the Judicial system at the request of MINUSTAH notes – as others have done before, including NCHR – that:

“Judges are underpaid and have no opportunities for professional development. Legal texts are not readily available. In fact, most judges do not have legal texts. More than half the Justices of the Peace do not have a law degree. There is no Haitian literature on jurisprudence. Often judges and prosecutors are not aware that a law has been repealed, key laws adopted or a treaty ratified. The Government has not supported efforts to investigate and prosecute major crimes such as drug trafficking and politically motivated killings, and impunity remains endemic. It should be noted also that the justice sector lacks oversight capacity and continues to provide limited access to justice to the majority of the population.”[xiii]

And just as with the Haitian police, many who are reported on the judiciary’s payroll do not belong there. Informed sources say that the absence of information on the number of civil servants employed by the Ministry of Justice is the norm rather than the exception for the civil service as a whole. State failure in Haiti is so visible that after a brief visit in late June 2005, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, commented that “conditions in parts of Haiti are worse than in Sudan’s devastated Darfur region.” He was referring to the utter lack of basic government services, such as law enforcement, health care, drinkable water, latrines, and garbage collection, to which even some internally displaced people in Darfur have access.[xiv]

Haiti’s neighbors consider it to be a regional threat to peace and stability. Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic – whose sputtering economy is relatively better than its neighbor’s – have markedly risen in recent months. Stoking Dominican passions are alleged criminal wrongdoings attributed to Haitian immigrants and various anti-Haitian measures promoted by some government officials and other influential sectors in Dominican society. In addition to the Bahamas, Haitian refugee flows have spread to St. Kitts and the Virgin Islands, noticeably picked up pace in Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe, and continue to challenge US interdiction and immigration measures despite the US government’s tough policy against Haitian migrants and refugees.

The Way forward

What then should be done to trigger a substantive leap forward in Haiti and most importantly steady and sustainable progress towards democracy and the rule of law? What is to eliminate the necessity of another international armed intervention in Haiti should the UN reduce its presence significantly once national elections have taken place?

As Haiti lurches towards 2006, it is clear that the country does not yet have the capacity to manage responsibly the affairs of state. And it is also clear that the international community has not fulfilled its promise to the people of Haiti.

Haiti and the International Community should share equally responsibilities for success or failure

NCHR contends that a true partnership between Haiti and the international community begins with both parties abandoning the pretense that a stable democracy and meaningful socio-economic development can emerge in the short term with the Haitians fully in the saddle and in command of major strategic directions while the country as a whole depends primarily on multilateral and bilateral assistance. The international community must stop pretending that with a little short-term benign help, Haiti can stop its freefall into chronic abject poverty. And Haitians must stop pretending that their ancestors’ past feat – wresting freedom from French slavery and establishing against all odds an independent state in the western hemisphere — is enough to help them overcome the odds of eliminating abject poverty and chronic political instability in this century.

All evidence indicates that Haiti has long lacked the infrastructure and state capacity to be truly responsive and accountable to the needs of its citizens and provide them with even the bare minimum. First, in-country, Haiti has a scarcity of personnel capable of contributing to development. Decades of widespread violence and instability have led to a “brain drain” as educated and trained Haitians have left the country in droves, leaving poorly trained but politically well-connected Haitians to run the dysfunctional administrative agencies. In turn, Haiti has become almost completely dependent on foreign aid for funds and the administration of public services such as health and education. Second, since Haiti is so dependent on outside assistance, it currently lacks the capacity to collect revenues to fund development. Extreme dependency on foreign aid and the corresponding lack of incentives for accountability contribute to pervasive corruption, which is the third major inhibitor of Haiti’s self-initiated development. Indeed, the lack of goods and services is directly connected to the fact that all of Haiti’s government ministries are rife with patronage and corruption.

Haiti’s institutional deficiencies, including the absence of well-trained and accountable security forces, a functioning judiciary and administrative agencies and a strong civil society, and the ensuing lack of human rights and civil liberties protections as well as the dearth of basic goods and services, have repeatedly led to illegitimacy and unrest resulting in even greater crises.

Ideally elections should be held at a time and under conditions that leave little doubt as to whether they are free, fair, and credible and whether elected national and local office holders are legitimate. When elections were held in the year 2000 these conditions did not exist and the country was plunged into a political crisis from which it is still reeling. December 27, 2005 does not leave enough time for these conditions to emerge. Therefore elections should be postponed.

State Institutions Must Be Strengthened

Most important however, Haiti’s aspiring leaders and its international allies must agree that political and socio-economic stability will not be achieved without substantial and substantive investment in the state institutions that serve as the foundations of a modern democratic state.

The Haitian police must be expanded, developed and structured so that it eventually triples in size. Serious investment is required in the recruitment, training and accounting of police personnel and resources. From the very beginning, officers must be held to the highest standards of professional conduct and international human rights law, provided with adequate facilities and means and be held accountable for their upkeep. Measures to shield the force from political interference must be adopted soon after a new government and parliament are installed, and should be strictly enforced. Reforming and strengthening the judiciary must be resolutely undertaken in tandem with police reform.

The rule of law remains a far-off fantasy in Haiti, with the Haitian police and the judiciary both years away from being able to fulfill responsibly and independently their mission. Therefore, the UN presence in Haiti should be extended for several more years, and adjusted yearly in accordance with verifiable progress towards establishment of the rule of law. However a mandate that emphasizes dynamic peace building instead of peacekeeping should drive the UN presence in Haiti. The country’s woes stem from deep socio-economic inequalities, not from the presence of standing armies that need to be kept apart by a phalanx of blue helmets. Future deployment should tip the balance towards more UN police officers and troops trained and able to perform police duties.

Meanwhile a close partnership needs to be established with the international community — through the United Nations – where the UN does not simply provide support as needed from the sidelines but is held equally responsible for state failure or progress. The authority granted to the UN over the police via Security Council Res. 1608 needs to be similarly applied to the Haitian judiciary and in both cases strengthened.

Major Public Works Programs Are Overdue!

Substantive Haitian and international investment in Haiti’s infrastructure (roads, electricity, telecommunications, etc.), and in health and education are long overdue. To attract domestic investment and foreign capital, Haiti must develop the capacity to significantly reduce the costs of doing business in the country, breaking down the isolation that condemns at least half of its population to 19th century privations. Over the next period, Haiti must focus on restoring basic government functions, regardless of the pressure of competitive politics and the thug-o-war that goes along with it: streets are kept clean; potable water flows in the pipes; electricity is delivered; primary schooling is indeed universal; basic health care and sanitation services exist; law, order and respect for human rights regulate the behavior of the average citizen; and food production and delivery grows. These steps can begin to enhance the nation’s capacity to first trigger significant spending from Haitian expatriates and secondly compete with its neighbors for a fair share of international capital, technology, and markets.

Tap Haitian Diaspora Skills!

It is generally recognized that the Haitian Diaspora’s wealth of skills and resources have yet to be tapped in a significant manner. Both Haiti and its international allies should seriously commit to attracting and utilizing such resources towards public sector reforms and economic recovery.

A comprehensive solution to Haitian migration, a chronic source of tense relations with northern and Caribbean neighbors, must begin with serious consultations amongst all concerned. Meanwhile temporary measures such as safe haven, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and withholding of deportation should be adopted to give Haiti the time and space it needs to provide a decent and sustaining environment for all Haitians.




Jocelyn McCalla is the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR). This paper is excerpted from a forthcoming report that exposes in greater detail the flaws of current Haiti policy. Findings are based on several visits to Haiti. Research assistance was provided by Tamara M. Thompson, Mary Ellen Payne, Samuel Dansette and Momodou Baldeh.

NCHR has been promoting the rights and welfare of Haitians in the United States and abroad since 1982.

NCHR gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Twenty-First Century ILGWU Fund, and the contributions and leadership of its Board of Directors.



Elections scheduled for December 2005 were indeed postponed. They were held in February 2006 instead of December 2005. Haitians turned out to vote in large numbers. Rene Preval won the vote for the presidency. Almost all of the recommendations made five years ago are still valid and have yet to be implemented. The International Community and Haiti have moved closer to sharing responsibility for failure or success in attemps to build a nation via the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, while the State, whose government structures were reduced to rubble, struggles to rebuild itself. The jury is out on whether the current formula will work. Thus much depends on the outcome of the upcoming elections.

[i] Haiti’s President and Prime Minister announced informally on November 17, 2005 that national elections would be held on December 27, 2005. The Conseil Eléctoral Provisoire (CEP) has delayed a formal announcement on a firm date to November 21.

[ii] Notes de point de presse de la MINUSTAH, 14 octobre 2005

[iii] Associated Press, Haitian Elections Postponed a Third Time, 11/17/05

[iv] Incidents aux Gonaïves, le RNDDH et la JILAP font le point, p. 1, Novembre 2005

[v] Facilities of the Ecole de la Magistrature had formerly been headquarters for the Military Academy before Aristide disbanded the Armed Forces.

[vi] AP, July 15, 2005

[vii] While the CEP offered to finance parties that proved significant party membership, it has not required that they open their books to scrutiny and reveal sources of material support and financing. Fears that illicit drug and contraband money are being used to finance political party electioneering have not abated despite warning from the US embassy and others that future assistance to Haiti would be threatened by the emergence of leaders bankrolled by narcotics trafficking.

[viii] The CEP originally planned to hold city and village elections first and national elections later. It changed course in mid-stream, scheduling national elections first and postponing local elections indefinitely.

[ix] Danièle Magloire, Note d’information sur le retrait et la décharge du Comité d’Appui au Conseil Eléctoral, 8 novembre 2005. It should be noted that the Commission was composed of two members each of the CEP and Conseil des Sages and two government minsters.

[x] Transparency International, TI 2005 Corruptions Perception Index,

[xi] Communiqué du Conseil des Sages, 26 septembre 2005

[xii] October 31, 2005 interview with Police Commissioner Mario Andresol and Inspector General Jessie Coicou.

[xiii] International Legal Assistance Consortium, ILAC Report: Haiti, January 2005, p. 22. Also see Judicial Reform in Haiti, a NCHR publication at

[xiv] Heinlein, Voice of America report June 29, 2005

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