WORLD

THE DEAL WAS THE EASY PART

Now the new president has to pull Haiti out of the abyss

ISABEL VINCENT March 6 2006
WORLD

THE DEAL WAS THE EASY PART

Now the new president has to pull Haiti out of the abyss

ISABEL VINCENT March 6 2006

THE DEAL WAS THE EASY PART

WORLD

Now the new president has to pull Haiti out of the abyss

ISABEL VINCENT

On the surface, the match between Italy and Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final might seem far removed from recent events in Haiti. But for the Brazilian diplomat and the Canadian bureaucrats of the Organization of American States who hammered out the extraordinary deal that saw presidential front-runner René Préval emerge victorious in a first round of voting on Feb. 7—and avoided widespread violence in the country—the game became somewhat of a guiding principle. “It was a metaphor that kept coming back to me,” said Paulo Cordeiro de Andrade Pinto, the Brazilian ambassador to Haiti. “With three minutes left in that game, the score was four to one for Brazil, and the referee had to decide whether to call the game, or keep playing, knowing that it would be im-

possible for the Italian team to tie.”

So the referee called the game, which is in a sense what happened in Haiti. With 90 per cent of the votes counted, Préval had 48.8 per cent of the vote. Among the 33 candidates on the ballot, his closest rival, Leslie Manigat, had 11.8 per cent. “It was similar to the World Cup where Préval was leading four to one,” said Cordeiro, who before his appointment to Haiti last year was the minister counsellor at the Brazilian embassy in Ottawa. With 10 per cent of the votes left to be counted, and with deepening suspicions of fraud inflaming violent protests throughout the country, Cordeiro offered up the plan of allocating the blank votes (some 85,000 out of 2.2 million cast) to candidates according to the percentage of the votes they had received until then—a plan that gave Préval the 51 per cent he needed to avoid a runoff vote, which analysts predicted would have driven Haiti further “into the abyss.” So, in the wee hours of Feb. 16, Haiti’s ninemember electoral council, a body similar to Elections Canada, voted eight to one to declare Préval, a 63-year-old agronomist and former Haitian president, the country’s new leader. But while diplomats and UN and OAS bureaucrats congratulated themselves on a rapid and successful conclusion to democratic elections in the western hemisphere’s most impover-

ished and troubled country, others worried about the future.

Would the Brazilian deal allow Préval the legitimacy he needs to govern this country of 8.1 million, where the vast majority of the population lives on less than one dollar a day? Could he rebuild the institutional infrastructure destroyed during decades of violence and corrupt rule? How would this quiet, soft-spoken politician broker the necessary alliances, after what promise to be fractious runoff votes for parliamentary seats scheduled for next month, to turn Haiti back into a nation? “The international community is creating further crisis in Haiti,” said Jean Voltaire, a Haitian political scientist, after the Brazilian-backed deal. “For its part, Brazil made a huge error in asking the CEP [the electoral council] to declare Préval president. That is sad.”

Last week, Jacques Bernard, the director general of Haiti’s electoral council, fled the country when he received death threats after the council declared Préval the winner. His farmhouse, north of the capital, Port-auPrince, was burned to the ground a few days after the Préval victory was announced. But despite some opposition among Préval’s rivals, most analysts agree the elections and the Brazilian-brokered deal give Préval the right to rule the country. “The new government will have complete and absolute legitimacy,” says Ricardo Seitenfus, a Brazilian academic

and one of the world’s foremost experts on Haiti, who observed the entire election process as Brazil’s special envoy. “These were the most inclusive elections and the most transparent in Haiti’s history. You have to remember that there were a lot of political forces stacked against this.”

But what sort of government will the new leader run? During his campaign, Préval, who was president between 1996 and 2001, made only vague promises—to decentralize the government, build up the judiciary and institute universal education. Moreover, Préval, who studied agronomy in Belgium and held a series of blue collar jobs while living in exile in New York during the regime of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, is a former ally of the controversial Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an expriest and fiery radical who was overthrown in a military coup in 1991. In 1994, the Clinton administration sent 20,000 U.S. troops to restore Aristide to power, but the populist leader soon became an embarrassment to the international community by promoting violence among his supporters in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince. At the forceful urg-

ing of France and the U.S., Aristide left the country in 2004, and currently lives in exile in South Africa.

Préval has tried to distance himself from the Aristide legacy. He ran as leader of a new party, Lepswa (Creole for “hope”) in the election, and refused to say whether he would entertain Aristide’s return to Haiti in the near future. (Last week Préval finally conceded that there was nothing barring Aristide from coming home.) In fact, Préval has been mum on many things, a characteristic that has earned him the nickname “the mute” in Haiti. He is an experienced politician, to be sure, but one who seems to prefer listening to speaking. “Let’s not forget that he was the only presi-

dent in 200 years of Haitian history to transfer the presidency peacefully to his successor,” says Seitenfus. “He may lack excitement, but there will be no surprises in his government.”

Préval’s previous tenure was lacklustre, although not without controversy. After winning the 1996 election with a sweeping 88 per cent of the vote, he presided over a handful of political and land reforms but little else. He also disbanded parliament—a move that earned him the condemnation of the international community. Now, his biggest task is to “disarm the spirits,” as one Haiti analyst put it. If his party doesn’t get a majority in parliament—which seems extremely likely— he needs to engage in political patchworking in order to address the rebuilding of Haiti’s shattered political and social institutions.

But Préval also needs continued international support. “He can’t do it on his own,” says Annette Hester, an economist based in Calgary who is also senior associate of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “Brazil and Canada, especially at the OAS, have already taken the lead in these elections, and they and the international community can’t abandon the country now.” (Elizabeth Spehar, a Canadian who heads up the OAS’s voterregistration unit in Haiti, is widely credited with preparing much of the groundwork for Haiti’s Feb. 7 presidential and parliamentary elections.)

In fact, many Haiti watchers are calling for a full-fledged Marshall Plan-like effort for the country, to address the dire poverty and health situation (it’s estimated that nearly six per cent of the population is infected with HIV). There are encouraging signs. On Feb. 14, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti for another six months. Brazil, which heads up the 9,300-strong UN peacekeeping force, has already held meetings in Washington with key members of a core group of countries, including Canada (which has 100 police officers in the country), to discuss aid strategies.

The Caribbean Community, meanwhile, which ousted Haiti from its ranks in 2004, has promised to reinstate the country’s membership. But much more is necessary. “Haiti needs a Marshall Plan and it needs it now,” says Seitenfus. “Democracy without addressing social issues, and without addressing the immense inequality, will turn this into an empty exercise, and leave Haiti without any future.” M