Election Exclusion in Haiti: Obama’s First Foreign Policy Disaster?

Most observers acknowledge that Aristide and the Lavalas movement continue to be a force to reckon with in Haiti. It’s said that no other social movement in Haiti, before or since, has shown more resiliency and commitment. They elected Aristide president in Dec. 1990 and the movement was forced to survive three years of brutal military repression after he was ousted in Sept. 1991. Aristide’s second ouster in Feb. 2004 was followed by two years of intense repression that included well-documented instances of summary executions by the Haitian police, killing of unarmed demonstrators and the mass imprisonment of Lavalas supporters.

During the last presidential elections of 2006 the Lavalas movement was unable to field its desired candidate, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who was being held in jail on trumped up charges. Lavalas then threw their weight behind Preval’s candidacy as a means to end the severe repression of the U.S.-backed Latortue regime, free political prisoners and return Aristide from exile. When the elections of 2006 were nearly stolen through fraud, it was thousands of Lavalas demonstrators supporting Preval who were responsible for shutting down Haiti’s capital for over a week.

As further testimony to the endurance of the Lavalas movement in Haiti, nearly ten thousand supporters took to the streets of the capital to protest on the five-year anniversary of the second coup against Aristide this past Feb. 28. Most protestors called for the Preval government and the United Nations to allow Aristide to return to Haiti while others used it as a platform to condemn the recent decision of the CEP. Chants directly accusing Preval and his government of being behind the CEP’s decision to exclude Lavalas from democratic elections were heard in the streets of the capital.

On March 9, former president Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Haiti with several ‘business leaders’ and celebrities. Their much touted visit received wide press coverage that distracted attention away from another important event. That same day Haitian judge Jean-Claude Douyon ruled, “The political rights of Lavalas have been violated,” and he ordered “the reintegration of candidates of that party, if they each individually meet the legal standards.” On April 3, Preval’s Minister of Justice Jean-Joseph Exumé fired Douyon accusing him of corruption in a seemingly unrelated case. Douyon has since made it clear in the Haitian press he believes the move is in retaliation for his ruling ordering the CEP to include Lavalas in the upcoming elections. He further claims Exumé threatened him not to take the case and made it clear the Preval government’s constitutional interpretation is the judiciary has no jurisdiction to overrule a CEP decision.

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