Haiti Needs More Than an Election

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Haiti-born historian Robert Fatton says the deep division between his home country's political parties will be reflected in its new government, and the only way to stop the turmoil is to alleviate poverty with the help of the international community. This is the second of two commentaries on the issue.


In the second of two commentaries on Haiti, Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born political scientist believes that it will take more than elections to pull Haiti out of chaos.

Professor ROBERT FATTON (Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia): Two years after the forced departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's political, economic, and social crisis persists. Neither the insurgents from the disbanded Haitian army who precipitated Aristide's fall, nor the brutal Shamar who support him, have been dissolved. Gang violence, kidnappings, and harassment of supporters of Aristide's Lavalas movement are widespread. On Election Day, we can expect to see systematic intimidation and fraudulent vote counting.

Even if elections proceed peacefully, and even if the losers accept defeat, there's little to suggest the winners will address Haiti's systemic problems. The 35 presidential candidates and 45 political parties have offered virtually nothing in terms of solutions. The elections will reflect the country's deep division between former President Renee Preval's revamped Lavalas movement, and the old, fragmented opposition to Aristide.

Whoever becomes president will probably lack the parliamentary majority, so the new president and prime minister may become embroiled in a major political conflict. Elections are necessary, but they are not sufficient for establishing a functioning democracy.

Some observers have advocated an international protectorate that would control Haiti for at least ten years. But this is unlikely to materialize, and if it did, there's no reason to believe that it would improve the lot of the destitute majority.

The past two American occupations of Haiti contributed neither to self-sustaining economic development, nor lasting democratic accountability. The so-called international community does not have the appetite for long-term state building. The costs are simply too high. Haiti has no strategic value or significant natural resources.

If the foreign community is really interested in improving conditions in Haiti, it should enter into a long-lasting partnership with the Haitian government committed to alleviating poverty.

The Haitian masses have always struggled against the odds, and have always been ignored or betrayed by their political leaders. Perhaps, having been on the brink of civil war and facing a descent into Hell, more progressive politicians will come to accept the logic of democracy. Perhaps they will be able to convince the international partners to help redress the appalling inequalities dividing the destitute majority from the affluent minority. Only then will elections be meaningful. And only then will democracy have a chance.

But the history of Haiti and of international involvement there warns us that this happy outcome is unlikely.

WERTHEIMER: Robert Fatton is a professor of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. He's the author of Haiti's Predatory Republic, The Unending Transition to Democracy.

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