Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Haiti

  • Author: Henry F. Carey
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(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)

Executive Summary


Henry F. (Chip) Carey is associate professor of political science at Georgia State University. He has edited or coedited five books and authored numerous articles on democratization and human rights, including in Haiti.

Two centuries old, independent Haiti still has one of the most discouraging records of aspiring democracies in the liberal project to protect civil liberties under the rule of law, reduce corruption, and enhance government transparency, accountability, and public voice. Haiti is comparatively well off compared with similar post-conflict societies because it has lacked any tradition or residue of civil war since the post-independence period ended in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, it has had two extensive foreign occupations led by the United States, from 1915 to 1934 and the recent 1994-2000 United Nations-sanctioned invasion and peacekeeping mission, which provided some concrete improvements to infrastructure and attempted to restructure the national agencies of legitimate coercion. On the other hand, the country is inured to extreme poverty and repression but without a sense of national emergency that would encourage adversaries to band together for the common good.

Haiti's history has been marked alternately by leaders who personalize decision making through selective and despotic use of violence while seeking pecuniary gains to maintain power and by extreme instability or foreign occupation. However, for the first time, today's leader is governing under conditions of quasi-democracy. Following its unopposed September 17, 1994, invasion, the United States reinstated elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been exiled since the September 1991 coup against him. Unfortunately, not only since Aristide's return but in the years since the UN departure in 2000, Haiti has lacked the basic consensus and trust needed for democratization to advance. Haiti has been without a legitimate parliamentary government accepted by all of the mainstream opposition and the international community since the disputed legislative elections of June 1995. Although the Aristide presidency has insisted that new elections will eventually occur, the opposition demand that Aristide step down before elections has created a constitutional impasse. The longer Aristide remains in office, the less his popularity and thus the less inclined he will be to hold credible elections.

Although ignored in practice, Haiti's 1987 constitution offers a roadmap both out of its immediate political crisis and to forging democratic institutions. However, the country will continue to suffer a surfeit of local elections – which exceed the capacity of a poor country – the lack of a permanent, professional electoral commission, and the problems of governing under either cohabitation or one-party dominance. Given the refusal of the government to negotiate, Haiti's ostensible democratic institutions will continue to be formed under the influences of a self-serving leader and an increasingly disloyal opposition.

More generally, Haiti has no sustained track record of more than the minimal standards of rule of law, market economy, or participatory civil society. Freedom was never secure, despite periodic openings under a series of authoritarian regimes. Only Aristide's seven and a half months in office prior to the September 1990 coup involved an elected government with moderate freedom. Since Aristide's reinstatement on October 15, 1994, following the U.S.-led, UN-sanctioned invasion the month before, freedom has gradually declined. By the end of September 2003, freedom was still high by Haitian historical standards but lower than that under most elected governments in Latin America, except perhaps Guatemala, Venezuela, and Colombia. Aristide, who has either been president (1994-96, and 2001 to the present) or the power behind the throne (1996-2001) since 1994, decided early on that he would rely on violence, where necessary, to remain in power and use corruption to sustain his regime. His progressive ideology has remained more rhetorical than real. Apparently, he decided that the ubiquitous murderers derived from the previous authoritarian regimes, such as the Duvalier-era paramilitary Ton Ton Macoutes, were still a threat and could be better marginalized by state violence than by building the rule of law. Thus, most state institutions of coercion have been politicized, and paramilitary forces have proliferated. Aristide has steadily lost support from elites who had sought a decisive break from Haiti's authoritarian past, and since 2001, during his second term in office, he has aroused mass opposition. However, his electoral support is untested and could remain robust among the vast poor majority, for whom he has remained a source of hope and identity. The alienation from and intransigence of Aristide's rival political elites has made Haiti almost ungovernable and made crafting democratic institutions even more problematic.

Haiti's dysfunctional state and economy is magnified by the country's deforestation, desertification, and erosion resulting from the cutting of wood for charcoal. Politics is unusually internationalized. One in five Haitians requires foreign food support, making the country dependent on foreign donors. Food aid is usually provided to the private sector to avoid further assistance to the Haitian state. In 2002, Haiti ranked 146th out of 173 countries in the UN Development Program's Human Development Index, and most of the lower-ranking countries were in postwar situations.1 Three-quarters of the population live in conditions of abject poverty. In the cities, unemployment rates are well over 50 percent.2 The UN Conference on Trade and Development has labeled Haiti's an "economy in regress" to draw attention to the decline in living conditions.3 Haiti is typical of poorly performing states with impoverished populations: development continues downward, accompanied by a rise in population, which prompts internal and external migration as the country's safety valve. Increasing ineffectiveness reduces political legitimacy and encourages political violence and governance as kleptocracy. National reconciliation to produce basic policy consensus is largely the only way out of the vicious cycle.4 The more the country has stagnated the more government-opposition relations will likely destabilize and the more mobilized civil society could become. This can only be positive if the government becomes more responsive to civil society demands, though the more typical pattern, given the lack of institutions, is to become repressive.

Aristide, the main ruler of the past decade, has lacked the political will to push through reforms to curtail patrimonialism and corruption in the state. These practices in turn maintain the prevailing culture of violence and fraud, despite the ostensible earmarks of democratic institutions. Instead, Aristide has been content to do the minimum possible to satisfy foreign donors that democratic progress continues. At best he fails to criticize those responsible for violence against his political opponents, and at worst he authorizes the violence. Although political violence persists at much lower levels than under the 1957-86 Duvalier dictatorship, it is less tolerable under nascent democratic conditions, as it destabilizes processes and undermines trust.

Civil Liberties – 3.19

Haiti's civil and criminal codes have nominally protected civil rights for much of the past two centuries, although they are consistently ignored in practice. Political and civil rights gained greater de jure protection with the 1987 constitution, which included prohibitions of unnecessary force and arbitrary arrest and detention and mandated free assembly, but all rights are routinely denied in practice. In late 1988, Haiti signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but little enabling legislation has been enacted or institutional reform carried out since then.

Since his return to Haiti in 1994, Aristide has been accused of permitting drug trafficking and other contraband, as well as patronage, to finance paramilitaries managed by entrepreneurial thugs and political allies. These include the semi-accountable special brigades (BS), but more typical are the private armies accountable to no one, known colloquially as chimeres. Aristide politicized the new national police trained by the UN peacekeeping mission and exploited U.S. assistance to train various elite police squadrons, which have become a regular force, while other police have been corrupted by bribery and participation in drug trafficking.5 The police are underrepresented in many rural areas, allowing vigilante groups to repress, extort, or transship illicit drugs with impunity.

Aristide's sense of insecurity is not a figment of his imagination. The threats from anti-Aristide murders associated with the Jean-Claude Duvalier and Raoul Cedras (1991-94) dictatorships have been reduced but not eliminated. Aristide appears to be attempting to secure political power through extralegal means rather than concentrating on legal institutionalization.6

The nature of state terror under Aristide is not comparable to that under Haiti's authoritarian rulers, but the Aristide presidency has consistently shown that it cares more about its own political survival than about obtaining the foreign assistance desperately needed by its impoverished society. Thus, the situation could deteriorate. Aristide has encouraged zero-tolerance policing since 2001, which has been widely interpreted as an implicit legitimization for extrajudicial lynching or torture and has sparked at least 50 vigilante killings. In addition, the police and paramilitary forces are accused of killing dozens of civilians since the late 1990s. Still, while abusers are rarely prosecuted, several dozen have been fired or cashiered – the police inspector general's office has on occasion showed some independence by accounting for violent human rights infractions.7

In July 2002, Amiot Metayer, head of the Cannibal Army paramilitary group then supporting Aristide, was implicated in the violence of December 17, 2001. On that day, an attack on the presidential palace, which the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded was not a coup attempt, led to wanton violence against opposition homes and offices, resulting in two deaths and many injuries.8 Months later, Metayer and more than 100 other inmates escaped from prison after a bulldozer opened a large hole in the wall. A year later he was assassinated, probably by Aristide partisans because of his defection from the president. Today the Cannibal Army is anti-Aristide.

Haiti has practically no checks to ensure that the police force respect citizens' physical and psychological integrity, nor does it have any system of redress for rights violations. The 48-72-hour limit on detention without charge is often violated, with months or years passing before prisoners obtain judicial orders for release. Rarely are detainees treated better than the convicted. Because the judiciary is largely dysfunctional and politicized, effective petition and redress by state authorities generally does not occur, except under intense international pressure or in a few landmark cases. For example, some reparations have been paid to the victims of the partly or largely premeditated attacks on the opposition on December 17, 2001, because they were required by a September 2002 OAS Resolution. However, the opposition denies that any systematic or sufficient reparations were paid.

Haiti's constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, language, or social status, although the ratified International Covenant ostensibly mandates such protections. Haiti has criminalized rape and domestic violence and has laws against gender and racial discrimination, but these laws are often ignored. The constitution does require equal working conditions without discrimination based on gender, beliefs, or marital status, but women continue to hold the lowest-paying jobs in the economy. In addition, estimates reveal that as many as 1 out of every 10 children in Haiti is a domestic servant – known as a restavek – and these are more often girls. There is, however, a ministry for women and various state programs that have had important symbolic impacts for women.

An elite of mulattos and Christian Arabic families constitutes less than 5 percent of the population.9 Class and racial exclusivity lead them to discriminate systematically against the black majority through the denial of economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly to education, job opportunities, and health care. However, since at least the time of the Duvalier dictatorship, the dominant class system has included some urban blacks, in addition to the northern black aristocracy dating from independence in 1804.10

A small elite controls most of Haiti's formal wealth. As Hudes Desrameaux has put it, the motto of the economic elite is, "In No Country We Trust"; for the political elite, it is, "In Corruption We Trust"; and for the middle class, "In Self We Trust."11 The latter either join forces with politicians and endorse political violence and corruption or they merely accumulate wealth without giving back to society. Alternatively, they join the migration abroad. These three upper classes share a complete lack of interest in the fate of the large majority, who are poor or very poor. Even Aristide, who claims to lead the poor,12 has undertaken no fundamental reforms for their benefit in education or health. No political leader thus far has commanded the respect of all classes that is required for a discussion of how to help the entire country.

The constitution protects religious freedom, which the government largely respects. However, significant conflict has grown among Protestants and Catholics and also between Voudou practitioners and their rivals both inside and outside the Voudou religion.13 In addition, Catholics loyal to the hierarchy, which has supported the opposition to Aristide, have clashed with those loyal to the populist church leaders, which include Aristide himself. The result has been physical attacks on churches and on dozens of priests. On December 3, 2001, for example, Lavalas (pro-Aristide) demonstrators entered and attacked at the Saint-Pierre Church in Petionville during a requiem mass in memory of journalist Brignol Lindor (discussed below).

Freedom of association and collective organizing and bargaining are legally protected. Parties and partisan civil-society organizations are legally free to organize, and any registration requirements are often not called for in practice, although legal incorporation is necessary to import goods needed for nongovernmental organization (NGO) goals. In practice, however, armed intimidation and selective arrests of political leaders and NGO protesters restrict these rights. Demonstrations, particularly those organized since late 2002 by the Civil Society Group of 184 opposition NGOs, have been physically suppressed by Aristide partisans or the national police, or demonstrators have been arrested and detained without trial. Opposition rallies have also been suppressed by the Company for Intervention and Maintaining Order (CIMO), one of the U.S.-trained special forces. In addition, the chimeres regularly attack and torture protesters in mass demonstrations and especially on university campuses, which may reflect a view on the part of Aristide that student protesters are his bourgeois class enemies. The police arrest peaceful protesters while failing to arrest the chimeres.14 Also, the poor economy prevents any labor actions by the estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of the Haitian labor force that is organized in trade unions.


Dramatic steps need to be taken in order to restore some level of credibility and professionalism to the Haitian National Police, which then could potentially play an essential role in safeguarding public security. As a first step, all officers who have been indisputably involved in human rights offenses must be removed from the force. An independent ombudsman's office should be established to review human rights complaints and settle disputes. The government should actively seek the help of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to aid in police training and professional development. The Haitian government must continue the efforts to create dialogue with opposition groups and urge its supporters to respect the freedom of speech and assembly that are protected by the Haitian constitution. The government needs to err on the side of tolerance and moderation in order to retain its credibility. Despite its weak capacities and limited resources, the burden is on the Haitian government to act responsibly and publicly restrain the extreme partisans that often act in its name.

Rule of Law – 2.34

Respect for the rule of law in Haiti has fallen to its lowest point since the 1994 reinstatement of President Aristide. The police and judiciary have failed to guarantee security and justice, and the incapacity of courts results in de facto guilty verdicts for many of those arraigned and incarcerated. The obstinacy of politicians prevents the crafting of a democratic state where rule of law presides; elites do not obey the law because they are not familiar with its provisions or because obedience is not in their interests.15

Haiti's illiberal institutions do not protect Haitian citizens. Aristide was the first president to aspire credibly to reform the justice and military agencies, as well as the incentives that corrupt them. Unfortunately, Aristide refused to give up personal political control and the extralegal use of force. The criminal justice system lacks training, despite the attention called to this predicament in recent years. More than 200 judges and prosecutors have participated in intensive two-week training programs, but this is a far cry from the two-year graduate schools that most code-based legal and inquisitorial trial systems have. The courts are also lacking in sufficient resources to conduct business properly, such as timely, fair prosecution. Large backlogs of cases lead to spasmodic judicial decisions relating to prisoner releases.

The attempt to develop legal supremacy has been undermined most by illegal security forces linked to newly elected officials. Aristide's despotic interventions, whether assassinations or repression of opposition rallies, are frequent enough to nullify meaningful legal protections. From Aristide's viewpoint, these actions have been defensive, but the opposition naturally sees them as offensive, repressive, and divisive. Judges are underpaid and often corrupt and incompetent. Intimidation of judges in politically sensitive court cases is common.16 As a result, the most famous murders, such as that of Jean Leopold Dominique (discussed below), have not been resolved. The police conduct searches without judge-issued warrants and detain those arrested without legal recourse. Defendants are often not informed of their rights.17 Most Haitians cannot afford a lawyer, and the state is not required to provide one. Thus, denial of due process is the norm. Except when there is foreign pressure, in general only high-profile political partisans and wealthy elites with legal access can gain court orders for release.18 Without just, consistently applied rules there is no protection for property rights, the enforcement of contracts, and the functioning of the judiciary more generally.

The attempt to establish a new justice system following the 1994 arrival of U.S. troops focused primarily on the abolition of the army in favor of a newly established police force. The national civil police (PNC) came into existence in 1996 with 6,000 members envisioned, although the number remained at about 4,000 in 2003. Members were chosen to a significant extent on the basis of loyalty to Aristide rather than on merit. Aristide's initial appointments included known criminals or army personnel, and members have been implicated by the United States in drug trafficking and political violence. Instead of being an improvement over the army, the PNC is corrupt and politicized.

The appointment of Calixte Delatour in October 2002 as justice minister, a man with a notorious Duvalierist past and with paramilitary connections, has strained the credibility of the Aristide presidency's commitment to equal justice. Instead of choosing a reformer of the police and judicial processes, the government has given a signal with Delatour's appointment of how little interest it has in changing policing and other criminal justice activities along professional, apolitical lines. In July 2003, Jean-Robert Faveur, Haiti's third national chief of police in as many months, resigned. Faveur alleged that Aristide and aides tried to run the police from the national palace. Faveur said that he was ordered by a Haitian congressman to hire 18 armed men as officers, even though they lacked police academy training.

OAS Resolution 822 called on the government to round up and prosecute those responsible for sacking opposition leaders' headquarters and homes after the December 2001 rebellion. The opposition criticized the resolution for not taking into account the complicity of the police in the violence. It argues that Haiti needs international oversight of these police if it is to have credible elections.


Deliberate attempts to avoid the law need to end. Conciliatory dialogue will serve no purpose unless it is accompanied by tough enforcement of the rule of law by those who act illegally or violently on behalf of the Aristide administration. Haiti needs rules to govern the enforceability of contracts, the protection of property rights, the due process of criminal justice prosecution and administration, and the accountability of government resources. Court judges, justices of the peace, and prosecutors require training, including a two-year postgraduate training program to follow the bar examination. All legal codes, new legislation, and court decisions should be available online. Increased training and higher salaries are needed for prison guards, administrators, and inspectors. The new police academy should be improved to reverse the net decrease in police-force levels. Funding for criminal defense and legal aid is also greatly needed.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.81

The criminal code prohibits all forms of corruption, but Haiti has never had the political will to stop it. Aristide has declared repeatedly that he would wage war on corruption, and one of his greatest achievements was the abolition of the army and its rural section chiefs, which has curtailed the prevalent practice of armed extortion of peasants. However, little else has been done. Indeed, politicians have sought political power in order to obtain and illicitly use public funds. Unlike in some other countries, in Haiti government regulations and privatization are not important sources of corruption. However, in terms of use of public funds and allocation of public businesses and licenses – primarily for imports – to cronies, the Aristide presidency is as corrupt as its predecessors. Discretionary spending from public finances is a major source of corruption. Few legal and ethical checks on expropriation of wealth from the public budget are placed on the head of state. First Lady Mildred Trouillot Aristide is widely believed to dominate the cellular phone market in the country. In 2003, Transparency International ranked Haiti fourth from worst out of 133 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Drug trafficking is another large source of corruption in Haiti. After his 1990 election, Aristide pledged to cooperate with the United States on combating trafficking but has not kept his promise. U.S. officials have estimated that 54 metric tons of cocaine went through Haiti in 1998, a 17-percent increase over 1997. Haiti has domestic laws against all forms of trafficking but ignores them in practice, except as part of ad hoc missions in cooperation with U.S. officials. The Haitian legal code does not allow for the crime of conspiracy in drug cases, so a suspect must be arrested in possession of drugs in order to be prosecuted on drug-related offenses. Money laundering in Haiti involves transporting cash by courier from the United States through Haiti to Panama. It is likely that some money laundering takes place through Haiti's poorly regulated banks and currency exchanges as well. In January 2001, the Haitian parliament approved a money-laundering law drafted in 1997. In August 2000, Haiti's Central Bank ordered Haitian financial institutions to report to the government of Haiti all currency transactions at or above 20,000 gourdes (then about U.S.$10,000). The impact of these reforms has been limited.

The police, if not high government officials as well, are widely believed to be corrupted by the drug trafficking. The apparent score-settling in the armed attack on the presidential palace on December 17, 2001, by police officers and former members of the disbanded army suggests that a probable motive was to obtain a share of this contraband. The trade will continue until President Aristide demonstrates a stronger will to stop it.

A major scandal in 2001-02, which was publicized because of its extensive effects on the general population, involved the bankruptcies of cooperatives in which President Aristide had encouraged people to make deposits. Promising impossible rates of interest based on ponzi schemes, the cooperatives collected a large portion of the national savings (estimates vary widely). The exact role of the Haitian state or Aristide in this bank failure has not been determined. There have been no prosecutions, and depositors have been given only token refunds for their losses. After the coordinator of the National Society of Victims of Failed Cooperatives, Rosemond Jean, called on the Haitian state for full reimbursement for victims, he was imprisoned for six months on nebulous charges of drug trafficking. Complaints from human rights groups led to his release in early 2003.

Haiti's ongoing political crisis reflects interrelated tendencies toward electoral and general corruption. Aristide now has two sumptuous residences and a network of wealth, none of which he has accounted for in figures that are constitutionally mandated. He is widely believed to be involved in the pervasive drug transshipments through Haiti.

Whistleblowers are easily intimidated with threats or violence, particularly with respect to drug trafficking. No effective public reporting of government transactions or investigative capacity by the police or prosecution service exists. The focus on utilizing public monies for partisan or private purposes has hardly been covered in the press in any specific detail. Very few officials are arrested or prosecuted for embezzlement or bribery.

Public education opportunities at all levels are so few that it is widely believed that bribes are required to obtain admission, especially for primary school. University education historically has been reserved for the elite who can pass the entrance exams, a problem that reflects Haiti's class exclusion more than it does corruption.

No freedom of information law exists in Haiti. While many government regulations and laws are published in the government information gazette Le Moniteur, many others are not. The country's relatively few lawyers lack online databases of legal codes, administrative regulations, and court decisions.

The fraudulent elections in 1995 led foreign donors to freeze aid to the Haitian government. The resumption of the planned foreign assistance is contingent under OAS Resolution 822 on the resolution of the subsequent political deadlock. Since 1997, most foreign aid to Haiti has gone to civil society, except for intermittent technical assistance to the police, courts, and education agencies. However, the withholding of multilateral loans probably results more from an animus toward Aristide and because of Haiti's weakness than from support for the principle of free elections.

Meanwhile, Aristide has been content to do the minimum possible to satisfy foreign donors that democratic progress continues. The strategy has been semi-effective in that some multilateral lending was resumed to Haiti in July 2003. Aristide clearly hopes that Haiti's transgressions will be ignored. While Haiti's budgetary process and accountability have improved marginally, there remains no shortage of slush funds, secret accounts, and corrupt public transactions.


The Haitian government must make great strides to increase the transparency of its finances, judicial and legislative proceedings, and administrative decision making. To this end, the government should make public all relevant proceedings through the available venues, including Internet, newspapers, and, when appropriate, Creole language radio and publications. Institutions, particularly in finance and public works, need to be developed. Regarding the regime's corruption, the only cure is the development of strong political parties that transcend the influence of single individuals. This will require that funds for parties no longer come from the individual leader and that individuals no longer come to believe that they alone can solve the quagmire in which Haiti finds itself.

Accountability and Public Voice – 3.09

After its invasion of Haiti in 1994, the United States restored to office elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been exiled since a September 1991 coup against him. In June 1995, first-round legislative elections took place, which were reported to be fraudulent. As a result, the presidential elections of December 1995 – which brought Rene Preval, Aristide's associate, to power – were largely boycotted by the opposition. (Aristide fulfilled a promise to the United States to respect the formal constitutional schedule, despite having been in exile for much of his term.) Preval served one term, from 1996 to 2001.

The pattern was repeated in May 2000, when the opposition contested the legitimacy of the first-round legislative elections and boycotted the November 2000 presidential elections, which brought Aristide back to presidential power. In the senate elections of both April 1997 and May 2000, Aristide partisan victories were marred by technical problems, which could have been resolved with a modicum of transparency and negotiation. The political climate in 1997 worsened when the electoral council refused to acknowledge opposition complaints with a proper investigation. Since the 2000 electoral fraud, the opposition has boycotted the legislature and elected cabinet as well. As of September 2003, parliamentary elections scheduled for no later than December of that year were not scheduled to occur. Under the circumstances, Aristide was faced with ruling by decree and holding boycotted elections lacking international legitimacy. Thus, not only has Haiti not completed its democratic transition, but it has not unambiguously exited from authoritarian rule.

In the wake of the three-year crisis following the 2000 senate electoral fraud, the Haitian government has been mandated by OAS Resolution 822 to meet several security requirements for new elections, arrest those responsible for the violence of December 17, 2001, and establish an independent electoral commission with opposition participation. The opposition's refusal to negotiate with Aristide and insistence on Aristide's resignation have combined with Aristide's intransigence to bring about the failure of negotiations for arguably the most important requirement of Resolution 822: the establishment of a new electoral commission.

This failure of negotiations was just the latest chapter of the OAS's mission since 2001, which involved more than 20 trips to Haiti to attempt to mediate an agreement between the government and the opposition. Each trip has been fruitless. The government and the opposition have both been unwilling to negotiate face-to-face and resolve problems related to electoral administration and insecurity, among others. In September 2002, the OAS passed Resolution 822, which called for elections in the first half of 2003 and the restoration of aid flows if "technical and financial obstacles can be resolved" and if a "climate of security" can be established. No progress was achieved by September 2003 and the elections did not occur.

Since the summer of 2003, the opposition has demanded Aristide's resignation prior to participating in the electoral process. The opposition does not entirely have a constitutional basis for this, and Aristide's recent repression, while not justified, was probably provoked by the opposition's refusal to participate in elections. The weaknesses of the judicial apparatus make the political crisis even less likely to be resolved.

Haiti's electoral law is fair, having been negotiated with bilateral funding agencies, the UN, and the OAS. Aristide has tampered with the electoral commission's autonomy, only to retreat under foreign pressure. Still, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has faced enormous organizational tasks, given the five levels of elected government in Haiti. Since 1990-91, elections in Haiti have produced bottlenecks and lost tally sheets at the communal electoral bureau, to which ballot boxes are transported after the polls close and the ballots are counted. Hundreds of thousands of ballots are likely to have been lost in every election without accountability. Furthermore, no countrywide, parallel counts have been conducted by Haitian parties or NGOs, creating enormous and often unnecessary suspicion. Only foreign observers provide any checks against fraud, and they cannot verify the results of most electoral contests in Haiti's highly federal system. Electoral fraud makes the democratic process less likely to ensure that members of the racial majority and the poor, who in many cases are one and the same, are given access to economic development focused on their needs, on investment in education and health, and on political participation.19

The international community has invested large sums in elections but they have failed to improve the situation because Aristide never made transparent elections and a permanent electoral commission a priority. Unfortunately, the international community has not insisted on inter-party consensus before financing elections again. Foreign governments, led by the United States, have offered funds to the provisional electoral council, hoping that the many boycotting parties would participate.20 The only time they succeeded was in the December 1990 presidential election, but even then 300,000 ballots were lost and 90 percent of voters did not turn out for the general elections held a month later.21 Since then, opposition parties have never judged elections to have been clean. The electoral commission was never competent. The turnout in the November 2000 presidential election was widely accepted as grossly exaggerated. For the May 2000 legislative and local elections, a civic monitoring group supported by the National Democratic Institute and other foreign groups was organized. It constituted the first election monitoring in Haitian history by either political or civil society. Although incomplete in its coverage of polling stations, it was a dramatic improvement in documenting the quality of electoral administration. In summer 2003, a Haitian Observatory of Electoral Rights (l'Observatoire Haitien des Droits Electoraux) emerged as a consortium of nonprofit institutions to protect electoral rights. The Observatory aspires to investigate fraud, violence, and other violations of electoral rights.

The semi-presidential system in Haiti divides authority between a president and a prime minister, mandating just the kind of cooperation that Haiti's political elites lack. There have been constitutional crises in 1991, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, and since 2000 as a result of the two office holders not cooperating or because the parliament loses confidence in the government. Haiti's political culture and elite expectations lack the social trust required for cooperation. Instead, politicians pursue relative gains in power in order to control the state for patrimonialism or embezzlement. Haiti's political elites appear determined to seek political power on a winner-take-all basis, regarding other political elites as enemies in politics to be defeated completely. Aristide's desire to avoid cooperation or cohabitation under the semi-presidential system seems to have induced him to ignore legislative oversight and other democratic prerogatives of the legislature. In the prevailing context of personality politics, illiteracy, and extreme poverty among the general population, corruption and inefficiency in the state, and leaders recruited on the basis of loyalty, it is unlikely that Haiti will find the extraordinary kind of leader that is required for it to escape its endless crises. The stakes for holding political power have grown too large, given the tendency to regard political power as a method of gaining wealth and prestige and electoral defeat as a position of vulnerability to prosecution for corruption or political assassination.

Aristide has laid off many from the state payroll and replaced them with his cronies. He appears to oppose privatization in order to practice clientelism. In addition, he, like all prior Haitian leaders, is focused on the capital and not on development of the countryside.

While Haiti has numerous small social action movements, few of them have focused on concrete tasks. The Group of 184 NGOs mentioned above is an opposition movement that may be both encouraging and polarizing in Haiti's highly politicized context.

Effective restrictions on freedom of expression have resulted from targeting of critics of the government for physical attacks by those loyal to President Aristide. Members of opposition parties are selectively but predictably threatened and harassed. Most notoriously, in July and December 2001, Aristide partisans attacked opposition politicians and property after probably faked coup attempts.22

The government uses the official state media for partisan purposes. However, most Haitians obtain their news from the radio, and the presence of a few independent radio stations offsets this state broadcast dominance. A greater concern is threats or acts of armed intimidation against journalists. From 2002 to 2003, some five dozen journalists were attacked or harassed, allegedly by Aristide partisans, and more than a dozen journalists fled the country. In May 2002, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put Aristide on its blacklist of press predators and has continued to condemn Haiti's entrenched impunity for those who murder or intimidate journalists, especially those on the radio. The NGO has particularly criticized Haiti for stalling the investigation into the December 2001 assassination of Brignol Lindor, journalist for a provincial radio station, and for the 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, the country's most prominent journalist and, like so many of Aristide's visible critics, his former confidant. Dominique worked for Haiti Inter, which has a legacy of opposition to the Duvalier dictatorship. The chief suspect in his murder, Senator Dany Toussaint, was as of September 2003 a close associate of President Aristide and widely believed to be associated with the Macoute paramilitary established by the Duvalier dictatorship. In December 2002, Aristide thugs attacked Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, and killed her bodyguard. The radio station stopped broadcasting several months later.


Domestic election observers should be trained and well organized. Political parties need to be encouraged that articulate meaningful platforms and institute democratic practices internally. The government must refrain from interfering with the media and help ensure the safety of journalists.


1 Human Development Report 2002, United Nations Development Program (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),

2 World Development Indicators (Washington, DC: World Bank, n.d.),

3 The Least Developed Countries 1997 Report (New York and Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD], 1997),

4 Ernest H. Preeg, The Haitian Dilemma: A Case Study in Demographics, Development and U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996).

5 David Adams, "200 Years of Independence, Ongoing Strife/Protests, Violence, Dampen Haiti's Joy," St. Petersburg Times, 29 December 2003; Robert Fatton, Jr., "For Haiti, 200 Years of Mixed Results," the New York Times, 4 January 2004, Section 4, 7; Mike DeWine, "New Policies Needed – or Leadership Change," the Miami Herald, 13 January 2004.

6 Michael A. W. Ottey, "Aristide Scolds Armed Backers," the Miami Herald, 12 January 2004, 8A.

7 "Can Haiti's Police Reforms Be Sustained?" (New York and Washington: National Coalition for Haitian Rights and the Washington Office on Latin America, 1998); "Grave Violations by Policy," Haiti, Report 2003 (London: Amnesty International, 2003),

8 Gerard Pierre-Charles, "Beyond the Criminal Acts of December 17, 2001, A Personal Testimony" (Washington, DC, Haiti Democracy Project, 8 March 2002),; "CONACOM, a Member of Socialist International, Reopens Its Burned Offices," translation of "Reouverture officielle du siege du CONACOM a Port-au-Prince," Alterpresse, 21 July 2003.

9 Haiti, World Factbook 2003 (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], 2003),

10 Robert Fatton, Jr., Haiti's Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner, 2002); Robert I. Rotberg, Haiti Renewed: Political and Economic Prospects (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1997); Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the World Economy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997).

11 Hudes Desrameaux, "Haitian Culture and the Politics of Change," The Haitian Times (Brooklyn, NY), 14-20 May 2003, 6; Robert I. Rotberg, Boston Globe, 12 January 2004.

12 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990); Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Aristide: An Autobiography (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993); Helen Scott, "Why the US is Responsible for Poverty and Tyranny in Haiti," Socialist Worker Online, 16 January 2004,

13 Voudou was a quasi-official religion under Francois Duvalier (1957-71). Because of the mixing of religions, a common aphorism for the country is "Haiti is 80 percent Catholic and 100 percent Voudou." According to the CIA World Factbook, about half the population practices Voudou.

14 Adams, "Protests, Violence, Dampen Haiti's Joy."

15 Jose Maria Maravall and Adam Przeworski, eds., Democracy and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

16 William O'Neill, "Judicial Reform in Haiti" (New York: National Coalition for Haitian Rights, 1995),; Areyeh Neier, The Nation, 260, no. 7 (February 20, 1995), 158.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 . Human Development Report, 2002, "Democracy and Development" (UNDP), ch. 2.

20 Henry F. Carey, "Foreign Aid, Democratization and Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, 1987-2002," Wadabagei: A Journal on the Caribbean and Its Diaspora, 5, no. 2 (Summer 2002), 1-47.

21 Henry F. Carey, "Electoral Observation and Democratization in Haiti," in Kevin Middlebrook, ed., Electoral Observation and Democratic Transitions in Latin America (San Diego: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD, 1998), 143-66.

22 "Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events of December 17, 2001 in Haiti," OAS Document, OEA/Ser.G, CP/INF. 4702/02 (1 July 2002),

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