Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti issued a Security Alert that reads in part “Protest activity continues in Port-au-Prince and other areas of Haiti. Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy has instructed its employees to shelter in place until further notice.”
Large crowds are protesting government corruption, inflation, and the immediate resignation of current President Jovenel Moise. Though this is not the first time the people of Haiti have taking to the streets to ask the President to leave, this is the first time their demands seem almost universal across the entire country.
Ed Gehy, an associate professor at Ashford University, recently published an article in Haitian Times, saying “ Imagine 2019 is the year Haiti decides to turn from its old ways and rid itself of this institutionalized and endemic corruption that has been systematically established in all state institutions.”
Then, Professor Gehy touched on something I found quite inspiring when he said “Imagine 2019 would be the year Haiti decides to invest in literacy so much so that the country’s electorate would be educated enough to choose its elected officials wisely and hold them accountable through their votes.”
This statement grabs my attention because it rings true as a long term strategy instead of a short term goal. In fact, 2019 could turn out to be the best year for Haiti in terms of the democratization process. The beginning of long term change for a politically stable, financially transparent, and socially promising can only begin with free and fair elections.
Even as thousands of people in Haiti are asking the immediate departure of Jovenel Moise, in my opinion, it would be much better for Haiti if political leaders would encourage the government to organize the 2019 parliamentary elections as mandated by Haiti’s constitution and build an anti-corruption, anti-inflation, and anti government waste campaign to vote out the bad actors from the parliament in 2019. With an absolute majority in parliament, the opposition will be able to select the Prime Minister and his or her government, as stated in article 137 of the Haitian Constitution. That Prime Minister and government will be the representative of the anti-corruption, pro transparency movement.
That way, instead of creating another political disturbance in Haiti and further destabilized the societal, economic and political structure, you use the opportunity to teach Haitians about the rule of law, respect for elections, and invite all those involved in protest the value of their votes.
Participation in the electoral process will increase, an anti-corruption government will be established by the people, for the people and such a government could certainly be of the people.
I remember giving similar counsel to the Clinton Administration in 1994, while representing interim President Emile Jonassaint. During the negotiations with Michael D. Barnes, legal counsel of President Jean Bertrand Aristide who was at the time leaving in the United States. I suggested that the U.S. allow Interim President Jonassaint to proceed with parliamentary elections scheduled in Haiti for October 1994 with the support of the international community. The Clinton administration was somewhat supportive of the idea under the leadership of U.S. Special Envoy Lawrence A. Pezzullo. The Congressional black Caucus was totally against it. They convinced President Clinton to replace Pezzulo, veteran diplomat and former Ambassador to Nicaragua, William H. Gray 3d, the president of the United Negro College Fund and a former Congressman who served 12 years in the House of Representatives, with zero experience in diplomacy.
My reasoning in 1994 was as simple as it is in 2019.
Democracy cannot be taught by force. The democratization process is lived through electoral experiences and years of going to the polls. Yet, in most instances, if we allow it to take place, under free, fair, and transparent conditions, the participating voters will gain confidence in the system and socio-political and economic stability will be the fruit of that exercise.
Haiti, the first black republic, deserves a better future and can only gain political stability for its people through free and fair elections. Perhaps political leaders could focus on increasing local production of goods in agriculture like high end fruits and tubers, animal husbandry; the hospitality industry with high end tourism; garment assembly and business process outsourcing (BPO).