Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Haiti news

Recent Haiti news on the ground has been much the same as I've reported before. However, out of the Washington establishment comes some interesting twists.

First of all, the USINFO Washington file reports that "prospects for holding safe and fair elections in Haiti later in 2005 have improved as all key political parties in the Caribbean nation have submitted their candidates to the country's electoral council, reports the International Monetary Fund (IMF)."

Given that several election officials pulled outjust two or three weeks ago, this pronouncement seems rather odd. It would seem more likely that there has been a clear stabilization not of Haiti, but of the people who speak for it: Department of State, USAID, Canada and Europe, the IMF, and business interests. What do I mean by this? 1) The International Monetary Fund of course works hand in hand with the U.S. Government, and I suspect that here the some of main contacts are through USAID which has been funding activity in the Haitian police; 2) This announcement comes shortly after appointing a new ambassador; 3) several companies have just announced business plans in Haiti. All of the above is related to the IMF/US D. of State donor conference held in October, where final economic and political planning were done for Haiti and where the interested parties came to their final agreements.

The press release seems thus to indicate some stabilization on the diplomatic plane while, on the ground, things are as bad as they always were.

Given the importance of the situation and the flurry of recent activity, it's worthwhile paying attention to the press release in more detail.

The IMF and Department of State note improvements in stability, "safety" and "transparency," all of which set the stage for the elections. Given that only a few hundred polling sites are going to be open (compared to nearly ten thousand for the last elections), it is hard to believe that true democratic progress has been made. In spite of this obvious fact, government officials seem determined to say that everything is fine. To that effect, the press release seems to obfuscate the true conditions by waiving statistics:

Patrick Duddy, the U.S. State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, said at an October 20-21 international donors' conference for Haiti that the more than 3 million Haitians who have registered to vote will set the stage for broad participation in the elections.
Just because 3 million are registered to vote does not mean they they have access to polling places. As I said earlier, we know there are not enough polling places. Furthermore, increased spending on weapons and policing, could mean intimidation during the elections, so this is truly a misleading quote.

The press release concludes:

Duddy said that international donors and Haiti's interim government are "strongly committed" to ensuring the Haitian elections take place within the country's "constitutional timetable," and that the elections are peaceful, open, inclusive and fair. Haiti's government, he added, "must take all necessary steps to implement a work plan that results in the inauguration" of a new Haitian president on February 7, 2006
The U.S. and Europe, along with the IMF, have clearly set stringent timelines, but this seems mostly to avoid embarassment since, while the U.S. could have easily restored Aristide--universally recognized as a democratically and fairly elected president--to power, it chose to support an interim regime, citing Aristide's "corruption" as an excuse. (Amy Goodman over at Democracy Now! has reported on the likely involvement of the U.S. in Aristide's ouster.) New elections will thus legitimize current U.S. policy, so the quicker the better. Indeed, the stern language coming out of U.S. diplomatic circles underlines American concerns with having legitimacy in the wake of our substantial manipulations at the time of Aristide's ouster.

But there is more at stake than legitimacy. The donor's conferences have had a focus on privitization of Haitian companies and resources. For example, last week, Digicel Jamaica/Eriksson announced plans to work in Haiti.

Canada, Europe, and especially the U.S. want privitization, but they feel it could be in jeopardy. They are concerned about the effects of Bush's foreign policy in the Carribbean. Again, getting the diplomatic voices to speak in unison about Haiti can be seen as a response to these concerns.

The flurry of activity is not only on the the U.S. side, however. U.S. policy is creating a global backlash with vocal opponents. Of these voices, Hugo Chavez is one of the loudest and his plans to sell oil without (American) middlemen is audacious:

Haiti could be the latest Caribbean country to join the government’s PetroCaribe initiative. State-owned Petr√≥leos de Vene-zuela (PDVSA) sent a delegation to Haiti early this month to evaluate the possibility of incorporating the impoverished country into the Caracas-led accord, which offers oil to Caribbean countries on preferential terms.
Such plans add coals to the fire already under the U.S.' diplomatic feet. Hence Washington's response is direct and, again, stern:

Washington has a different opinion. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fisk has called PetroCaribe the result of Cuba and Venezuela’s “failed statist ideologies” and has said it “undermines the position of private sector companies in the region.”
Clearly, Venezuela would/could create enormous pressures to counter the privatization forces since energy ranks very high in Haiti's needs. The "threat" of such an oil market clearly run counter to Washington's goals, hence the stern word's from Duddy and Fisk.

So I guess it's just another week of the same: no democracy for Haiti as the West intervenes.

[Note: I came back and edited this a little for clarity's sake, though it still is not as clear as I would like!]