- Created: Thursday, 14 May 2009 14:42
- Written by Louis Brehony
The 7 February presidential election in Haiti took place two years after the imperialist-backed coup of 19 February 2004, which saw popularly elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide forced out of the country. The election took place under a brutal UN occupation, in place since the coup. Despite this, the imperialists’ favoured candidates failed and Aristide ally Rene Garcia Preval won. Preval’s test will be how he deals with the occupation, and subsequently the poverty and oppression faced by the Haitian masses.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and second poorest worldwide. Its Gross Domestic Product is below $12 billion – around 20% of what Tesco made last year. 80% of Haitians live in abject poverty and nearly 70% depend on the agricultural sector, made up mostly of small-scale subsistence farming, employing about two-thirds of those with jobs. Two-thirds of the population is unemployed, the average wage is $2 a day, and over half are illiterate.
Rene Preval was prime minister until the 1991 US-backed military coup which ousted President Aristide for the first time, and then president between 1996 and 2000 before Aristide and his Lavalas party were elected with 91.8% of the vote. Preval was seen as an ally of Aristide, but in the February election sought to distance himself from Lavalas. Preval said the 10,000 UN troops ‘should stay as long as it is necessary’, in contrast to Aristide and the majority of Lavalas who denounce the occupiers as servants of the US, France and Canada. Preval does support the popular demand to bring Aristide back from exile in South Africa, which won him support from Haiti’s poor. He also promises literacy programmes and steps to improve agriculture. Lavalas was prevented from running in the election. The party’s main candidate, Aristide ally Gerard Jean-Juste, was imprisoned and therefore unable to stand. Jean-Juste pledged his support to Preval’s Lespwa coalition.
Preliminary election results indicated a Preval majority of 60%, but this figure dropped suddenly to 48.7% – which would have made a run-off between him and the next candidate necessary. There were widespread reports of vote-rigging, and in some poor neighbourhoods and rural areas, where Preval had strong support, polling stations remained closed. On 25 January, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that no voting stations would be placed in Cité Soleil, an impoverished, pro-Aristide district that has faced repression from the UN occupation forces. The polling stations were supposed to be guarded by these troops. Protests forced the CEP to retreat and 90% of Cité Soleil’s voters chose Preval.
Elsewhere, communities around Port-au-Prince protested against the CEP’s attempts to manipulate the result against Preval, with violent clashes reported. Eventually, Preval was declared the winner with 51.2% of the vote, over four times as many as his closest rival. Despite the imperialists spending $75 million, Guy Philippe, the former police chief who led the 2004 coup, and Charlito Baker, businessman and favoured candidate of the US, got less than 10% between them.
Despite Preval’s overwhelming victory he is unable to take office until Parliament is seated. The results of the 7 February parliamentary elections have still to be announced, and the opposition is crying foul over vote-counting procedures for the presidential election.
Rich capitalist governments pledged $1.3 billion to rebuild Haiti after the coup. The UN says little of this has been received. The UN, with the Haitian National Police, has been accused of massacres and targeted killings of anti-occupation activists. Since the coup and the beginning of the occupation the country has seen militant protests on a huge scale. Workers responded to violent UN repression with a general strike in December 2004. Military incursions into neighbourhoods like Cité Soleil have prompted huge, armed demonstrations calling for the return of Aristide and an end to the occupation. It was this resistance movement on the streets that forced the imperialists to accept Preval’s victory.
The US response was given by Ambassador Timothy Carney at a party in a wealthy area in the mountains above Port-au-Prince: with Preval in attendance, Carney told a reporter, ‘We believe we can work with Preval...I think what he’s doing now is proving he has the force of character, by reaching out to the opposition, by beginning to move forward with no Aristide in sight’ (New York Times, 20 February). The US is now pushing Preval to reconcile with coup leaders Louis Jodel Chamblain and Guy Philippe, who have long-standing ties to death squads and the former US-backed Duvalier dictatorship.
Preval has two choices: either serve the interests of the Haitian people and listen to their demands, or serve the imperialists and their bourgeois Haitian allies.
FRFI 190 April / May 2006