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Haiti Politics

The decades that followed independence set a pattern that enshrined the use of violent force to achieve political objectives, punish political opponents, and ensure economic dominance by a tiny elite based in Port-au-Prince. Consequently, Haiti has never developed a civic culture -- widespread acceptance of the rule of law and institutions strong enough to enforce laws and legal decisions -- to replace the exercise of violence as a means to political power. Haiti has faced considerable instability deriving from a potent amalgam of factors, including deep poverty, social vulnerability, food insecurity, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS, drug trafficking, organized crime, and institutional weaknesses of the Haitian government.

Although François Duvalier came to power through elections in 1957, he lost all credibility because of a fraudulent re-election in 1961, a rigged referendum in 1964 that confirmed him as Haiti's president for life, and the severe and unrelenting repression he dealt out, primarily through the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale--VSN), or tonton makouts (bogeymen). Duvalier ("Papa Doc") extended his illegitimate rule beyond his death by naming his son JeanClaude ("Baby Doc") as his successor.

Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power in 1971, under the informal regency of his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, and a small inner circle of Duvalierists. As Jean-Claude matured and began to assert his power independently of his mother and her advisers, some minor reforms in Haitian life took place. By the late 1970s, Jean-Claude had restored some freedom of the press and had allowed the formation of fledgling opposition political parties as well as the organization of a human rights league. This brief period of liberalization, however, ended with the arrest and the expulsion of a number of union leaders, journalists, party activists, and human-rights advocates in November 1980.

New outbreaks of popular unrest shattered Duvalier's plans, however, and he was eventually forced into exile in February 1986. The popular revolt, known in Creole as operation déchoukaj (operation uprooting), sought to destroy the foundations of Duvalierism. Its strikes and mass demonstrations reflected the Duvalier regime's general loss of support.

From February 7, 1986 -- when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended -- until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In March 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected, bicameral parliament; an elected president that serves as head of state; and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

Haiti is a land with too many people for the remaining natural resources. Its forests have been cut down and its topsoil washed into the sea. To the outside world, its name has become synonymous with "boat people" and voodoo. It is a land of hunger, poverty, pride, and beauty. Haiti is acknowledged as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

On one side are the vast majority of citizens, mostly poor and poorly educated, who have traditionally been denied participation in the political, economic, and social decisions which affect their lives; they have been the primary targets of government-ordered or government-supported violence. On the other side are the groups that participated in the Duvalier political system and benefited from its repression of the disenfranchised majority. These include land holders who have used the political system to gain control of Haiti's limited supply of fertile land; business owners who have benefited from a submissive work force and enjoyed monopoly control over various segments of the country's economy; and armed soldiers, section chiefs, militia, and Tontons Macoutes who wish to retain the trappings of their power and fear the accountability for past abuses that a new political order might impose on them.

In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied elements of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. Following the coup, Aristide began a 3-year exile in the US. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued boat people from the previous 10 years combined.

The United States led a U.N.-sponsored multinational force to the country in 1994. The mission was to get Haiti's military dictatorship to step down and restore to power Haiti's constitutionally elected government - led by President Jean- Bertrand Aristide. The United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti to restore Mr. Aristide to power after he was ousted by a coup. On Sept. 19, 1994, with U.S. troops already airborne, Haitian military dictator Gen. Raul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to step down. The intervening force, became an overseeing force and more than 21,000 service members from a number of countries helped with the restoration of the constitutional government. Aristide and other elected officials in exile returned to Haiti Oct. 15.

Haiti's political leaders failed to come to agreement on a prime minister and failed to resolve the contested April 1997 elections. That crisis turned from bad to worse when the parliament voted in November 1998 to extend its own term and President Preval responded by refusing to recognize the decision. A constitutional crisis erupted in January 1999 when President Preval refused to recognize the vote and announced he would rule by electoral decree. The parliament responded by charging Preval with trying to rule as a dictator. Haiti had been without a prime minister since June 1997, and the parliament had failed to ratify a successor. Eventually, the dispute was resolved after negotiations between an informal group of political parties called the Espace de Concertation.

Political instability grew throughout fall 2003. On February 29, 2004 Aristide submitted his resignation as President of Haiti and flew on a chartered plane to the Central African Republic. Boniface Alexandre, President (chief justice) of Haiti's Supreme Court, assumed office as interim President in accordance with Haiti's constitution. On recommendation from the Council of Elders, the President chose Gerard Latortue as interim Prime Minister.

As in many developing countries, radio reaches the widest audience in Haiti. Estimates vary, but more than 300 radio stations are believed to broadcast throughout the country. Talk show programs serve as one of the few ways in which ordinary Haitians can speak out about politics and the government. A law passed in 1997 declares the airwaves to be the property of the government, but at least 133 unlicensed radio stations operate freely. In addition, there are 50 community-based stations throughout the country.

Television is available only to a minority of relatively wealthy households. Two television stations serve approximately 42,000 households that have television receivers. Satellite stations from foreign countries are available in Haiti, but only to those with the expensive equipment necessary to receive them. Haiti's three French-language newspapers have a total circulation of less than 20,000. Small, Creole-language newspapers are printed irregularly.

The year 2010 was a presidential election year in Haiti. Congresswoman Maxine Waters' letter released December 23, 2009 to René Préval - President of Haiti, stated "concerns about the decision of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to exclude more than a dozen political parties from the Parliamentary elections scheduled for February and March 2010. I am concerned that these exclusions would violate the right of Haitian citizens to vote in free and fair elections and that it would be a significant setback to Haiti's democratic development."

On 15 January 2010 controversial former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said he would like to return home to assist in rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. The former Haitian leader lives in forced exile in South Africa. Mr. Aristide said he and his family were ready to leave for Haiti at a moment's notice. "As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time, to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country," he said. "Moving from misery to poverty with dignity." Aristide had been in exile in South Africa since being ousted in a bloody rebellion in February 2004. He was hastily flown out of Haiti in a U.S. aircraft and said later that he had been kidnapped, an allegation the United States rejected. Aristide did not offer any indication of when or how he could return to Haiti but said friends have offered him the means to do so.

By mid-2010 the legislature had almost entirely dissolved after members' terms had expired because the January earthquake forced the cancellation of February 2010 legislative elections. President Preval's five-year term ends in February 2011; an attempt to prolong his term by several months if elections were not held resulted in protesters clashing with police in front of the ruins of the presidential palace. Préval said unofficially that he wanted elections on 28 November 2010, but he had not yet issued the necessary decree.

The country held two rounds of presidential and legislative elections on November 28, 2010, and March 20, 2011. On February 03, 2011 Haitian election officials said former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel Martelly would face off in the presidential runoff election set for 20 March 2011. The electoral commission's announcement meant ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin is out of the race. The long-awaited definitive results of the disputed November 2010 election differed from preliminary results, which put Celestin in the runoff with Manigat. Riots broke out in December 2010 after the commission announced that Martelly was eliminated. Martelly's supporters accused the government of vote rigging. The Organization of American States recommended in a recent report that Martelly be placed in the runoff instead of Celestin, citing irregularities and fraud in the balloting. The United States urged Haitian authorities to follow the OAS recommendation.

Adding to political tensions in Haiti was the surprise return of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier after 25 years in exile. A second exiled Haitian leader, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, also contributed to the political suspense, after the government said it would grant him a diplomatic passport to return to Haiti.

In a second round of elections, voters elected President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011. The former pop star, 50, known to Haitians as "Sweet Micky" pledged to build a better and stronger Haiti, to end injustice and restore order. And seeking to reassure foreign donors and potential investors, Martelly promised guarantees for investments and private property. He took over from Rene Preval, who took off the blue and red presidential sash at the swearing-in ceremony and gave it to the Senate President who put it on Martelly. This is the first democratic transfer of power from one party to another in Haiti's turbulent history.

International observers considered the presidential and parliamentary elections generally free and fair, despite some allegations of fraud and irregularities. The government did not hold partial Senate and local elections originally scheduled for October 2011, then envisaged for November 2012, because of an impasse between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches over the proper procedure to establish a Permanent Electoral Council.

More than three months after taking office, Haiti's parliament refused to confirm President Martelly's first two nominees for prime minister. The delay in filling the post stalled earthquake reconstruction efforts. On 06 September 2011 President Martelly selected Garry Conille for the post. His third nominee for prime minister, Conille served as an aide to former U.S. President Bill. Clinton in his work as UN special envoy for Haiti. Shortly before his February 2012 resignation, Prime Minister Gary Conille released the results of an internal government audit detailing irregularities in post-earthquake emergency reconstruction contracts that then prime minister Jean Max Bellerive awarded between 2010 and 2011. Conille resigned from the post in February after repeated clashes with Martelly.

Conille's sudden resignation, just months after taking office, brought the government to a standstill, as Haiti's prime minister acts as the day-to-day head of government. The political crisis has kept foreign donors from following through on pledges to contribute to Haiti's reconstruction efforts. Haitian lawmakers confirmed Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe as the country's new prime minister, ending a lengthy political stalemate that has stalled reconstruction efforts from the 2010 earthquake. The Chamber of Deputies, Haiti's lower house of parliament, confirmed President Michel Martelly's nomination of Lamothe on May 03, 2012 by a vote of 62-3.

Haiti's political situation has improved in recent years, but remains fragile. The uncertainty that periodic vacancies in the prime minister’s position, cabinet changes, and infighting in Parliament created has hindered both reconstruction efforts and passage of important legislation. However, political violence is rare, and recent statistics suggest increasing capacity of law enforcement officials to deter and prosecute violent crime.

There have been no recent cases of political groups targeting foreign projects and/or installations. Historically, and continuing into 2012, politically motivated civil disorder, such as periodic demonstrations and labor strikes, sometimes interrupted normal business operations. Land invasions by squatters are a problem in both urban and rural areas, and requests for help to law enforcement authorities often go unanswered.

Demonstrations are frequent in Port-au-Prince and other outlying areas for various reasons, to include dissatisfication of infrastructure and utilities to disapproval of Haitian government entities or UN presence. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and innocent bystanders or travelers can be caught up in a clash, rock throwing, and tire burning road blocks between demonstrators and the HNP.

Violent political protests occur regularly in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city. These protests have been frequent, averaging multiple incidents per week since mid-2009 and with 360 total in 2011. The demonstrations have been motivated by a wide-variety of political and social movements, ranging from minimum wage to school curriculum to the presence of UN forces in the country to cholera response and the Haitian presidential elections. They share a common trend in that protestors are quick to barricade streets and regularly stone the windows of passing motorists’ vehicles.

The constitution requires that, following local and municipal elections, local officials must hold a series of indirect elections to staff departmental organs of self-government and an interdepartmental council to advise the national government and nominate candidates for the Permanent Electoral Council (CEP). The law requires that the three branches of the national government select from among these nominees the council’s nine members. These indirect elections have not taken place since the constitution was written; however, after promulgating a set of amendments to the constitution in May 2012, President Martelly initiated a new process to create a CEP, in which each branch of the national government--executive, parliament, and judiciary--would directly choose its own three representatives to sit on the council.

Widespread allegations of executive meddling in the judicial branch nominations to the CEP erupted in July and immediately gridlocked Parliament’s selection process. In October the CSPJ selected three new CEP nominees, but their status remained uncertain as the previously selected trio refused to cede their positions. After numerous failed attempts to find a political compromise, the executive branch and the Parliament agreed to form a negotiating committee in November 2012 to deal with lingering issues.

Thousands of Haitians took to the streets on November 18, 2013 calling for President Martelly to resign. It was the largest anti-government protest since Martelly took office in May 2011, surpassing manifestations in May 2013 when deposed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare court appearance.

As of early 2014 the balloting for one-third of Haiti’s 30-member Senate had been delayed since May 2012, while municipal elections had been delayed since April 2011. Under the mediation of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti (CEH), on 04 February 2014 the political parties, despite deep divisions, finally decided that the elections combined, will not be organized by the Transitional College of the Permanent Electoral Council (CTCEP), but by a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Sectors most favorable to the Government not only want elections in 2014 for the renewal of senators whose term had expired, but also that these elections combine the renewal of the second third of the Senate whose term will expire in January 2015. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said 6 February 2014 "When it comes to elections, we want to see elections that are free, fair and transparent, that allow Haitians to express their views as part of the political process and that provide the political stability that is critical for Haiti’s continued progress."

The president serves a five-year term and may not serve consecutive terms. The president may only have two non-sequential terms.




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