Mark Weisbrot: US pressure forcing election runoff only with candidates they favor
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On January 30, after doing a round of Sunday morning talk shows, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jumped on a plane and went to Haiti. But that’s in the midst of the Egyptian crisis. One wonders why. The next day, the Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement which for the first time departed from Obama administration foreign policy. They called for all-new elections in Haiti–not the position of the American government. Now joining us to talk about what’s going on in Haiti and why all this matters so much to the American administration is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. He also writes a regular column for The Guardian newspaper. Thank you for joining us.
MARK WEISBROT, CODIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So what’s going on?
WEISBROT: Well, for one thing, the United States used the Organization of American States (OAS) to actually change the results of the first round of Haiti’s presidential election.
JAY: Okay. So why?
WEISBROT: Well, on November 28, Haiti had an election, which was the first round of its presidential election. If nobody gets 50 percent, then they have to have a second round. So there were three candidates that finished ahead of everyone else, and the top two were a former first lady, Mirlande Manigat; and Jude Celestin, who was the pro-government candidate.
JAY: And was the same party, essentially, that Rene Preval, the current president–
WEISBROT: That’s right.
JAY: –is from, and who is kind of considered a little left of center.
WEISBROT: That’s right. And probably more importantly, he’s kind of fallen out of favor with the United States government over the last couple of years.
JAY: So one could think Rene Preval’s chosen successor may not be so acceptable to the–certainly to the US and some of the countries in the OAS.
WEISBROT: Well, certainly some elements within the US government. The third position was Michel Martelly, who is a popular singer. And it was very close, and there was a lot of irregularities. So Martelly’s people took to the streets. And the government of Haiti was kind of pressured to allow the Organization of American States to come in and take a look at the elections and issue a report, which they did some weeks later. And what the OAS decided was to reverse the results. They put Martelly in second place and Celestin in third place, and therefore the government candidate wouldn’t go to the second round of the elections.
JAY: Okay. So, first of all, what was their basis for doing that? And two, since when does the OAS get to decide anything about what happens inside one of the country’s elections? But start with number one: why did they do it?
WEISBROT: Well, that’s a very good question. The OAS was really acting on behalf of the United States and Canada and France. Those are its main allies. And, in fact, one of the things that President Preval pointed out was that six out of the seven experts–and this is the Organization of American States–were from the United States, Canada, and France, which–by the way, France is not even a full member of the OAS.
JAY: And just to remind everybody, these are the countries that more or less organized the kidnapping and exit of the previous president, Aristide–Canada, France, United States.
WEISBROT: That’s right. So the whole thing was suspect. I should also say that the first round of the election was of questionable legitimacy to begin with, because they excluded the largest political party or the most popular political party in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, from appearing on the ballot.
JAY: The party of Aristide.
WEISBROT: The party of the president that they overthrew, yes, in 2004, which is Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And, you know, that’s kind of like having an election in the United States without the Democratic Party. So it was not surprising that about three-quarters of the population didn’t even vote in the first round. And that’s–you know, they vote in Haiti. I mean, in prior elections, you know, you’ve had 65 percent turnouts, even when there’s no president on the ballot. In fact, we went back and looked at the last 60 years of presidential elections in all of the Americas, including Haiti, and we couldn’t find any election with that low of a turnout where there was a president on the ballot.
JAY: So let’s assume even if there were regularities, and the OAS comes in and looks at it, even if they find that it’s suspect, the results are suspect, who the heck is the OAS to reverse the order? Like, why does Preval go along with this?
WEISBROT: Well, they put enormous pressure on Haiti. I mean, Susan Rice, our ambassador to the UN, stood up and basically threatened Haiti that aid could be cut off if they didn’t accept the OAS changing the result of their elections. And France made strong statements. They even got the UN to say something. But, interestingly, they couldn’t get the OAS itself to back up the mission’s report and the mission’s recommendations, and that’s because of the left-of-center governments in South America and the rest of Latin America.
JAY: I see. The mission is populated mostly by these northern, Western governments, but they still have to get the OAS itself, as an organization, to endorse it, and that majority of that is the Latin American governments, and they didn’t endorse it, you’re saying.
WEISBROT: They couldn’t agree, they couldn’t agree on the US resolution, so they passed a resolution that very specifically did not endorse the recommendation to change the election results. With regard to the basis for doing this, we did two reports on this. We did one report where we looked at all 11,181 tally sheets–which the OAS didn’t do, by the way. Ours was much more thorough. And we found that they had no statistical basis whatsoever for changing the election result.
JAY: So what’s at stake here? You’ve got Baby Doc, former dictator, comes back to Haiti. And now, if I understand correctly, Rene Preval has said they’re going to allow Aristide back to Haiti. But the fight, is it now going to be, after this Haitian disaster–and continuing disaster, because the Haitian economy, if I understand it, has not recovered at all; in fact, many of the people living in these camps are living worse now than they were a few weeks after the earthquake, we’ve been told. So there’s a big fight about whither the Haitian state. So give us the big picture here again, and tell us about Aristide coming back if that’s true.
WEISBROT: Well, the big picture, it’s hard for people to understand it. And people ask me all the time: why do they care about Haiti? You know, it’s such a poor country. But the United States government doesn’t look at it that way. They look at it, this is a country whose government we can control if we play our cards right. I mean, they’ve overthrown the elected president of Haiti twice already, once in 1991 when the United States was implicated because the people who overthrew the government were later found to be paid by the US Central Intelligence Agency, and in 2004 it was done pretty much in broad daylight. They took the president right out of the country. And, by the way, they threatened President Preval with the same thing. That was one of the threats, according to Amy Wilentz, writing in The LA Times. They actually threatened him–and there were other witnesses as well–that they would take him out of the country the same way they did to Aristide. So that was another reason why they gave in on the election results. So why do they care? It’s just one more country where they want to control the government, and they figure this is a country that’s small enough and poor enough that we ought to be able to tell them what to do.
JAY: Now, is it true that Aristide is–they’ve said Aristide can come back? ‘Cause the US is–and France and Canada for that matter, too, have all been trying to keep Aristide out.
WEISBROT: Well, that’s right. And as you mentioned, Hillary Clinton went to Haiti in the middle of her worst foreign-policy crisis, and one of the reasons she went there was to pressure the Haitian government not to let Aristide back in the country. And she lost that battle, because they gave him his passport. And that shows you, I think, on the more optimistic side, that the hemisphere has really changed. If the Haitian government wants to be independent of the United States, for the first time, I think, in the last, you know, at least 20 years it has a much better chance of doing so because of the changes in the hemisphere, because, you know, Venezuela, for example, has pledged more money to Haiti than the United States has for their reconstruction, and other–there are other governments as well. So it’s not that they wouldn’t like to get US aid, but they’re going to get the private aid anyway, inasmuch as it comes. And so they don’t have to listen to everything that the US government tells them to do.
JAY: So to get this clear, Congressional Black Caucus, and I guess other people, are saying the demand is open elections, new elections, and everybody gets to run, including Aristide’s former party.
WEISBROT: Yeah. That’s, I think, one of the main reasons why the State Department didn’t want to have new elections, even though that was the demand in Haiti, that was the demand from the Black Caucus. They didn’t want it, because that question would come up: why are we excluding the most popular political party? And now there’s more of a spotlight, so it’s a little harder for them to get away with what they got away with on November 28.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
WEISBROT: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And we’ll continue to cover what happens in Haiti. We’ll let you know who actually gets to run in the next Haitian elections. Thanks again for joining us.
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