As Haitians vote for their next president, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network Ezili Danto and IJDH attorney Nicole Phillips discuss the past and present influence of the international community in election results
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. On Sunday Haitians head to the polls to select their next president in the first round of elections. But now there’s evidence of U.S. interference in the last presidential election back in 2010. Recently-released emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server revealed details of how U.S. officials worked closely with the Haitian private sector as they forced Haitian authorities to change the results of the first round of presidential elections in late 2010. Eventually the U.S. government ended up supporting the current president, Michel Martelly. Here to discuss the influence of the international community are our two guests. Joining us from New York is Ezili Danto. She is the president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. And joining us from Haiti is Nicole Phillips. She is a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Thank you both for joining us. So Nicole, I’ll start off with you. What do the Clinton emails reveal about the last round of elections? And was this event an election or a selection process at the end of the day? NICOLE PHILLIPS: Well, I think most Haitians would say that the last elections were a selection, not a fair election. I think that the emails showed manipulation by the Clinton administration. We knew this in 2010 and 2011. We witnessed this happening. These emails just confirm what many of us already knew. In the first round of elections the last two candidates were considered the winners by the electoral council, and the Clinton administration intervened. Brought in a delegation from the organization of Americans. [Inaud.] And did a recount of the vote, and then reversed the results so that only one of the original candidates, the second one, is now the president, Martelly went into the, into the runoff elections in 2011. Of course, there was many problems with this. But one of the problems is that the recount by the OAS was no more legitimate than the original count by the electoral council. So neither of those vote tabulations really had any statistical basis for them. Both–and the elections had so many irregularities that really the only answer would have been to have new elections. But instead what the Clinton administration did was manipulate the election results so that the, so that they took out one of the candidates and put in another candidate. These emails revealed their desire to want the president at the time, Rene Preval, to step down. They wanted him out. And the candidate that they excluded was his candidate in his political party, a family member. So that, I think those emails sort of backed up our theory that the administration was clear on what they wanted after the first round of elections, which was to replace President Preval’s candidate with President Martelly. DESVARIEUX: Ezili, you’ve also written about how the U.S. buried official records which gave President Martelly–essentially wasn’t a U.S. citizen. And if he was, that would have disqualified him from running constitutionally, he could not run for president. So can you speak to that a bit, and what proof do we have of those type of allegations? DANTO: Do Hillary Clinton and [Cheryl] Mills handing Haiti a different result than was handed to them by the [inaud.]. Haitians have said, and Senator–there’s a senator who’s running for president right now, he’s called Sen. Moise, he was dealing with, with this whole issue of whether Mr. Martelly was ever even qualified. And frankly, Kenneth Merten, who’s a U.S. ambassador, when this thing came out they actually said that he was not qualified. There is–I have on my website right now a Haitian radio station who says that their source is from a high level up U.S. official. And also we know that Martelly actually voted in Miami. So you can’t vote unless you are a citizen of the country. So we have some of those public records. But Kenneth Merten, the ambassador to Haiti, when Haitians after this, this amazing fraudulent elections, where by 12:00 on that day of that election all the candidates, including Mr. Martelly, and Mme. Manigat and Jude Celestin, said that it was so fraudulent that they wanted it annulled. But the [UN] went to these candidates, Mme. Manigat and Mr. Martelly, and told them, don’t pull out of the elections. Each of–they told them each of them had won. So it was that divide and conquer, so the opportunistic part of these–Mrs. Manigat and Martelly won. And then you had this travesty of now what we’re dealing with, which is Martelly running the country for the last five years by decree, without [parliament] and putting out all sorts of decrees, taking Haiti’s offshore islands. He’s added 19 new deputies to a parliament that he never used during a time he was–the whole time. So in terms of the evidence that we have, we’re asking the United States how could they allow Ambassador Kenneth Merten–we have charged, the Haitian Lawyers Leadership has charged based on the information we have, that Kenneth Merten, actually the ambassador to the United States, was dishonest and said that Mr. Martelly was not a U.S. citizen. We know the–so the official records either had to be changed, or they have been submerged. DESVARIEUX: All right. So with all this information, Nicole, how can Haitian people actually have faith in the democratic process? What do you think needs to happen in order for there to be free and fair elections in Haiti? PHILLIPS: Well, it’s of course a great question, and we should have been talking about this question 18 months ago. Because that’s what really it would have taken to have truly free and fair elections, and even I think some would argue pretty rightly it’s impossible to have elections when you do have the international community so present in this country. That’s something I think a lot of Haitians feel. In order to have fair elections what we’re sort of hoping will happen is that the violence will be minimized so that people can vote. I think a lot of Haitians are, see so many obstacles to voting on Sunday. Last round of elections on August 9 there were at least, by some civil society observers, there were serious irregularities in at least 50 percent of the voting stations. One out of two voting stations. I mean, that’s enormous. There was pre-election violence, there was violence on election day. I think at least five people died on election day. There was violence after elections. There has been violence last week, in the last few weeks, of people being assassinated. So this is all posing a problem for Haitians wanting to vote. This of course makes them fearful of coming out and voting. It even makes them fearful of being election observers. And it’s having the intended impact. A lot of the investigations showed that President Martelly’s political party was in the majority of the cases responsible for the violence. And yet of course the justice system is not pursuing the acts of violence. Some of the candidates were disqualified. That was a great step forward. But we haven’t seen the pursuit of the remedies, judicial remedies, against them as they should be. So that’s sending a clear message out to local candidates and their supporters, that violence wins in these elections. Another issue was, another obstacle for Haitians to vote, was the interference of the international community, as we spoke about. Haitians know–they didn’t need Clinton’s emails to know the interference of the international community, in particular the United States government in the results of the 2010 elections. Another fatal flaw in those elections that the United States spent over $15 million on in 2010 was that they excluded the majority of the opposition party, at least 15 political parties, including [inaud.]. So even beginning–and regardless of what happened in 2010, on day one they weren’t going to be fair elections. And the United States government paid for those, meaning they thought that was fine for democracy in Haiti. And then they said at the end of these elections, this was a great step forward for democracy in Haiti. In August 9 elections, like I mentioned, there were so many irregularities and violence, and what we saw at the end was a delegation from the Organization of American States, a delegation from the European Union, saying there were some problems in these elections, but by and large they were a good step forward for democracy in Haiti, whereas we here in Haiti thought that they were terrible, and not–lacked any legitimacy at all. So there is this disconnect. DESVARIEUX: And some people would even argue, Nicole, that there can’t be legitimacy if you have the UN and other non-governmental organizations essentially propping these elections up and conducting them. So Ezili, I know you make that argument. So if you cannot have free and fair elections with these groups involved, I guess someone could argue, though, how do you expect Haitians to pay for the elections? DANTO: Well, well, we have actually made the one–when President Aristide, right after [Duvalie], Haiti did throw elections. They did throw elections in 2001. The international community has an economic interest in Haiti, and that economic interest and that strategic interest is hidden by the media, who refuses to look at the fact that Haiti has the largest cache of gold, $20 billion they say, but the geologists in Haiti says it’s like, about $100 billion. So we’re talking about real economic interest. Deepwater ports. The United States after they took out President Aristide built its largest embassy in the Western hemisphere in Haiti. They have over 1,000 people in that embassy, in tiny Haiti. So there’s no way they’re going away. You’ve got to understand that Hillary Clinton left the Benghazi, that’s the Benghazi crisis, to go to Haiti and basically strongarm the Haitians at the [CAP] and basically said, you know, I’m going to take away–we’re going to take away your visas if you don’t step back and let us do what we want, and put Martelly in office. Now, at the Haitian Lawyers Leadership and the Free Haiti movement, we have been struggling forever to let everyone understands that the United States is in Haiti because of its oil, of its gold, of its strategic interest within that Windward Passage, next to Cuba and Venezuela. They have set up bases. And all of this is being done under the auspices of the UN and the humanitarian front, which is what everyone wants to talk about. So essentially at the Haitian Lawyers Leadership and the Free Haiti movement, we’ve basically been–this is our position. Election under occupation is not legitimate, and Haiti cannot have free elections when it’s being financed by foreigners, when the NGOs are put into areas in Haiti to influence the people, starve the ones that don’t have, have criticism against what we call the legal bandits. Martelly’s whole crew. The legal bandits. Kidnapping, drug trafficking. And right now one of our biggest concerns as human rights lawyers is that this travesty that the United States is a facsimile of democracy, that the UN, the United Nations, and the OAS, and this core group of internationals, is putting on Haitians’ throat, is not worth one life. Not one Haitian life. Because it’s not about us, it’s about the international interests in Haiti. It’s about Bill Clinton’s luxury hotels, sweatshops for South Koreans. It’s not about Haitians. It’s about mining, Canadian mining. We have issues, real issues, like cholera. Like the deportations that’s happening to 80,000 Haitians at the Dominican border. We have real issues like hunger. Like food sovereignty. But the United States only cares about these elections because it needs to have a, a face for what it’s doing in Haiti. So right now, that face is Michel Martelly. But it’s–we have, I think it’s about 6,000-8,000 UN troops in Haiti right now. And their purpose is supposed to be about stability, about the rule of law. About human rights. And yet they’re in cahoots with all the illegalities of the United States. And recently we’ve had all of the voting fraud, and the UN as the arbiter of human rights is participating in this–as a matter of fact it’s trained the special units that are killing the people in the populist areas who have been really against the fact that [inaud.]. So where is the UN? DESVARIEUX: I hear you, I hear you. But we’re going to pause the conversation here, and in part two let’s discuss some of these top candidates. And whether the Haitian electorate actually has much of a choice in their candidates. So Ezili Danto and Nicole Phillips, thank you both for joining us. PHILLIPS: Thank you. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. We’re continuing our conversation about the Haitian elections. Now joining us is Ezili Danto. She’s the president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. And also joining us from Haiti is Nicole Phillips. She’s a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Thank you both for joining us. EZILI DANTO: Thank you. NICOLE PHILLIPS: Thank you. DESVARIEUX: We have 54 candidates running for president, and you know, people are talking–we can’t talk about all of them, so we’re only going to talk about the top candidates, and specifically about their platforms. Of course we have the current president, Michel Martelly’s party, Tet Kale. But he cannot run, according to Haitian law. You cannot serve two consecutive terms. So instead we have Jovenel Moise, who’s representing Martelly’s Tet Kale Party. You’ve been there–you’re actually currently there on the ground, Nicole. What’s the sense of Mr. Moise’s popularity, and can you talk a little bit about his platform? PHILLIPS: Sure. You know, one of the things you can tell about candidates here is the amount of campaign posters that are everywhere. And of course, that is a little reflection of popularity. It will probably be more of a reflection of the amount of money in the campaign. And by far, Moise has the most campaign posters around. And they’re bright colored pink, which is the color for President Martelly, and his political party, Tet Kale. I happened to pass by a meeting last Sunday evening, I believe it was, in the main stadium down in Port-au-Prince that was a rally for Moise, and there were thousands and thousands of people that were there. He certainly had some kind of popularity. What I sort of hear around, though, is that oftentimes popularity with presidents isn’t necessarily a reflection of their political platform but more a reflection of a perception or even a reality of money flowing out. So people paying off people to vote. Candidates paying off people to vote in one way or the other. Giving out t-shirts, giving out bottles of water. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. So many people live on, 70-80 percent of people live on $2 a day or less. So things to us that might sound trivial are, you know, actually are quite important to others. So it’s quite easy to buy off candidates–I’m sorry, to buy off voters. And so in terms of political platforms, quite frankly, I think these candidates have been a little bit light on their political platform. It’s not necessarily–there hasn’t been a lot of ideology that has been talked about. He, President Martelly, is sort of right of center, and we expect that Moise would also be right of center. Certainly open to business. This has been something that I think was attractive to the U.S. government in the past by President Martelly. What that means is sort of a little bit lax on environmental regulations. There’s proposed mining law that would open up, open up Haiti to exploration and mining of gold. There’s $20 billion worth of gold assets, as an estimate. So American companies, or international companies are wanting to get into that. So these types of development, I think, are on the platform for this candidate. DESVARIEUX: All right. Ezili, I know you are certainly not a fan of the Tet Kale party. Their human rights records, rule of law. I mean, the list can go on and on. But as a challenge, there are some that see the Martelly government as being quite friendly to the diaspora. Offering up dual citizenship. There’s also their fight against hunger Aba Grangou program, and more of an effort to communicate with Haitians through social media, for example. Do you recognize that there’s some progress under the Martelly administration? DANTO: Absolutely not. Mr. Martelly’s program has hurt the local Haitians. The Haitian diaspora is pretty clueless with regards to what’s going on in Haiti. Essentially we have a situation under Mr. Martelly where there was this idea that Haitians from the diaspora could actually vote. This was a hoax, actually. It was a way for Martelly to maybe raise money in the diaspora. Because essentially at the end of the day that law–and that law, Mr. Martelly, the only things Haitians of the diaspora can do is become mayors. And what Mr. Martelly did was destroy that possibility by basically not having–appointing all the mayors himself. So I don’t know why the Haitian diaspora is so in love with Mr. Martelly. But I think part of it is racism. Part of it is the fact that, you know, he brings out this picture. The United States approves of him. It’s sort of this white supremacy, mulatto, lovely–it’s okay, as long as the white guy loves us. But essentially for the diaspora he’s done the worst thing possible, because the only aid to Haiti, the only direct aid to Haiti, is the $2 billion per year remittances of the diaspora that goes directly into the hands of their family. Mr. Martelly has put together a precedent that is so staggeringly dangerous. He has taxed the diaspora. Now, that means that he has taken every phone call we make–now, we’re already discriminated in terms of–compared to other transfers. Haiti pays a lot more than the Dominican Republic. For instance, Haiti pays a lot more–to make a phone call to Haiti costs more than to make a phone call to India. But Mr. Martelly, along with USAID and his bosses at the State Department, came up with a way where they, they take $1.50 on every transfer we send to our family in Haiti. Plus, they take $0.05 on every phone call added. So that’s not good for the diaspora. DESVARIEUX: And the guise was that it was going to support education, Ezili. That was sort of the, the way that they made it passable, or I should say, the way the diaspora could swallow taking on such a tax was that it was supposed to go to public education. DANTO: Yes. And the record shows the educational level of folks is worse in terms of kids going to school this last September under Martelly. No one knows where those millions of dollars have been. There’s no transparency, there’s no accountability. We don’t know. We are giving our money. I have an office in Haiti, I have a project in Haiti. So every time we spend money, we send money, to projects in Haiti we’re being taxed. DESVARIEUX: Absolutely. Absolutely. Nicole, let’s talk a little bit about the rule of law. I know your organization works specifically on this issue. Can you talk about the Martelly Tet Kale party record in terms of the rule of law? Have things improved under Martelly’s watch? PHILLIPS: It’s almost like he was consulting on how can he undermine the rule of law from day one in office all the way through to the end, creating more and more of a dictatorship as the years went on. It was so perfectly played. In the beginning when he came in in 2011, he was sort of shut down on journalists. Journalists, people would come to press conferences. He or his staff or security would take recording devices from journalists that were [ransacked] and radio stations. And people that they didn’t want to come into the, people that they were trying to retaliate against because they covered something honest about the president. They would exclude them from the presidential palace and wouldn’t allow them press accreditation. I mean, really it’s systematic deprivation of freedom of the press from the very beginning. Then the next phase was cracking down on human rights defenders. Haitian lawyers, Haitian, other leaders of human rights organizations were receiving death threats. Somebody that I work with, Mario [Joseph], there was an announcement on the radio in September of 2012 by the former prosecutor who had been let go, and said that he had been let go because the government had asked him to issue a blank arrest warrant for 30 people, including several lawyers, because–and the conclusion was because of their work as a human rights lawyer. So many different ones, but sort of resulting in the crisis, the political crisis that we have now, which is that there is no sitting parliament because of President Martelly and his administration’s refusal to have elections. The pretext was he would submit names for electoral councils, but for four of those proposals for electoral councils, none of them met any constitutional requirement. So they were rejected. As a result the terms of almost every member of parliament, all local mayors, have been–has termed out. And so the only elected officials you have in the country right now are the president and ten senators. So it is a political crisis. He is now able to run without any checks and balances at all. He has started issuing some decrees that have no–of course haven’t been passed by parliament. And so from beginning to end this has been him trying to get more and more power, and rule alone as a dictator. DESVARIEUX: Ezili, just really briefly, do you see any one of these top candidates presenting a platform that’s in stark contrast to the politics of Michel Martelly’s party? DANTO: The only person–well, yes. What I think your audience has to understand is this is the first time, for instance, that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s political party is actually allowed in elections. But we at the Haitian Leadership actually denounce the fact that president Aristide is endorsing this travesty, especially after the August 9, and especially after what we know about 2010. So essentially, I can tell you a little bit about some of the candidates. But I think to me as an activist, as someone who has watched this for 30 years, there is Moise Jean Charles, who is running for office. He is one of the people amongst the whole group of people who has consistently denounced the UN occupation in Haiti. Consistently, he’s gone to Brazil, he’s gone to other places to denounce it. So in terms of that I would say that he’s close to being someone who understands about Haiti’s sovereignty. He’s fought Martelly more than anybody else. And bar none, all of Martelly’s human rights [stuff]. So I would think that he has, he has a legitimate connection on the ground. But we are under occupation. We know that no matter what happens the United States will pick whoever it wants. And actually, it’s because of that that we denounce the [formula] of our last party and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for using his weight to actually give some legitimacy to this travesty. DESVARIEUX: All right. Ezili Danto, as well as Nicole Phillips, who is joining us from Haiti, thank you both for joining us. DANTO: Thank you. PHILLIPS: Thank you. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.