Seeking an 'Even Playing Field': Washington and UN Work to Undermine Fanmi Lavalas

As Haiti’s legislative run-off elections approach, it is worthwhile to review elements of Washington’s campaign to build the vote in favor of its local client parties. This “democracy promotion” – which is anything but that – is strategically critical to winning the Haitian parliament, with which President-elect René Préval will name the new prime minister, Haiti’s most powerful executive post. In the years leading up to Haiti’s 2006 presidential and legislative elections, whose second round are now set for April 21, the International Republican Institute (IRI) helped form and coach three coalitions of right wing and social-democratic parties, which were all partisans of the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his democratically elected Fanmi Lavalas (FL) government.

IRI’s goal was the “strengthening [of] democratic political parties,” according to an October 2004 IRI document I obtained through a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  But in the past, as pointed out in Irwin Stotzky’s Silencing The Guns in Haiti, the IRI proposed “leadership training exclusively for non-Lavalas centrist political party representatives,” considering supporters of Lavalas as “undemocratic.”  All of the client parties trained and facilitated by the IRI were arrayed against the FL in the Democratic Convergence political front, supporting the 2004 coup.

Nonetheless, IRI had a hand in merging a rump faction of former FL leaders into a coalition with the Movement for the Installation for Democracy in Haiti (MIDH) of Marc Bazin, whose ill-fated campaign as a fictitious “Lavalas” presidential candidate netted him only 0.68% of the recent February 7 vote.  According to interviews conducted by a Canadian journalist Anthony Fenton, the IRI was involved in meetings to merge the rump “Lavalas” supporters of Bazin and MIDH.  FOIA discoveries by researcher Jeremy Bigwood have, in the past, also indicated that Marc Bazin was involved in meetings with IRI prior to the 2004 coup.  Numerous foreign press reports leading up to the January 2006 election (NPR, LA Times, etc),  falling for the IRI's attempts at dividing up Haiti's largest social and political movement into various factions, touted Bazin as "representing Lavalas".

The IRI with numerous grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-official foundation, which carries out Washington’s “democratization” programs in nations around the globe – working to promote candidates and parties that further U.S. strategic interests.  IRI has worked continuously to undermine democracy in Haiti, as made clear in the New York Times article "Mixed U.S. Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos" (January 29, 2006).  IRI’s Democratic Party counter-part at the NED is the National Democratic Institute (NDI). In addition to other funding, the IRI and NDI have a joint $5.7 million contract in Haiti for 2002-2006 with USAID.  Fabiola Cordove, a program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington D.C., recently explained that, “Aristide really had 70% of the popular support and then the 120 other parties had the thirty per cent split in one hundred and twenty different ways, which is basically impossible to compete [with]."[1]

Meanwhile, through another FOIA request, I have learned that the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID) recently funneled $3 million through the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to provide “logistical support to democratic political parties during the 2005 electoral campaign.” According to the released USAID document, USAID and UNOPS “invited the democratic parties” – again no mention of who the “undemocratic” parties are – “to attend an information meeting on Friday, November 4 [2005].” At that meeting the parties were asked to “sign memoranda of understanding” that would allow them to use SUVs and minivans “for outreach and election-monitoring activities in outlying cities.” The USAID money also went to “purchasing media time for campaign messages” and the providing “shirts, posters, campaign materials, etc.” as well as the all important “operational expenses for political party representatives” monitoring the elections. All this for “democratic parties” who came to an “understanding” with USAID and UNOPS.  USAID’s Haiti Country Team selected the “democratic and law-abiding political parties and coalitions... in consultation with” IRI and NDI.  According to the document, the $3 million was to be disbursed from August 22 through December 31, 2005 “with possibility for extension... due to election delays.”

Reportedly, René Préval's Lespwa party refused at least some of the UNOPS/USAID support.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Lavalas Family party were jailed or exiled by the de facto government. With millions going to help rival political parties in Haiti, it is no wonder that USAID says that its UNOPS project would help "even the playing field for the upcoming elections."

It is also interesting the importance that IRI gave to helping create a “socialist” coalition between the Struggling Peoples Organization (OPL) of Paul Denis, the National Progressive Revolutionary Haitian Party (PANPRA) of Serges Gilles, the National Congress of Democratic Movements (KONAKOM) of Victor Benoit and Micha Gaillard, and Ayiti Kapab.

The OPL's Paul Denis surely had a suspicion that his IRI and USAID support was not going to put him in the lead. Just before the election, he “denounced what he termed the lack of determination by the Provisional Electoral Council to make corrections to the electoral process before February 7, 2006, the date of the first round of the presidential and legislative elections,” the Haitian Press Agency (AHP) reported. “The OPL provided an upbeat assessment of [Denis’s] electoral campaign and considered that the failure to regularize the situation will result in a low voter turnout, which could in turn lead to doubts about the legitimacy of the results of the election and a new confrontation in Haiti. Mr. Denis said he feels assured of victory, but he regrets that his advice was not taken into account by the actors involved in the electoral process.”

Here is an extract from the IRI documents my FOIA request released: "Since 2002, IRI has formulated seminars, targeted at women and youth from political parties and civil society, on campaign management, political party structure, fundraising, polling, political communication, platform development and the uses of Internet Technology to strengthen political parties. . . From July 31 to August 1, 2004, leaders of left of center parties, Ayiti Kapab, KONAKOM, OPL, and PANPRA met to discuss ways to accelerate a merge and the various techniques needed to advance the goal at the municipal level. At the end of the session, they put in place a work plan for the departments and municipalities to implement the merger of the four parties, now called the Groupe Socialiste. . . IRI is still working with the Christian democratic parties for a similar coalition. . . IRI's information technology trainings have helped political parties create their own websites:. . . OPL. . . GFCD. . . MDN. . . Generation 2004."

The Haiti Democracy Project, an elite-funded think tank, put on its website an interview between pro-coup journalist Nancy Roc and Paul Denis. In the interview, Denis discusses the OPL's role in Democratic Convergence’s campaign against Haiti’s democratically elected government: "We had a Convergence which gathered parties from the left and the right, but we were joined together around the same objective: the fight against Aristide and for his departure." (translation)

This is the kind of “democratic and law-abiding” party that the IRI and USAID are spending millions to support.


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[1]Anthony Fenton, Declassified Documents: National Endowment for Democracy FY2005, Narco News, 05828/741


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