Mass Demonstrations in Haiti Impose People’s Will

Officials Forced to Acknowledge Majority Vote

René Préval Declared Winner of the Presidency


The following is an edited version of a good summary of the latest events in Haiti. The article, written by Rob Lyon on Feb. 17, 2006, has been edited for Labor Standard. The original article may be seen here.

In the face of mass demonstrations against the fraud in Haiti’s elections the Provisional Electoral Council of Haiti has been forced to declare René Préval the winner and the next president of Haiti.

By Sunday, February 12, as it became increasingly clear that the [Feb. 7] election results were being tampered with, the masses were pouring into the streets demanding that Préval be declared the victor in the elections.

As the mass demonstrations continued on Tuesday [Feb. 14] the Electoral Council and the UN [which has an occupying army in Haiti] were forced to announce that they would investigate the electoral process. On Tuesday evening, thousands of stolen ballots—either blank or filled out as votes for Préval—were found burning in a garbage dump just outside Port-au-Prince, confirming the accusations of fraud. This discovery spurred on the mass demonstrations, and made the masses more determined to drive toward victory.

Imperialists in Retreat

The mass demonstrations, which had paralyzed Port-au-Prince [and other cities, such as Cap-Haitien] for four straight days, terrified the imperialists and enraged the Haitian ruling class. After two long and dark years, the Haitian people have defeated the coup that overthrew Aristide—a crushing blow to the forces of reaction on the island.

On Wednesday, the Brazilian government, which is leading the UN mission [and armed forces] in Haiti, publicly announced that it supported Préval as winner, and brokered a deal with the Electoral Council that would allow him to win.

This is not because the Brazilian state is any nicer than that of the U.S. or any other country, but because Brazil has troops on the ground. The Brazilian state feared the response at home if their troops were seen to be supporting the fraudulent elections and if any serious action were taken against the Haitian masses. The Brazilian leaders fear [mass protest and potential] revolution at home more than they fear revolution in Haiti.

The U.S. government has also been forced to recognize the victory of Préval. This reveals the weakness of imperialism. In fact, it was this weakness in the first place that forced the U.S. and other imperialist powers to agree to elections in Haiti (and in Iraq for that matter). It is public opinion at home—public opinion against war, against occupations, and against dictatorships—that has forced U.S. officials to adopt the awkward and weak idea that they are gallivanting around the globe to “spread democracy.” Public opinion in the imperialist countries will no longer allow the ruling class to run around invading countries and propping up dictatorships. Facing mass demonstrations in Haiti, and the domestic unpopularity of such occupations of foreign countries, the U.S. government is powerless and will now be forced to deal with a Préval presidency—a major blow to U.S. corporate interests in Latin America and the Caribbean.

After a few days of negotiations the Electoral Council decided to simply throw out the 85,000 blank ballots from the total count, which pushed Préval from 48.7% of the total to 51.2%—giving him the 50% plus one needed to avoid a runoff, [a second round in which Preval, favored by the masses, would face the favored candidate of the capitalists, Manigat, who won only 12% in the first round].

[But a second round would have meant renewed possibilities for fraud and manipulation of the vote; or the runoff election could have been called off altogether on one pretext on another.]

We must be clear. The only reason Preval’s victory was officially acknowledged was the pressure of the masses. As we explained in our previous article, the outcome of the election would be decided by mass struggle. (See “Haiti Elections: The Outcome Will Be Decided in the Streets.”)

The Haitian people poured into the streets of Port-au-Prince [and other cities] and demonstrated their power, and at each stage it was this power that conditioned the actions of the imperialists, the ruling class, and the Electoral Council. Out of fear of revolution, the Electoral Council and the UN looked for the quickest possible solution to get the people off the streets and return the situation to “normal.”

By simply throwing out the blank ballots, the imperialists were able to quickly give the Haitian people what they wanted in officially recognizing the genuine victor of the elections, but also avoided answering any difficult questions.

There was no recount or any real investigation into the electoral fraud. It is quite clear that the electoral fraud was widespread, and well organized. This was not just a series of mishaps or random events, but a concerted effort to rig the elections. Haiti has no real tradition of spoiled ballots or protest votes. One newspaper report that “…one source close to the talks said it was impossible that Haitians, who have no tradition of casting blank protest votes, had walked miles and waited hours in line to cast that many unmarked ballots.” Someone was able to have thousands of blank ballots inserted into ballot boxes around the country, diluting Préval’s total.

Then there is the question of the ballots found at the Truitier municipal garbage dump just outside Port-au-Prince. Many questions remain about this, and many people have now descended into conspiracy theories. (For example, one newspaper reported the following: “Several international observers said the ballots might have been deliberately dumped where they would be found to incite violence among Préval supporters and thwart a transfer of power. Some observers didn’t rule out the possibility that hard-core Préval supporters had planted the ballots to support their claims of fraud.”)

In quickly announcing Préval’s victory, the imperialists hope to settle things down and get the masses to go home. They want them off the streets at all costs. It also means that these questions may never be answered. Préval has won, so the question of the fraud now seems irrelevant. The imperialists don’t want to answer questions about fraud and ballot tampering. They want the elections to be over and done with. They would rather deal with a Préval presidency than have the masses on the streets.

Haiti was to be an example to the whole region—especially Venezuela. It was to show the dangers of opposing imperialism, and it was also meant to prove that U.S. imperialism could indeed “build democracy.” But Haiti has turned out to be an example of the opposite kind, and the Haitian masses have joined the Venezuelan masses in proving that imperialism can be resisted. The victory in Haiti can only give the masses of the whole region more confidence in the struggle against imperialism.

Victory for Aristide

The masses in Haiti clearly saw a vote for Préval as a vote for Aristide. Many people, both inside and outside Haiti, view Préval’s victory as a victory for Aristide. Through the mass action of the Haitian people the coup carried out two years ago has been defeated.

Although the U.S. government has officially recognized Préval’s victory and has “welcomed” him as the winner, there are already grumblings that his victory is “a putative victory for Aristide,” and that he represents “Aristidism without Aristide.”

Editorials in U.S. papers are raising fears about the spread of the left in Latin America and the Caribbean, and they are already looking pessimistically toward the probable victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the election in Mexico later this year. Many in the U.S. ruling class fear that Préval “could pose a challenge to U.S. policy” like Hugo Chávez has in Venezuela.

Although the imperialists have resigned themselves temporarily to their setback in Haiti, the Haitian elite have not. They are seething with anger. They hoped for direct political power after the coup—the kind of power they had in the interim government. But all of that is now lost. They have suffered a major defeat, and have achieved none of their goals, into which they have invested so much. After the bosses’ lockouts, electoral boycotts, the arming of the paramilitaries, and the coup which overthrew Aristide, they now find themselves right back where they began. But this does not mean they have suffered a final defeat, or that they will sit around and watch their power disappear. Power has slipped through their fingers and they will be desperate to get it back.

Leslie Manigat, Préval’s leading rival, has denounced Préval’s victory as a “coup d’état through the ballots,” and as “a Machiavellian comedy which ended in the imposition of a winner outside the rules of republican legality and far from the requirements of democracy in a civilized country.” He has also said that Préval’s victory would be “tarnished by the stain of illegitimacy” and that he may challenge the result. Charles Baker, Préval’s second leading rival [and another representative of Haiti’s capitalist minority], has joined in the small chorus of denunciations, and has also said that he may challenge the results. For the moment, faced with the power of the masses, the ruling elite can do nothing. They will bide their time, waiting for an opportunity to strike and exact their revenge against the workers and the poor of Haiti.

Vigilance

The mass demonstrations against the electoral fraud turned into mass celebrations on Thursday [Feb. 16] with the announcement of Préval’s victory. Even though the announcement came in the middle of the night, thousands and thousands of people poured into the streets to celebrate the victory. Even UN troops were affected by the jubilant and euphoric mood. “Jordanian U.N. troops, usually holed up in a sandbag-fortified headquarters or hidden away in menacing armored personnel-carriers on patrol in the streets, took off their helmets and let themselves be seen in what a commander said was a reaction to ‘conditions in the streets.

The bourgeois press is full of quotes that reflect the euphoric mood of the masses. “This gives us hope again. Now there is no more violence.” So-called gang leaders have announced that Préval’s victory “would probably end the violence.” The Haitian people are justifiably happy. Through their determined and heroic actions they won the elections and defeated the coup. But what is needed now is vigilance.

The imperialists have temporarily accepted defeat. But this will only last so long as Préval does exactly what they say. The ruling elite of Haiti have already begun their work to undermine him. Accusations of “coups,” “illegitimacy,” and—of all things—“electoral fraud” [!] from Manigat and Baker are just the beginning. In the face of the movement of the masses, they will confine their counter-revolutionary activities to quiet words and the odd protest. If we remember, this is how the opposition began its reactionary campaign to overthrow Aristide, by claiming fraud in the 2000 senate elections and by boycotting and claiming fraud in Aristide’s election.

Also, there has been no recount [of the Feb. 7 voting]. Préval more than likely received much more than the 51.2% they have granted him. With no recount, and no real idea of how many votes he received, the ruling class in the future may try to use this against him. Préval may have won the elections, but the elections have solved nothing, and have only set the stage for further conflict.

Over time these accusations and denunciations will grow. If Préval makes the imperialists unhappy, if he comes into conflict with them, they will join in the chorus of  denunciations and accusations. In time these accusations may be used to justify his overthrow as well.

It is too early to tell where Préval will go or what he will do. His first problem will be the formation of the government and the composition of the National Assembly. The   elections to the National Assembly were taking place at the same time as the presidential election, yet no results have been published. Many are justifiably wondering if there were irregularities in that vote too.

In any case, Préval’s small L’Espwa (Hope) party is not expected to have a majority in the National Assembly, where he could very well face strong opposition, which will severely weaken his government. This is more than likely one of the main reasons the imperialists have accepted his victory. They have already called for him to include the opposition in his cabinet, to foster “unity.” This will give them a powerful lever to influence his policies.

The opposition knew that it could not defeat Aristide in elections—hence they boycotted the elections [which Aristide won,] then resorted to the coup two years ago. Now the coup has been defeated. The imperialists and Haitian elite have few options before them. With the masses on the streets the ruling class and the imperialists will resort to quieter, parliamentary tricks to try and stop the mass movement and bring Préval under control until such a time that the balance of forces is more favorable to them, when they can strike openly.

However, Préval will be under pressure from both the imperialists and the masses. The masses will demand social policies and improvements in their living standards, and working conditions. Under pressure from the masses Préval could go much further to the left than even he would like to go. However, he will also be under intense pressure from the imperialists and the Haitian ruling class to carry out policies in their favor. The two are mutually exclusive, and Préval’s program is vague at best. All he has really said is that he wants “to introduce free primary education, create jobs, encourage aid and investment, and disarm gang members.”

Préval will not be able to balance between these two irrevocably opposed forces. He will not be able to develop Haiti or provide jobs, schools, roads, and social polices and at the same time receive investment and aid from imperialism.

All history has shown that it is not possible to develop backward countries like Haiti on the basis of capitalism. Even the revolution in St. Domingue in 1804, one of the richest colonies in the world at the time, was unable to allow the development of Haiti, which even then existed under the crushing domination of imperialism. On its own, Haiti was vulnerable to the maneuvers and power of imperialism, determined to crush the slave revolution and stop its advance.

The masses of the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean are now faced with a similar situation. There is a massive swing to the left throughout the whole region and the masses have stood up and challenged imperialism. This is the advantage that the mass movements have now over the revolutionary movement of 1804. Revolutionary movements have opened up not just in one country, but in several countries at the same time.

The only way forward for Haiti, as it is for Venezuela, Bolivia, etc., is a radical break with capitalism and imperialism. Haiti needs a second revolution—but this time a socialist revolution that will allow it to break from imperialist slavery and oppression. No one country can do can this on its own; it is not possible to build socialism in one country, but the decisive victory of the working class in any one country would completely change the entire situation, and put the socialist transformation of Latin America and the Caribbean on the order of the day. Therein lies the hope of the mass movements across the whole continent. The choice before the masses of workers and peasants is clear—socialism or barbarism. The task before them is to build the revolutionary party that can lead the movement to final victory.