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US Owes Aristide a Fair Chance to Govern

The Boston Globe Paul Farmer, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Jeffrey Sachs The images of Haiti familiar to most Americans suggest a country locked in a hopeless struggle against political oppression and economic despair. But there is another Haiti. It has a deeply religious and hard-working population, hungry for education and opportunities, struggling to feed their families and make a better way of life for their children. There is political promise of successive democratically elected governments that aim to replace poverty and chaos with stability and growth. Haiti is at a critical juncture in its struggle to emerge from poverty and oppression. Massive investments in health care, education, roads and bridges, ports and telecommunications are needed to bring economic hope to the country and ensure that democracy takes hold. Significant amounts of international aid have been appropriated to address these needs but are being withheld until President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, reelected last December, demonstrates the country’s commitment to democracy. There is no problem with forcing any aid recipient to prove its democratic bona fides. However, there is a Catch-22 built into the approval process: The donor countries, including the United States, have insisted that Aristide reach agreement with a bitter and unrepresentative political opposition before any funds are released. As a result, a vocal minority of obstructionists possess veto power over the future of Haiti, turning political and economic failure into self-fulfilling prophecy. The issue of dispute involves seven Senate seats won by members of Aristide’s party in the May 2000 parliamentary elections. Though the balloting was deemed fair, tabulators counted only the top four finishers in each race and awarded victory outright to Aristide’s supporters. International observers criticized the counting method, pointing out that had all votes been counted, none of the declared winners would have garnered more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. The senators from the disputed districts recently resigned their seats, clearing the way for a new round of balloting. But the opposition has rejected the scheduling of runoff elections. Moreover, it has rejected a plan by the Organization of American States to hold a new round of balloting for all the parliamentarians elected in May 2000 and ignored a June 25 OAS deadline to participate in a new electoral council to oversee the voting. Meanwhile, Aristide’s foes demand international recognition of the coalition leader they farcically declared their “president” in February while insisting that Aristide step down, shorten his five-year term, or agree to a power-sharing agreement. The impasse is an attempt to push Aristide into a sort of internal political exile, with dire consequences for the people of Haiti. As for the United States, no direct aid can be made to the central government until the administration signs off on the parliamentary elections and certifies the Haitian government’s cooperation in fighting international drug-trafficking. Aristide’s commitment to address both issues was signaled in a covenant signed last December with the Clinton administration and subsequently endorsed by President Bush. Bush’s endorsement of the pact and his choice of Colin Powell, who negotiated the return of democracy to Haiti in 1994, as his secretary of state augur a more positive US role in Haiti. Recently, Bush granted Haiti a national security waiver in its process of certifying nations as cooperating with the United States in the international war on drugs. The administration concluded that decertification, with its denial of assistance, would only make the problem worse, driving Haitians into the drug economy. The same logic should surely apply to the unblocking of the international aid pipeline in order to build a new Haiti. If the opposition fails to bargain in good faith, Bush and Powell should endorse the new electoral council, accept the results of new elections, move ahead with cooperative drug-fighting measures, and, most important, lift the US hold on aid and urge other nations and multilateral aid agencies to follow their lead. Economic progress with equity is possible in Haiti only if the free world takes the side of justice in the dispute. Aristide, driven from Haiti by the 1991 coup, was denied his right to govern. It is equally unacceptable in 2001 that the reelected president, living in his own country among the people who elected him, is denied his right to govern by an unrepresentative opposition. Paul Farmer teaches at Harvard Medical School and runs a small hospital in rural Haiti; Joseph P. Kennedy II is chairman of Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston; Jeffrey Sachs directs Harvard University’s Center for International Development.

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