Monday, December 27, 2010

When Anniversaries Collide - The Haitian People Sit on the Sidelines

Sports fans in the United States wax ecstatic about the period from mid-October to late November as  because a perfect storm swirls through the sports world.  The boys of summer head through the playoffs into the World Series.  College football players are playing decisive games and their big brothers in the National Football League are starting to eliminate the weaker teams.  By the third week in November, the professional basketball players are finishing three weeks of their six-month season and their younger siblings are playing in holiday basketball tournaments in garden spots like Hawaii and Cancun.

Other contests with a lot more at stake took place in on the second Tuesday in November this year.  Barack Obama suffered the loss of his Democratic Party majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and saw a shaving of the party Senate majority.  Another critical election took place in earthquke-ravaged Haiti on the last Sunday in November, for the office of President.  Unlike the decisive United States results, described by Obama himself as a "shellacking," the outcome in Haiti, delivered amidst less-than-ideal polling conditions and charges of widespread fraud, left virtually no one happy.  The election council deemed that Jude Célestin, the handpicked candidate of incumbent René Préval, and Mirlande Manigat, the wife of former (and deposed) President Leslie Manigat, would face each other in a runoff.  Followers of compas singer Michel ("Sweet Micky") Martelly took to the streets, protesting their candidate's exclusion as another example of the deep-seated corruption endemic to the Haitian political culture.

In the continuing electoral limbo in a country the United States has never been shy about invading and occupying, and manipulating the affairs of,  perhaps not many observers have noted the shadow cast  by the last closely contested U.S.  presidential election.  The Supreme Court decision that awarded the White House to George W. Bush, Bush v. Gore, came down on December 10, 2000, in an act of judicial activism that usurped the jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court that was in the process of ruling on a recount of the Florida vote.

Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker Magazine legal writer, has noted that, unlike the landmark Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade cases on school segregation and abortion rights, respectively, which produced numerous citations in subsequent cases, Bush v. Gore as a precedent is significant for having produced nothing but a resounding judicial silence. 

In my humble opinion (I'm admittedly neither an expert on Haiti or politics, but I do have a sharp eye for historical irony), what links the two elections is a fear, in some quarters, that a protracted period of electoral indecision opens the door to political and economic instability.  Miami Herald writer Jacqueline Charles' lead from a Dec. 20 news analysis says it all: "In a traumatized nation with a poor history of clean voting, Haiti's recent elections were a disaster waiting to happen."  When I was in Port-au-Prince, I heard that the $9 billion in international aid wouldn't be distributed until after the Nov. 28 election.  U.S. Senator Richard Lugar warned that "political uncertainty" caused by "dueling political candidates" could cost Haiti the reconstruction dollars it so desperately needs.

And what did the "political uncertainty" that hung over Florida and Washington, D.C. threaten a decade ago?  As Toobin points, even former President Bush in his recently released memoir has little to say about the momentous decision that opened the door to his presidency beyond that he felt "relief," something that the Haitian people are getting precious little of.