Haiti's Latest Elections

The latest Haitian elections were another of those mysteries whose ending few seemed to know. But end it did and Michel Martelly, a popular entertainer, is the new president. Elections in Haiti have always been accompanied by violence and this one was no exception as the actors traced a tortuous course to the end.

The question in my mind with each election has been: will it change Haiti's fate for better? Unfortunately each has been followed by what would seem foreordained violence and misery. And yet with a degree of optimism and hope. I watched as Bertrand Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas won elections in 1990. Sadly, what happened after his election, subsequent overthrow and exile, did not help the Haitian nation. In reality the small group of Haiti's power brokers assisted by ill informed American and French authorities saw to his overthrow.

I am now convinced that in addition to real and honest elections, Haiti needs a change of heart among some of her small elite in whose hands real power in Haiti resides. It's a light colored group of extraordinary wealth that dines on imported steaks and French wines, looking down on the writhing, disorderly poor black masses of Port Au Prince. It exists almost outside the reality of Haiti, unconcerned by the misery there. The beastly earthquake that killed a quarter of a million Haitians hardly touched this group in their hill top mansions. Because of America's capitalist credo, we have supported a group that would have been swept out of power had Haiti had a Fidel Castro.

The writer Graham Greene in his The Comedians chronicled the terrible abuse of power by this group. For a very long time they were complimented by the cruel madness of Papa Doc Duvalier's Tonton Macoutes. And Haiti's voodoo priests who for centuries preyed on poor Haitians' psyche. Today Duvalier's henchmen have gone, but Haiti's poverty and its elite's indifference live on. It is illusory to expect an election will renew or change Haiti. It needs a miracle to right the wrongs of Haiti's history and the destructive force of an earthquake.

Not withstanding the irregularity of some American elections, we seem to think they are a panacea for the ills of every society. As an African, I have known my share of sham elections, processes that had little content or substance and less meaning. Kenya's former President Arap Moi won every election for twenty years, killing or imprisoning anyone who dared to challenge him, while Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has rigged elections with impunity. His people know well that only his death will save them. As anyone knows, elections are only meaningful when there's a genuine respect for people's rights.

To help Haiti, we need to look at more than elections. I believe Haiti's elite needs to be charged with working to change themselves and the country where they live. Private property is wonderful but Haiti's elite who exist on black slave labor and whose business transactions have been corrupt must face greater scrutiny from all Americans. We care for and want Haiti to rise from the ashes. We should therefore deal with Haitians as human beings who deserve respect and the same rights as Cubans and Haiti's elite. Haiti's chronically traumatized children and women desperately need education, empowerment and psychological help. We must endeavor to build a true middle class in Haiti by encouraging business creation by and for the poor.