An Excuse to Destabilize Haiti’s Democracy

By Regan Boychuk, activist, Canada Haiti Action Network in Calgary.

(See also "Canadian “NGOs” Aid antiAristide Election Rhetoric.")


In the most fair and accurate analysis of Haiti’s recent plight, Peter Hallward writes: "The May 2000 elections were arguably the most remarkable exercise in representative democracy in Haiti to date."1

A fair characterization—but that’s not how you’ll find the 2000 elections described by the Western media and government-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

An Associated Press timeline run by the Globe and Mail the day after the coup said observers had called May 2000’s voting "flawed" and that the international community froze millions in foreign aid until the results were "revised."2  (In reality, it was hundreds of millions in aid and these funds were not restored even when the results were revised, as we’ll see below.)

The next day, a correspondent for Canada’s national newspaper explained to readers that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had shown "an inability to compromise" and was accused of "rigging the 2000 elections."3 

In other words, we shouldn’t loose too much sleep about Aristide’s removal from office.

To appreciate the absurdity of "an alliance of Aristide’s foreign and domestic enemies" managing "to persuade most of the independent media to present the government elected in 2000 as undemocratic and illegitimate,"4 we need to understand Haiti’s 2000 elections and their consequences.

Haiti’s constitution, reflecting an understandable desire to preclude the appearance of any more "Presidents for Life," prevents such leaders from serving consecutive terms. However, having stepped down in 1995, Aristide was eligible to run for a second and final term in 2000.

Still overwhelmingly popular, he was universally expected to regain office. But Aristide’s "preferential treatment for the poor" was fated to clash with the preferential treatment for the rich that is favoured by Washington, Ottawa and their allies.

In hindsight, Aristide’s return to office with almost 92% of the vote actually marked the beginning of another dark chapter in Haitian history.

A manufactured crisis over the vote-counting methodology used to determine the winners of an insignificant number of seats in the May 2000 elections served as a pretext for the international community’s refusal to observe the November presidential elections and for their imposition of an aid embargo that a crippled the Haitian government.

In the spring of 2001, the U.S. board member at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) asked the bank to halt $148 million in already-approved loans for improving roads, education and the public health system.

According to Tracy Kidder:

"This was unusual. No member nation is supposed to be able to stop the disbursement of loans already approved.

Nevertheless, the IDB complied. The Haitian government also lost access to loans it could have received from the IDB over the next several years, worth another $479 million."5

But as pretexts for undermining Aristide’s government, the elections in May and November 2000 are exceedingly dubious.

The May 2000 elections saw Haitians choose between almost 30,000 candidates, 19 senators, 83 deputies, 133 mayors and 7000 local assembly representatives. With the participation of 60% of Haiti’s four million registered voters, it was the largest voter turnout since Aristide’s overwhelming victory during the 1990 election.

The day after voting was completed, international observers declared the polling to be free and fair.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which observed the elections, told CNN: "we observed no major irregularities." Even the U.S. State Department congratulated Haiti on the elections, which it said were held "in a persuasive atmosphere of nonviolence and high voter participation."

But that was before the results were known.

Following the June 1 announcement of the results (which reported the landslide victory for Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas movement), the OAS Electoral Observation Mission made a public statement criticizing the tabulation of votes for a handful of the 7000+ seats.

Although the OAS was deeply involved in election preparations and was obviously aware of the methodology being employed, it protested the case of eight senatorial seats, arguing that there should have been a run-off vote before the Lavalas candidates were declared the winners.8

In any case, "Had the senate run-offs been held," writes the Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti program at Washington’s Trinity College,

"observers agreed, [Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party] would have won most, if not all, of the races, particularly since it is doubtful that the fractured opposition to Aristide would have been able to rally around a single opposition candidate in a run-off."9

The day after the May election, opposition to Aristide had organized itself (with the help of the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute) under the name "Democratic Convergence." Within a week, they called for a boycott of further elections.

Using the dispute over the elections as a convenient pretext, the Clinton Administration redirected U.S. aid away from the Haitian government and through NGOs. This severely limited the Haitian government’s ability to pursue its electoral agenda.

And, much of the redirected aid found it’s way to supporting the Haitian government’s unpopular opposition. Even according to U.S. government-sponsored polls, the so-called "Democratic Convergence" never registered more than 12% support among Haitians.10 

Nevertheless, it is this opposition’s narrative (shaped, as it was, by foreign government-sponsored patronage and training) that was largely adopted by the international community and the mainstream media. Bolstered by such support, the political opposition boycotted the November 2000 presidential elections.

The Democratic Convergence had good reason for their sudden allergy to democracy. A Gallop poll conducted in Haiti less than three weeks before the presidential elections found that less than 4% of Haitians expressed trust in the members of the Democratic Convergence.11

And, there were good reasons that fewer than 1 in 25 Haitians trusted them. Many in the opposition expressed a desire to resurrect the murderous Haitian military, which has something like 50,000 Haitian skeletons in its closet.

Running virtually unopposed, Aristide received more than 90% of the vote.

Nevertheless, the unpopular Democratic Convergence continued to challenge Aristide’s mandate, even after the OAS had accepted Aristide’s plan to resolve the dispute over the eight senators during the May elections.12

Illustrating their reverence for democracy, opposition leaders in the Democratic Convergence rejected the government’s compromise, announcing that it was highly unlikely that they would accept "a solution that leaves the top and bottom and most of the rest of Aristide’s power structure intact."13 

The U.S. government agreed and used the May 2000 elections as a pretext to trigger the devastating aid embargo against Haiti’s elected government.

While funnelling an average of $68 million a year to suitably complicit NGOs, a U.S. Agency for International Development official told reporters that Aristide’s administration "would never receive a dime of American aid."14

Predictably, the aid embargo disabled the already-impoverished country’s economy. Without vital international aid, Haiti’s GDP growth fell from +1% to almost -2% between 2000 and 2001. By 2001, per capita GDP growth was approaching -4%.15

Commenting on the effects of the embargo in the Lancet journal of medicine, researchers noted that:

"Although the Haitian government mismanaged foreign aid during the Duvalier family dictatorship, generous aid continued to flow during much of that time, mainly from the USA."

They added:

"when sanctions are leveled against an elected government, there is no collateral damage; ordinary citizens, who made the ‘wrong’ choice at the polls, are the targets. Their suffering and the social discord that necessarily ensues seem to be the intended result."16 

Some perspective might help the reader appreciate the scale and impact of the embargo.

Toronto, a city of about 2.5 million, has an annual municipal budget of well over $5 billion. Haiti, a country of about 8 million, has an annual federal budget of about $300 million.

The aid that was denied to the Haitian government by international donors—under false pretenses—totaled well over $500 million.

By mid-2001, Aristide had convinced seven of the eight senators at the center of the controversy regarding the May 2000 elections to resign. The term of the eighth expired shortly thereafter.

As Dr. Paul Farmer commented, "that should have been the end of the aid freeze if it was ever about the electoral process; yet it continued throughout Aristide’s tenure."

Clearly the election controversy was simply an excuse. As Farmer continued

"You’d think this might be newsworthy—the world’s most powerful nations join forces to block aid and humanitarian assistance to one of the poorest, but for three years this story was almost impossible to place in a mainstream journal of opinion."17 

During those three fateful years, the U.S., France and Canada worked fervently to bring down Haiti’s democratically-elected government. A central plank in their campaign—which came to fruition in the 2004 coup—was, as Farmer has remarked, "one of the most impressive and improbable propaganda exercises in contemporary politics": presenting "the government elected in 2000 as undemocratic and illegitimate."18

Canada’s role in this exercise was aided greatly by the ignorance and cynicism of the Canadian media and by the propaganda produced by various CIDA-funded NGOs, including those based in Haiti and in Canada. If such supposed ‘humanitarian interventions’ are to be prevented in the future, we would do well to pay particular attention to the example of Haiti and to the use of its 2000 elections as a pretext for promoting destabilization and regime change.


1. Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the politics of containment (London: Verso, 2007), p.76.

2. Associated Press, "From priest to president," Globe and Mail, March 1, 2004, p.A8.

3. Alan Freeman, "Ask the Globe: Why was former Haitian president sent to the Central African Republic," Globe and Mail, March 2, 2004, p.A14.

4. Hallward, Op. Cit., p.77.

5. Tracy Kidder, "The trials of Haiti," Nation, October 27, 2003, p.27.

6. Robert Maguire, "Haiti’s political gridlock," Journal of Haitian Studies, Fall 2002, p.33.

7. Hallward, Op. Cit., p.76.

8. "Massive voter turn-out foils ‘electoral coup d’état’… for now," Häiti Progrès, 24 May 2000.

9. Maguire, Op. Cit., p.33.

10. Tom Reeves, "Still up against the death plan in Haiti," Dollars and Sense, September/October 2003, p.40.

11. Maguire, Op. Cit., p.34.

12. Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center, "Elections 2000," ch.4, sec.2.

13. Michelle Faul, "OAS approves Haiti crisis proposal," Associated Press, June 6, 2001.

14. Hallward, Op. Cit. p.82.

15. Wilson Laleau, "Haiti," Inter-American Development Bank, October 2002, p.49.

16. Paul Farmer, Mary Smith Fawzi and Patrice Nevil, "Unjust embargo of aid for Haiti," Lancet, February 1, 2003, pp.420, 423.

17. Paul Farmer, "Haiti’s wretched of the earth," Tikkun, May-June 2004, p.26.

18. Hallward, Op. Cit., p.77.

Source: This article was adapted for Press for Conversion! by Regan Boychuk from his 2005 York University Masters’ thesis, "Year 201: State terror, the pacification of Haiti’s poor majority, and the Canadian choreboy to empire," available upon request from the author <regan>

The above article is from Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue #63 (November 2008)
Lies without Borders:
How CIDA-funded 'NGOs' waged a propaganda war to justify Haiti’s 2004 coup"

Previous issues of this Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade publication include:
#62 "Putting the Aid in Aiding and Abetting:
CIDA's Agents of Regime Change in Haiti's 2004 Coup"

#61 "CIDA's Key Role in Haiti's 2004 Coup d’état:
Funding Regime Change, Dictatorship and Human Rights Atrocities, one Haitian 'NGO' at a Time"

#60 "A Very Canadian Coup d’état in Haiti:
The Top 10 Ways that Canada’s Government helped the 2004 Coup and its Reign of Terror"

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