Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Jan. 21 expressing deep concern that the electoral process in Haiti has sharply deteriorated and been rejected by most sectors of Haitian society. Presidential run-off elections in Haiti are currently scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 24. The Congresswoman’s letter warns that forcing demonstrably flawed elections on unwilling voters risks disaster for Haiti and discredit for the United States.
During Congresswoman Waters’ 13 terms in Congress, she has visited Haiti many times, and she has worked with her colleagues in Congress, State Department officials, Haitian political leaders, and Haitian civil society to promote political stability, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and economic and social development in Haiti. Following the 2010 earthquake, she introduced the Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act (H.R. 4573), which was passed and signed into law by the president.
The text of the Congresswoman’s letter follows:
Dear Secretary Kerry:
As you know, I am a strong supporter of Haiti, and I care deeply about the well-being of the Haitian people. I therefore continue to appreciate the efforts of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance to Haiti to improve health, education, nutrition and economic development.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have supported Haitians’ efforts to build their democracy, while also respecting the country’s sovereignty. As part of that effort, I wrote to you on Oct. 5, 2015, to express my deep concern about Haiti’s elections and the importance of ensuring that the elections are free and fair and perceived as credible by the Haitian people. I feel compelled to write again today because over the past three months the electoral process has sharply deteriorated and has now been rejected by most sectors of Haitian civil society.
On Oct. 25, Haiti held presidential and second-round parliamentary elections. Although you had stated in your press conference with Prime Minister Evans Paul during your pre-election visit there that it was “imperative” that these elections be successful, the elections that Haiti delivered were marred by fraud and irregularities. For example, when the BCEN – the official national electoral dispute bureau – sampled 78 voting center tally sheets in November in response to a political party challenge, it found that all 78 of them contained evidence of fraud or irregularities. According to its Jan. 3 report, the government-appointed Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission, which reviewed 1,771 tally sheets, found that 92 percent contained at least one serious irregularity and more than half exhibited at least three serious irregularities.
The electoral process has now been rejected by most sectors of Haitian civil society. The government-appointed Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission, which reviewed 1,771 tally sheets, found that 92 percent contained at least one serious irregularity and more than half exhibited at least three serious irregularities.
The Evaluation Commission warned that if Haiti’s leaders come to power through tarnished elections, it would “further aggravate the political crisis and instability of the country.” It recommended substantial changes to restore confidence, including the resignation of electoral council members implicated in fraud before proceeding with the presidential run-off elections, currently scheduled for Jan. 24.
The commission’s concerns with the tarnished elections are broadly shared across Haitian society. The most prominent Haitian human rights groups have joined the call for substantial reforms, and the largest electoral observation coalition has announced it will not observe Sunday’s voting.
The Catholic and Protestant churches have joined the critique. Four of the nine electoral councillors have resigned or suspended their participation.
The eight largest opposition political parties and Jude Celestin, one of the two candidates officially qualified for the presidential run-off, have announced that they will not participate on Sunday. On Tuesday, Haiti’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced its opposition to holding the run-off without improvement of the electoral system.
On Wednesday, Haiti’s Senate passed, without opposition, a resolution calling for the postponement of Sunday’s voting. Tens of thousands of Haitians have taken to the streets to protest the flawed elections.
All these senators, non-violent protesters, churches, human rights groups, political parties and others are playing by the rules of a democracy, trying to obtain fair elections that produce a legitimate government that gives Haiti a chance at the stability it desperately needs for economic development. The United States’ interests and highest ideals would be best served by supporting them, not the government and electoral apparatus that has squandered the Haitian public’s good faith through a relentless effort to distort the democratic process.
Forcing demonstrably flawed elections on unwilling voters risks disaster for Haiti and discredit for the United States. A government imposed without popular consent will struggle to obtain support for the hard choices it will need to make.
Furthermore, non-violent protesters whose justified grievances are ignored will inevitably be used by some people to justify less constructive actions. That process has apparently started, with the arson of electoral facilities over the weekend. Many Haitians warn that destructive protests will spiral to large-scale unrest.
Forcing demonstrably flawed elections on unwilling voters risks disaster for Haiti and discredit for the United States. Non-violent protesters whose justified grievances are ignored will inevitably be used by some people to justify less constructive actions.
The United States’ reputation has already suffered from our support for these elections, and our country is widely criticized in the press, on the streets, and among our traditional friends in Haiti for the gap between our principled commitment to democracy and our current practices in Haiti.
There is still time – though not much – for the U.S. government to support an electoral process that is fair and perceived to be fair. I urge the State Department to use that time and the United States’ influence to allow Haitians the chance to elect the legitimate and credible government that Haiti needs.
Member of Congress
To reach Congresswoman Waters, contact Senior Legislative Assistant Kathleen Sengstock, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-225-2201.