Haiti: “Core Group” contemplated election day coup

As of Jan. 7 it was still unclear when or whether the second round of Haiti’s controversial Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections would take place. A runoff was originally scheduled for Jan. 16 but has been postponed indefinitely as a result of charges that political groups, including the Unity party of President René Préval, compromised the voting through fraud. A 12-member technical team from the Organization of American States (OAS) was in Port-au-Prince analyzing the voting results and was expected to issue a report early in the week of Jan. 10 on the validity of the elections.

Many Haitian politicians, including 12 of the 18 presidential candidates, have called for annulling the Nov. 28 vote and for holding a new election. On Jan. 7 the chief of staff for US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills, indicated to the Associated Press wire service that the US might support an annulment if the OAS report recommended it.

Whether or not the Nov. 28 balloting is upheld, it is obvious that there will be no new president in place when Préval’s five-year term expires on Feb. 7. Préval claims he can remain president until May 14 because he himself didn’t take office until May 14, 2006, due to problems with that period’s electoral process. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse, Haiti, Dec. 29; Radio Métropole, Haiti, Jan. 6; Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Jan. 7)

While politicians and others focus on the voting process, many question whether the winning candidates will have any real authority in a country dominated by foreign powers, especially after a major earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti last January. In an interview with BBC Brasil published on Dec. 29 by the Brazilian daily Folha do Basil, Brazilian diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus, the outgoing OAS representative in Haiti, charged that representatives of the international community had openly discussed removing current president Préval from office on Nov. 28, the day of the elections.

During a “the meeting of the Core Group (donor nations, the OAS and the United Nations)…[s]ome representatives suggested that President René Préval should leave the country and that we should think about a plane for this,” Seitenfus said, without specifying which representatives made the suggestion. “The Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, arrived, and before long he said we shouldn’t count on him for any solution outside of the Constitution, and he asked if President Préval’s mandate was being negotiated. There was silence in the room.” Eventually Seitenfus himself “reminded [the group] of the existence of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that any discussion of President Préval’s mandate would be, for me, a coup d’état.” (Folha do Brasil, Dec. 29)

“[W]e have no comment to make on Ambassador Seitenfus’ descriptions of what he heard at such a meeting,” the US embassy in Haiti told Ansel Herz of the Inter Press Service (IPS). (IPS, Jan. 6) The “Core Group for Haiti” “consists of the United States and other countries and international organizations that are involved with promoting democracy and stability in Haiti,” according to the US State Department. (US State Department, Feb. 2, 2007) The US has flown two Haitian presidents into exile so far in the past 25 years: “President for Life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier in February 1986 and President Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 9.

See our last post on Haiti.