By Max A. Joseph Jr.
Two days before the twice-delayed presidential runoff which was to take place on Jan. 24, albeit with only one consenting contender, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) abruptly postponed it once more due to widespread protests, compounded by indiscriminate acts of violence by as-yet-to-be-identified thugs. The acrimony was such that Evalière Beauplan, a sitting senator, exhorted the masses to set up barricades all over the country while André Michel, a lawyer and former presidential contender, publicly threatened to burn the country into ashes, if the CEP were to proceed with the election. Both Michel and Beauplan should know that while civil disobedience is a generally accepted form of protest against oppression or injustices, incitement to violence resulting in the loss of lives and property is not tolerated in any country.
Constituent states, history tells us, are perpetual work in progress whose constant are periods of political infighting or instability that ultimately define their existence. Few countries have managed to escape this curse. Not surprisingly nations that overcome this unforgiving rite of passage thrive and prosper, while those that could not find their way out of it remain mired in poverty and anarchy, therefore incapable to cope with the evolving situations confronting their leadership. Sadly, Haiti, an exceptional constituent nation by any means, is currently a poster case for the group of countries that have been unable to move beyond the threshold of political instability and into the realm of stability whose rewards are infinite. Do Haitians need two more centuries to finally grasp the concept of a constituent state?
Great power vindictiveness and arrogance over the centuries no doubt played a role in Haiti’s inability to overcoming the curse of instability. The primary cause however has always been the political class’ affinity with governing outside of a constitutional framework. Such primal approach to governing not only encourages irresponsible and unlawful behavior but also creates an uncharacteristic disdain for state institutions. This bizarre and convenient arrangement allows Haitian presidents to theoretically commit the unlawful act of facilitating or requesting foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs, while acting within an ill-defined authority that peremptorily shields them from a justifiable prosecution.
The postponement of the Jan. 24 vote as expected thrusts Haiti into another political crisis, given that the Feb. 7 constitutionally-mandated transfer of power to a duly elected president is simply not feasible at this juncture. Cornered and running out of a viable option, the Haitian president, like René Préval, his predecessor, has requested the help of the Organization of the American States (OAS) in the form of a special mission to mediate the crisis or find a solution to it, if possible.
This utter disrespect for constitutional rule evidently highlights the weaknesses of the Haitian state and makes a solid case for a wholesale dismantlement of the present system. Furthermore, as bizarre and unlawful as this particular occurrence appears to foreigners, it pales in comparison to the one that occurred on February 7, 2004. On that day Gérard Gourgues, a constitutional scholar, swore himself in as president following a disputed election in which he was not even a candidate. And, weeks into the esteemed professor’s treasonous act, the then-legitimate president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was sent packing into exile by invading French and US forces with the acquiescence of the OAS. Hence in light of the fact the OAS had officially and without reservations endorsed the Oct. 25 vote, which a subsequent independent review found to be flawed, Martelly’s request amounts to asking the UN Security Council to mediate the end of the UN occupation of the country.
What’s more, 5 years into the misguided interference by the divinely-appointed “nation builders” that still elicits raw emotions within many sectors of Haiti society, the political divide remains as wide as it ever been. The institutional reforms that could have forestalled the October 25, 2015 electoral debacle never made to the list of priorities of either the executive or the legislative branch. Most importantly the notion of a Haitian president inviting a foreign entity to help him settle a domestic electoral dispute is illegal, as neither the 1987 constitution nor any statute approved by parliament authorizes it. The outcome of the OAS mission will therefore leave Haiti as divided as ever, because of that organization’s past involvements in the country that left it bereft of any credibility.
In the world we live in, there is no substitute to a stable and functioning state that utilizes well-defined parameters (constitutional framework and legislative statutes) to protect the properties and lives of its constituents and, at the same time, earns the respect of other nations. It is unconscionable that 212 years into its existence, Haiti has not yet developed into a stable and coherent entity worthy of its celebrated past.
Our indolence poses an existential threat to the country and future generations of Haitians. We sarcastically christen our beloved country “Ayiti Toma”, as in “doubting Thomas”, for the simple reason that certain things about it need to be experienced or seen as they would be considered farfetched or unbelievable by any outsider. The ball is in our court, not in the dark chambers of the UN and OAS, as any proud and successful nation needs a stable and functioning state. The country’s politicians need to rethink their antiquated concept of a constituent state, because time is simply not on our side.