Haitian man voting during 2015 elections. Photo credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre

By Garry Pierre-Pierre

It is an understatement to say that I’ve been deeply disturbed by the way our politics have been upended by the candidacy and the presidency of Donald Trump. Sometimes my outrage borders on obsession. We hear, see and read every day of how the Russians successfully launched an attack on American democracy. As an American, I am outraged.

But as a Haitian American, I am equally outraged by my adopted government’s policy of undermining my homeland’s nascent democracy by supporting candidates and meddling into Haitian presidential elections. Washington policy makers and operatives have at times outright rigged election results to impose leaders that are decidedly rejected by the majority of the Haitian people. The consequences have been catastrophic as these Washington puppets have misled and mismanaged Haiti into the troubled state it finds itself today.

As a consequence, since 1990 Haitians have steadily lost their thirst and appetite for democracy and have grown cynical knowing that whoever they choose as their president will be in the crosshairs of Washington power brokers and will be unable to govern effectively.

In less than 30 years the rate of voter participation has dropped from more than 60 percent to less than 10 in the last presidential elections in 2017, which ushered Jovenel Moise into power. This blasé attitude toward democracy started with so much optimism. After 30 years of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haitians rose up against tyranny sending Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier into exile in France in February 1986. Duvalier had replaced his father Francois “Papa Doc” as president as a chubby 19 year old. Shortly thereafter, he was elected president for life.

So when Haiti embarked on a democratic journey, people were giddy with the prospect that they had the opportunity to control their destiny. Their first disappointment came with the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide. The former priest, who was viewed suspiciously by Washington was ousted less a year before he was ousted in a bloody coup. (I won’t to go into details about Aristide’s failures or potential as a leader because that is an entirely different story.)

While I have no evidence that the U.S. orchestrated the coup, but suffice to say that American officials did nothing to stop a democratically elected president from an illegal coup that intelligence officials knew well in advance. The U.S.’s influence on Haitian affairs cannot be overstated.

After Aristide was reinstated to power in 1994 with the help of 20,000 American soldiers, Washington reacted coldly to Rene Preval, Aristide’s successor and did much to undermine Preval’s efforts. The late president did not take too kindly at Washington’s directives.

Preval, who was seen for the most part as a placeholder, gave way to a second election of Aristide, who was deeply popular with the vast slum dwellers and rural habitants. As if on cue, Aristide did not last long before he was once again ousted. That latest coup was orchestrated by some remnants of the disbanded military officers who launched a comical revolution. That so-called army’s movement from Cap Haitien to the capital Port-au-Prince was chronicled by Haiti and international media. The leader of those marauding soldiers was none other than Guy Philippe, who is serving time in a federal prison in Haiti for taking bribes from drug smugglers.

Yet, Washington did nothing to stop a democratically-elected president from being ousted. In fact, then secretary of state, Colin Powell issued a statement defending democracy in Haiti. Shortly after his declaration, the White House contradicted him by saying essentially that Aristide enjoyed no support.

As the rebellion closed in on the capital, Aristide was whisked away into exile by American diplomats, this time in South Africa, where he would remain for seven years, returning in 2011 about a week after Duvalier had surprised everyone by coming back to Haiti. Duvalier died four years ago, never faced justice for the many credible accusations of graft and corruption filed against him.

But the mother of all meddling and one that still gnaws at most Haitians was when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped brokered a deal to select Michel Martelly in 2011 to be president even tough the colorful musician turned politician was the third-place vote getter in the ballots. To most Haitians, this was a cardinal sin and one they’ve never forgotten Clinton for. That is why many Haitians cheered when she her lost to Trump.

I wasn’t among that crowd, but I understand their anger. Martelly was the precursor of Trump. They share similar traits and what we are witnessing now in the United States is what Haitians went through during the Martelly regime. He was someone who gaslighted the Haitian people by taking credit for others achievements and created phony programs that they had no plan of implementing or knew they didn’t have the resources.

Martelly and his administration made empty promises and left the county in a constitutional crisis when he stepped down because Haitian presidents cannot serve two consecutive terms. Having failed to organize elections on time, Martelly was forced to leave power at the end of his term as he tried to extend it because there was no duly elected successor.

A clause of the Haitian constitution was triggered so that Senate president Jocelerne Privert assumed the presidency temporarily and was tasked with organizing the election that ultimately Moise won.

I know that I have gone through 30 years of history in about 700 words but please rest assured that this is a succinct overview of the U.S. meddling into the affairs of a sovereign, albeit heavily dependent country on the largesse of its big and powerful neighbor to the north.

Peter Beinart, a City University of  New York colleague and an Atlantic contributor recently wrote on this issue:

“The less Americans know about America’s history of electoral interference, the more likely they are to acquiesce to—or even cheer—its return. That’s dangerous because, historically, American meddling has done far more to harm democracy than promote it,” Beinart explained to outline Washington’s meddling in Russia.

U.S. interference in countries all over the world is well documented. Latin America has been ground zero for our meddling. I agree with Beinart’s assessment and that Americans need to know what their government is doing abroad and its role of destabilizing democracies by subverting candidates by any means necessary.

I don’t like what Vladimir Putin has done to our society. Beyond the attack on our electoral democracy, he has taken steps to divide this country along racial, sexual and social lines. This is what is most troublesome to me. Moscow attack’s was not limited to Washington, it struck at the vulnerability of the United States and to me that is more sinister than what America has done to other countries.

I hope that Americans have learned at least a small part of the effects of what our government has been engaged in and when normalcy is restored in the country that we take steps not to ensure that our government is not undermining sovereign nations affairs. U.S. knows that democracy is messy and precarious, it should help struggling democracies like Haiti, not undermine it.

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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