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17218: Lemieux: SF Bay View: Support Haitis upcoming elections (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Support Haiti’s upcoming elections

by Barbara Lee and John Conyers

Haiti stands at a crossroads, and the United States has a
moral obligation and unique opportunity to assist the
people of Haiti in continuing down the path of democracy.
The choice is ours: Either we work to bring the
international community together to help Haiti achieve
greater democracy and stability, or we disregard 8.3
million Haitians.

Dictatorship brought them suffering before; without our
attention now, it could happen again.

As it stands, Haiti, the second-oldest republic in the
Western Hemisphere, is faced with a constitutional crisis.
The terms of most members of Parliament will expire in
January. Unless a new parliament is elected by next year,
Haiti will have no national legislature and will be unable
to enact laws, approve loans or exercise oversight over
government agencies.

Under a formula devised by the Organization of American
States, accepted in writing by President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, seven of the nine seats on the Electoral Council,
charged with supervising the entire process, have been
reserved for opposition parties and independent
civil-society organizations. It is imperative that all
groups put their political interests aside, for the
betterment of the Haitian people, and take up their seats
on the council.

This body is only one of the huge obstacles facing Haiti's
ability to hold elections in time to avert a crisis. The
issue of security is an ardent concern. The government has
invited international observers and police contingents from
neighboring countries to enhance electoral security and
guarantee fairness. We, along with the international
community, must answer the call.

The United States can play a helpful and decisive role in
ensuring that the right road is taken, that Haitian
democracy is strengthened and that U.S. and hemispheric
security are enhanced. We can do so by supporting Haiti in
its commitment to hold free, fair and democratic elections
for national parliamentary and local offices by providing
funds for security and election assistance personnel.

Reject Duvalier's return

Sadly, many Americans have a tendency to ignore Haiti. The
international community must not ignore Haiti; this nation
serves as a reminder of what can go wrong if we fail to
support democracy.

Last April, The Wall Street Journal featured a photo of
Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier, the Haitian dictator
deposed in 1986, with an accompanying article describing
his comeback strategy. While the return of the discredited
former ''president-for-life'' may seem farfetched, the
possibility that the country will backslide into
dictatorship is all too real.

Haiti also was front-page news last October when, in the
midst of the Florida gubernatorial election, some 200
Haitian would-be immigrants jumped off a freighter and
waded ashore in Miami, evoking memories of the mass exodus
of Haitian ''boat people'' during the Duvalier years.

Democracy has never progressed easily in Haiti, but with an
international commitment, success can be achieved. It's
obvious that the political process in Haiti has its
imperfections, but what matters is that Haitians are
willing to learn from their mistakes and improve the
process as democracy evolves. The government, therefore,
has committed itself to holding free and fair elections in
the coming months, and we must do whatever is within our
power to help it achieve its goals.

An electoral solution

It is true that there are divisions in Haiti between those
favoring and those trying to block elections. It is also
true that the United States and its OAS partners agree that
the Haitian opposition and the government share
responsibility for achieving an electoral solution to the
political crisis.

It is imperative that we come together for the good of the
people of Haiti. We should work in partnership for
successful elections and encourage all the parties to join
the process.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.,
are co-chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus Haiti Task
Force. Contact Congresswoman Lee’s Oakland office at 1301
Clay St., Suite 1000 North, Oakland CA 94612, (510)
763-0370. This column was originally published in the Miami

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