Haiti: From Original Sin to Electoral Intervention
|Monday, 24 February 2014 16:00|
An Interview with Ricardo Seitenfus by Dan Beeton and Georgianne Nienaber
[Excerpts of this interview were originally published by Dissent Magazine on February 24, 2014. The full interview follows.]
The title of Brazilian professor Ricardo Seitenfus’ book, HAITI: Dilemas e Fracassos Internacionais (“International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti,” to be published in Brazil by the Editora Unijui (Universite de Ijui) dans la Serie Globalisation et Relations Internationales) appropriately opens with a reference to existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Camus’ third great novel, The Fall, is a work of fiction in which the author makes the case that every living person is responsible for any atrocity that can be quantified or named. In the case of Haiti, the January 2010 earthquake set the final stage for what amounted to what Seitenfus says is an “international embezzlement” of the country.
The tragedy began over 200 years ago in 1804, when Haiti committed what Seitenfus terms an “original sin,” a crime of lèse-majesté for a troubled world: it became the first (and only) independent nation to emerge from a slave rebellion. “The Haitian revolutionary model scared the colonialist and racist Great Powers,” Seitenfus writes. The U.S. only recognized Haiti’s independence in 1862, just before it abolished its own slavery system, and France demanded heavy financial compensation from the new republic as a condition of its honoring Haiti’s nationhood. Haiti has been isolated and manipulated on the international scene ever since, its people “prisoners on their own island.”
To understand Seitenfus’ journey into the theater of the absurd, it is necessary to revisit the months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As the Organization of American States' (OAS) Special Representative in Haiti, Seitenfus lost his job in December 2010 after an interview in which he sharply criticized the role of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the devastated country. But it appears that the author also had insider information about international plans for a “silent coup d’etat,” electoral interference and more.
On the Ground in Haiti: October - December 2010
It was not yet one year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 220,000 or more, left infrastructure in chaos, and 1.5 million people homeless. Accusations were rampant in October international press reports that the United Nations mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) had introduced cholera into Haiti’s river system; the resulting epidemic would kill over 8,500 and sicken over 696,865 by the time of this writing. Ground zero for the outbreak was negligent sewage disposal at the Nepalese Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp. The malfeasance was first documented by the Associated Press and ultimately provided crucial proof of the U.N.’s guilt. Thousands were infected and the number of dead rose exponentially. On November 28, the national election was contested in what can only be termed an electoral crisis. Hundreds of thousands of voters were either shut out of the electoral process or boycotted the vote after the most popular party in the country – Fanmi Lavalas – was again banned from competing. Many of those displaced by the earthquake were not allowed to vote, and in the end less than 23 percent of registered voters had their vote counted.
Eyewitness testimony on election day reported numerous electoral violations: ballot stuffing, tearing up of ballots, intimidation and fraud. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, responsible for overseeing elections, announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat won but lacked the margin of victory needed to avoid a runoff. An OAS “experts” mission was dispatched to examine the results. Even though it was indeterminate that he should advance, due to the OAS’ intervention, candidate and pop musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly was selected to compete in the runoff instead of the governing party’s candidate Jude Célestin.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) subsequently released a report showing that there were so many problems with the election tallies that the OAS’ conclusions represented a political, rather than an electoral decision.
CEPR reported that for some 1,326 voting booths, or 11.9 percent of the total, tally sheets were either never received by the CEP, or were quarantined for irregularities. This corresponded to about 12.7 percent of the vote not being counted and not included in the final totals that were released by the CEP on December 7, 2010 and reported by the press. CEPR also noted that in its review of the tally sheets, the OAS Mission chose to examine only a portion, and that those it discarded were from disproportionately pro-Célestin areas. Nor did the OAS mission use any statistical inference to estimate what might have resulted had it examined the other 92 percent of tally sheets that it did not examine.
The runoff was finally scheduled for March 20, 2011 and Martelly was declared the winner with 67.6% of the vote versus Manigat's 31.5%. Turnout was so low that Martelly was declared president-elect after receiving the votes of less than 17% of the electorate in the second round.
Into the fray stepped Brazilian professor Ricardo Seitenfus. Seitenfus, a respected scholar, made statements to Swiss newspaper Le Temps criticizing international meddling in Haiti in general and by MINUSTAH and NGOs in particular. He was abruptly ousted on Christmas Day. The press was equivocal on whether Seitenfus was fired or forced to take a two-month “vacation” before his tenure ended in March 2011.
Was Seitenfus let go for citing a "maléfique ou perverse" (evil or perverse) relationship between the government of Haiti and NGOs operating amidst fraud and waste; his accusations about the cholera cover-up; or more troubling, knowledge of a silent coup being orchestrated against then-President René Préval by a secret “Core Group?” Was he silenced because of his knowledge of covert meetings between the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General and MINUSTAH chief Edmond Mulet, then U.S Ambassador Kenneth Merten, and then-Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive?
Seitenfus’ passionate accounting of the events in the year after the January 2010 earthquake reveals a man seemingly at odds with his internal moral compass and what he describes as “the black hole of western consciousness” in relations between Haiti and the international community of donor nations. This is a book written by a man enthralled by the beauty and promise of Haiti. It is also a book written by a professor serving as a diplomat struggling to be a whistleblower in the absurd and troubling world of international diplomacy.
Q: You write about international collusion in plans for a “silent coup.” Why wait until now to name the perpetrators? Does the fact that Mulet, Bellerive and Merten have all moved on from their offices have anything to do with your timing? You state emphatically that you opposed the coup plans.
RS: No. It is not true that I kept quiet. I gave various interviews to the Brazilian and international press, in late December 2010 and early January 2011, mentioning this and other episodes. See, for example,
The problem is that the international press was manipulated during the electoral crisis and never had an interest in doing investigative journalism. In the interviews that I gave, and especially in my book (“International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti”), soon to be published in Brazil and other countries, I describe the electoral coup in great detail.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the elements I reveal, I discovered in a scientific research project over the past three years. Many questions were hanging in the air, without adequate answers. I believe I managed to connect the different views and actors, providing the reader a logical and consistent interpretation about what happened. We are dealing with a work that is required by the historical memory, without any shadow of revenge or settling of scores.
Q: Were you the background press source on early reports of the cholera epidemic being caused by MINUSTAH in October 2010? You write about the “shameless” attitude of the United Nations (including Edmond Mulet and Ban Ki-moon) and ambassadors of the so-called "friends of Haiti;” countries that refused to take responsibility after MINUSTAH introduced cholera to Haiti. You say that this “transforms this peace mission into one of the worst in the history of the United Nations.” Would you be willing to testify in the current class action lawsuit, filed in a U.S. federal court, accusing the U.N. of gross negligence and misconduct on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti?
RS: There is no doubt that the fact that the United Nations – especially Edmond Mulet and Ban Ki-moon – systematically denied its direct and scientifically-verified responsibility for the introduction of the Vibrio cholera into Haiti, projects a lasting shadow over that peace operation. What is shocking is not MINUSTAH’s carelessness and negligence. What is shocking is the lie, turned into strategy, by the international community. The connivance of the alleged “Group of Friends of Haiti” (integrated at first by Argentina, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Chile, the United States, Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, as well as Germany, France, Spain and Norway, in their role as Permanent Observers before the OAS) in this genocide by negligence, constitutes an embarrassment that will forever mark their relations with Haiti.
Even former President Clinton, in a visit in early March 2012 to a hospital in the central region of Haiti, publicly admitted that
Although soon after he stated that the absence of a sanitation system in Haiti propagated the epidemic, these statements by the Special Envoy of the U.N. Secretary General for Haiti represent the first major fissure in the denial strategy of the crime committed by the United Nations.
Currently, the United Nations hides behind the immunity clause conferred by the July 9, 2004 agreement signed with Haiti legalizing MINUSTAH’s existence. Now, this agreement is void, since it was not signed, as provided in the Haitian Constitution (Article 139), by the Acting President of Haiti, Boniface Alexandre, but by the PM [Prime Minister] Gerard Latortue. According to the 1969 and 1986 Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties, any treaty signed by someone who lacks jus tractum – that is, treaty making power – is null and considered ineffective.
As with any legal action, without validity it has no [legal] effect. The existence of a lack of consent – whether due to the inability of state representatives to conclude a treaty or to an imperfect ratification – results in the absolute voiding of the action (Vienna Convention, Article 46, paragraph 1).
With the contempt for Haitian constitutional rites and for the legal principles that govern the Law of Treaties, the United Nations demonstrated, once again, the constant levity with which it treats Haitian matters. Responsible for establishing the rule of law in the country, according to its own mission, the U.N. does not follow even its own fundamental provisions, thus making the text that it supports and that should legalize its actions in Haiti void and ineffective.
Therefore, the U.N.’s last recourse in trying to deny its responsibility for introducing cholera in Haiti can be easily circumvented, since MINUSTAH’s very existence is plagued with illegalities.
Clearly, I am and will always be available to any judicial power that deals with this case. Even federal courts in the United States. If asked, I will testify, with the goal of contributing to establish the truth of the facts and the search for justice.
Q: Were you threatened in any way prior to your departure from Haiti? Since you were effectively fired, why not name names and discuss the actions of the “Core Group” in 2010?
RS: As a coordination agency for the main foreign actors (states and international organizations) in Haiti, a limited Core Group (which includes Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the U.N., the OAS and the European Union) is an indispensable and fundamental instrument in the relations between the international community and the Haitian government. It is not about questioning its existence. What I was able to verify was that on [election day] November 28, 2010, in the absence of any discussion or decision about the matter, [then head of MINUSTAH] Edmond Mulet, speaking on behalf of the Core Group, tried to remove [then president of Haiti] René Préval from power and to send him into exile. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince published a press release at 9 pm the same day dismissing the voting results and imposing its position on the whole Core Group. Still, the majority of the decisions in which I participated as representative to the OAS in the Core Group during the years 2009 and 2010 were sensible and important.
Q: You write about the “maléfique ou perverse” (evil or perverse) relationship between NGOs and Haiti. In your view, has this problem become institutionalized? You said some of the NGOs exist only because of Haitian misfortune?
RS: There is a will – deliberate or tacit – by the international community to bypass the Haitian institutions and to give preference to Transnational Non-Governmental Organizations (TNGOs). Their overwhelming invasion following the earthquake reached levels never before imagined. [Then] U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, herself pointed out in an interview some months after the earthquake that more than 10,000 TNGOs were operating in Haiti. This means that there was an increase in their presence of over 4,000% in the course of a short period of time. This NGOization turns Haiti into what many have called a true “Republic of the TNGOs.”
In the face of a weakened state and one that was almost destroyed by the earthquake, the emergency aid apparatus had no option but to directly confront reality. Direct connections were established with the victims and even those in charge of the U.N. system in Haiti were not taken into account. A true pandemonium came into being in which everyone decided on his own what to do, and when and how to do it.
An optimistic and official report, presented by Ban Ki-moon to the U.N. Security Council in October 2012, recognizes that of the alleged US$ 5.78 billion in contributions made over the 2010-2012 period by bilateral and multilateral donors, a little less than 10% (US$ 556 million) was given to the Haitian government. It is worth mentioning that the governments of the donor states use both private donations and public resources to cover the spending of their own interventions in Haiti. As such, for example, more than US$ 200 million in private donations from U.S. citizens served to finance the transportation and stay of U.S. soldiers in Haiti soon after the earthquake.
Traditionally in Haiti, the “goods” such as hospitals, schools and humanitarian aid are delivered by the private sector, while the “bads” – that is, police enforcement – is the state’s responsibility. The earthquake further deepened this terrible dichotomy.
The circle was closed with the ideological discourse to justify this way of proceeding. According to this [discourse], the transfer of resources is done through the TNGOs for the simple reason that the Haitian state suffers from total and permanent corruption. Sometimes, the lack of managerial capacity is cited. Therefore, there is nothing more logical than to bypass public authorities without even thinking that without a structured and effective state, no human society has managed to develop.
The former Governor General of Canada, Michäelle Jean – of Haitian origin – is one of the rare voices in the international community to propose a complete change of strategy. To her,
Certainly, direct financial cooperation with a state that has a lack of administrative capacity increases the risk that resources will be misused. However, there is no other solution: either the public management capacity of the Haitian state is strengthened or we will keep plowing the sea.
Unfortunately, the international community prefers to continue with the strategy that has already proved to be thoroughly inefficient. It not only impedes financial transfers to Haitian institutions, but it also tries to force them to channel their own meager resources to be administrated by international organizations. There was, for example, an attempt to transfer the PetroCaribe fund resources for Haiti to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. The determined resistance by Préval and Bellerive terminated this move. Nonetheless, in every election campaign, the donor countries insist on having the resources of the Haitian treasury be administered by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). Therefore, the strategy of the international community not only impedes institutional strengthening, but it also takes away from the Haitian state the little financial autonomy that it possesses.
The model imposed on Haiti since 2004 has two elements. On the one hand, there is the military presence through MINUSTAH, and on the other the civil presence in the form of the TNGOs and the alleged private development corporations. Added to these are the bilateral strategies of the member states in the so-called Group of Friends of Haiti. In interpreting the popular sentiment, it is impossible to disagree with these words by Liliane Pierre-Paul:
As long as this model is not significantly revamped there will be no solution. Social vulnerability and the precariousness of the state continue to be major Haitian characteristics. With the model applied by the international community through the U.N. system, the TNGOs and the United States, we are deceiving ourselves, misleading world public opinion and frustrating the Haitian people.
Q: What are your thoughts on the amount of agricultural land taken out of production to make way for the Caracol Industrial Park, a $300 million public-private partnership among a diverse set of stakeholders??
RS: Caracol symbolizes a development policy far more than any loss of mainly agricultural lands. It so happens that the Caracol model was used during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier and its results are known to everyone. As a complement to agricultural production, Caracol is acceptable. Nonetheless, to want to turn Haiti into a “Taiwan of the Caribbean” is to completely disregard the social, anthropological, historical and economic characteristics of the country.
Q: You write that Venezuela's PetroCaribe initiative was a key motive for the U.S. government's turn against Préval. Why then do you think the U.S. and the OAS wanted a candidate - Michel Martelly - in the second round of elections who would ultimately be even friendlier with Venezuela? Do you think Martelly's relations with Venezuela might pose a threat to him as well?
RS: Compared to the alleged development cooperation model imposed by the international community on Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela follow absolutely opposite paths. Whatever our opinion about the domestic policies of these countries, it cannot be denied that their form of cooperation takes into account more the demands and needs expressed by Haitians themselves. Cuba – lacking financial resources and rich in human resources –since 1998 has implemented a local family health and medicine program that reaches the most remote places in Haiti. Cuban medical diplomacy directly benefits the most humble of the Haitian people and attempts to compensate for the brain drain in the health sector promoted by certain western countries, particularly Canada.
This is the exact opposite of the long and constantly increasing list of conditionalities that characterizes the cooperation offered by the west. With disregard for national idiosyncrasies, the idea of democracy is used as a screen to camouflage their own national interests.
Only four hours after these statements, Mulet covened the Core Group for an urgent meeting in view of an alleged crisis. Before the gathering started he confided in me, with some concern, in a natural and calm way, as if what he was about to tell me was in the order of things, that:
I don’t know how I managed to hide my indignant surprise in the face of such an absurdity. I kept calm, hiding behind a false sense of casualness, in order to find out what had been Préval’s reaction. Mulet responded: “President Préval says he is not Aristide, but that he is Salvador Allende.” 
When Bellerive arrived at the meeting he asked directly, without beating about the bush, bluntly: "I would like to know whether President Prevál's mandate is on the negotiation table? Yes or no?”
He looked across the room at his audience, who remained in silence. A heavy and very long silence. Glances met. It was a moment of extreme seriousness. Well beyond the fate of the then-president, the response was going to be decisive, both for the future of Haiti and for the integrity of MINUSTAH.
To break a silence that seemed to have no end, and convinced that I was interpreting basic principles and not mere circumstantial interests, I took the initiative and asked to speak. It was necessary to do so, for we were about to commit a moral disgrace and a gross political error. With the active and crucial participation of the international community, we would be once again throwing Haiti toward the precipice mentioned by the American Luigi R. Einaudi (then- Acting Secretary General of the OAS) during the February 2004 crisis. I did not even consider the possibility of unpleasant consequences, both personal and professional, that could affect me. It was the opposite. To oppose the absurdity that was intended by the international community appeared to me a simple obligation. A democratic conscience and the respect for the Haitian institutions guided my attitude. It was not going to be the OAS representative in Haiti who would speak. It would be the Brazilian and the university professor.
There was silence once again. A long and heavy silence. Before it got too long again, I looked at the Brazilian ambassador, who had positioned himself in front of me in this imaginary circle that we were forming, and asked: “I would like to know Brazil's position."
Igor Kipman said immediately: “Brazil shares the same interpretation.”
I was relieved, I was no longer alone. Next in line was the Argentinian Rodolfo Matarollo, the UNASUR representative, who made a similar statement. Looking desolate, [then-U.S. Ambassador to Haiti] Kenneth Merten was shaking his head, signalling his dissatisfaction with how the meeting was unfolding. When he broke his silence it was to recognize that the coup by the Core Group against Préval would fail and he said: “We're not going to talk about this anymore.”
After aborting the maneuver to repeat with Préval what had been done with Aristide in February 2004, I was confident in defending my position. Outraged by the prospect that presented itself and still shocked and stunned by what I was experiencing, I concluded that when it comes to Haiti, the international community does not have limits for the actions it takes. Legality and common sense had prevailed. Until when? My hopes were still alive and I did not notice that a common international front had formed that would decide the electoral path to be followed by Haiti.
Q: You suggest that the press conference by the various presidential candidates – excluding the governing party’s candidate Jude Célestin - on the day of the election was planned beforehand. If the Core Group already had a plan to bar a Célestin victory, why did all these candidates take part in the press conference? Were they unaware of the Core Group plan? Did the plan not involve any Haitian politicians? Was the plan always to have Martelly win, or was it simply to not let Célestin win?
Inite’s [the party of Préval and Célestin] electoral campaign, being a major political party and considering the situation, was also more visible, the most well organized and the one with the most resources. Later, these advantages would become disadvantages. The version of rampant corruption was gaining credibility.
The main leader in the process of dismantling the incumbent party’s candidacy was MINUSTAH’s chief himself. Mulet always spoke negatively when mentioning Jude Célestin. It was in this breeding ground that two major factors intervened during the day of the election. On the one hand, there was the gathering of 12 of the 18 candidates denouncing an alleged electoral fraud and demanding the annulment of the election. On the other, and much more decisive, were the demonstrations – mostly peaceful – that supposedly forced the members of the Core Group to seek refuge in their homes. In that moment, a dilemma presented itself and the atavistic fear of foreigners reemerged: what to do if Martelly’s youth movement were to degenerate? Would MINUSTAH be willing to control it? Would it have the capacity? And at what cost?
Convinced that it would be less risky to retract itself, the Core Group decided to sacrifice the elections. Their cowardice served as an inexhaustible source of inspiration to throw away the hard work of thousands of individuals to organize the elections in extreme conditions. The logic of this strategy was to reward the main grave-diggers of the young Haitian democracy.
In short, for the international community, Haiti is not worth the trouble. Or better said, its recurring crises have made us grow accustomed to act, moved by principles that we always condemn. For someone who arrived in Haiti as a professor of democracy, our lessons leave much to be desired.
Q: What can you tell us about the OAS Expert Mission that intervened in Haiti's elections? How were these "experts" chosen? How was their mandate to look at the results negotiated?
Once the agreement was signed, there was the challenge of making it operational. This was a complex task since the Mission, with its new clothes and functions, was to replace the country’s electoral authorities. Accordingly, it was essential to maintain the appearance that the CEP’s autonomy and independence remained unharmed. This “Corneille’s choice” was impossible to fulfill without the connivance of the CEP advisors, who opposed the maneuver.
The Recount Mission had two objectives. On the one hand, to get Jude Célestin out of the second round, and on the other, to impose this as if it were legal before the Haitian Constitution and Electoral Law.
Swiftly, promptly and in bad faith, on January 13 the EOM, equipped with its unprecedented powers and applying a methodology below any suspicion, decided that Mirlande Manigat remained in first place with 31.6%, with the second place now going to Michel Martelly (22.2%). Jude Célestin was relegated to third place, after obtaining 21,9%. There was a slight reversion of the percentages, enough to get rid of that candidate from being in the second round.
In the 50 years of electoral cooperation offered by the OAS to the member states, it had never dared to adopt these procedures. It had never so evidently and shamelessly replaced not only the electoral authorities of the sponsoring state, but also the voters themselves.
One cannot disagree with René Préval when, faced with the ratification of the election of a candidate imposed by the United States through the international community, he asked himself: “In this case, why were elections held?”
Today there are whispers – not yet voices – within the Brazilian state demanding a revision. However, each Latin American government has its reasons, calculations and expectations when it comes to their participation in MINUSTAH. They are selfish calculations based on an alleged national interest – for example, Brazil hopes to support its claim to become a permanent member in the U.N. Security Council. As long as there is not a strong movement of Latin American public opinion, the governments will continue participating in MINUSTAH.
Georgianne Nienaber is a freelance writer and author and frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. (www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber)
[Translation of Ricardo Seitenfus' answers from Portuguese were by Luis Sandoval. Translation of portions from French by Alexander Main.]
 Seitenfus: “I prefer the term TNGO because I am only referring to the foreign non-governmental organizations that operate in Haiti.”
 In Le Nouvelliste, « Michaelle Jean: Présidente d`Haïti ? », Port-au-Prince, March 25, 2013.
 « La grande manip » in Pierre Buteau, Rodney Saint-Eloi and Lyonel Trouillot, Refonder Haïti ?, Mémoire d`encrier, Montréal, 2010, p. 290.
 Duvalier – and backers such as the Reagan administration - famously promised to transform Haiti into the “Taiwan of the Caribbean” through low-wage apparel production in the 1980s.
 In Le Nouvelliste, March 11, 2013.
 In Le Nouvelliste, March 5, 2013.
 Seitenfus: “Taiwan’s cooperation to Haiti occupies a special place. Devoid of bureaucratic obstacles, it is quick and is preferably used with the turnkey (clef en mains) model.”
 Haiti’s democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flown out of Haiti in 2004 in what he called a “kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat.” Chile’s democratically-elected president Salvador Allende committed suicide in the presidential palace during the country’s September 11, 1973 coup.
 See the memoirs of Ginette Chérubin, Dans le ventre pourri de la bête, Editions de l’Université d’État d’Haïti, Port-au-Prince, 2014.
 This is a French expression referring to a difficult choice.
 The OPL broke off from the Lavalas political movement that had originally propelled Aristide into the presidency in 1991.