It didn’t get much attention in the media, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did something quite surprising on Sunday. After taping interviews on five big Sunday talk shows about Egypt, she then boarded a plane to Haiti. Yes, Haiti. The most impoverished country in the hemisphere, not exactly a “strategic ally” or a global player on the world’s political stage.
Inquiring minds might want to know why the United States’ top foreign policy official would have to go to Haiti in the midst of the worst crisis she has faced. The answer is that there is also a crisis in Haiti. And it is a crisis that – unlike the humanitarian crisis that Haiti has suffered since the earthquake last year – Washington really cares about.
Like the Egyptians, Haitians are calling for free and fair elections. But in this case Washington will not support free and fair elections, even nominally. Quite the opposite, in fact. For weeks now the U.S. government has been threatening the government of Haiti with various punishments if it refuses to reverse the results of the first round of its presidential elections. Washington wants Haiti to eliminate the government’s candidate and leave only two right-wing candidates to compete in the second round.
Just three weeks ago it looked like a done deal. The Organization of American States (OAS) “Expert Verification Mission” did a report on Haiti’s Nov. 28 presidential elections, and on Jan. 10 it was leaked to the press. The report recommended moving the government’s candidate, Jude Celestin, into third place by just 0.3 percent of the vote; leaving right-wing candidates Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, and Michel Martelly, a popular musician, in first and second place, respectively. This was followed with various statements and threats from U.S. and French officials that Haiti must accept this change of result. U.S. officials strongly implied that aid to Haiti would be cut if the government didn’t do as told. It looked as if desperately poor Haiti would have to give in immediately.
But then there was push-back. President Preval noted that six of the seven “experts” from the OAS Mission were from the U.S., Canada, and France – the three countries that led the effort to overthrow Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004.
Then the OAS report was found to be so deeply flawed as to be worthless in determining which candidates should proceed to a second round. The report ignored the problem of more than 150,000 missing votes that – given the voting patterns in the areas affected – would have shifted the result to Celestin. It also examined only a sample of the tally sheets, and did not use any statistical inference to estimate how the 92 percent of the tally sheets that it did not examine might have affected the result.