Sunday, March 28, 2004

Ja: Hey, you stupid, backward Haitians, here's how you do it!

Last Thursday, the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) was voted out of office by the people of Antigua and Barbuda after 28 years in government.
The victory of the United Progressive Party (UPP) in that context, was a triumph of not only democracy as a concept, but of the process by which it works.

In other words, the Antiguans subscribed to a set of institutional arrangements and sought to ensure that they work. When these institutions fell under stress, they were not abandoned and overthrown. Neither did the opponents of the government foment violence as a means to their reward.

Which they might have done, given the allegations of corruption, malfeasance, fraud and electoral malpractice that have been levelled against the regimes of former prime minister Lester Bird and his predecessor and father, Vere Cornwall Bird Sr. There was no attempt at a premature, unconstitutional dislodging of a democratically-elected leader.

What the Antigua opposition did instead was to engage their country's partners in the Caribbean Community to help guarantee the legitimacy of the institutions of democracy.

For instance, Jamaica's electoral office, having developed significant experience in its domestic environment in cleaning up a corrupt process, was asked to develop a clean voters' register for Antigua and Barbuda. Additionally, Caricom sent election monitors to Antigua for the poll. The upshot was an election which everyone declared to have been largely free and fair.

It was possible, and happened, because there was an adherence to principle and process, rather than a denudation of institutions.

This was precisely the point that Caricom had made in its initiative that would have allowed Mr Aristide to serve out the remainder of his term as president, but sharing power with his opposition.

The cohabitation, even if enforced, would have sent a signal to Haitians that processes work and that democratic institutions are relevant. It would have provided another important lesson in democracy - the importance of negotiation and compromise and that countries benefit naught from a politics based on scorched earth tactics.

Happily, most of us in Caricom embrace far more than the rudiments of democracy and understand that democracy, like excellence, is a continuum, a never ending work in progress.

Hopefully, the coup d'etat against Mr Aristide is the last in Haiti. Perhaps with lessons such as Antigua's, and elsewhere in Caricom, the Haitians will begin to engage the rudiments of the process.
I'm at a total loss for words with the depth and breadth of this writer's contempt for Haitians and his disregard for Haitian suffering. He lacks any understanding of the realities that have forced Haitians, time and again, to revolt against oppressors. The thing is, practically no Caribbeanites either visit or live in in Haiti, so all that these guys have to say is best understood as idealistic drivel. Haiti will be capable of adherence to democratic principle and process when civil society and economic order is brought to the country. You can't tell a man whose child has to drink dirty water that he should live with it and endure the process unless you're prepared to do something concrete to bring him clean water and so help him endure while the process works. Caricom was never in favor of doing the measures that would ensure people would endure the process in Haiti.

My devout wish: every Caribbean head of state and journalist would be dumped off in the poorest part of Haiti, without money and with only the most rudimentary resources to eke out a living for three months.

It's one thing to sit on your arse fat and happy in Jamaica, T&T, Barbados, wherever. It's another thing to experience life like many Haitians do.


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