Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Reality Behind Haiti's Failed Presidential Debates

Having a debate among the presidential candidates on September 18 in Haiti and streamed live over the Internet seemed like an exciting proposition. That was until only four of the nineteen candidates showed up along with a sparse audience of forty people. As the candidates provided vague answers to pre-arranged questions the electrical grid crashed twice interrupting the debate. The live signal streaming over the Internet ended suddenly after a scant twenty minutes of transmission.

A sketchy group at the University of Miami School of Communication named Koze Ayiti, an earthquake recovery organization named Konbit for Haiti, and Haiti Aid Watchdog, hosted the event. Koze Ayiti describes itself broadly as representing “a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Miami School of Communication” without identifying its members. The Board of Directors of Konbit for Haiti reads like a who’s who of Florida real estate interests, commercial enterprises, and high-powered legal firms combined with a smattering of Haitians added for credibility. One of the main principals behind Haiti Aid Watchdog is Gary Victor “the chief editor of Le Matin” that is owned by the right-leaning wealthy Boulos clan in Haiti. Perhaps the most interesting resume associated with the ill-fated Haitian presidential debates is that of one of the partners of Justin.tv that was responsible for web casting the event. According to Alsop Louie Partners website, the owners of Justin.tv : “Gilman Louie is a Partner. He is the founder and former CEO of In-Q-Tel, a strategic venture fund created to help enhance national security by connecting the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. intelligence community with venture-backed entrepreneurial companies.”

Beyond the forces responsible for the debate debacle is the real question of interest among the Haitian electorate in the upcoming elections scheduled for Nov. 28. What is clear is that most Haitians do not consider themselves stakeholders in the exercise that is being funded by the international community to the tune of more than $29 million. Ansel Herz, an independent journalist based in Port au Prince summed it up, “I have to say that most people are not interested whatsoever in the upcoming elections. The greatest concentration of the electorate are from the capital and they are living under severe conditions in makeshift camps.” Which raises the question of how you can expect to run free, fair and inclusive elections with more than 1.5 million people left homeless following the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010? How do you insure the integrity of electoral rolls and balloting against a backdrop of undue influence by an army of foreign non-governmental organizations who are more clearly defined as stakeholders in their success than Haitians themselves? Add to that the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s largest and most popular political party that will most likely call for a boycott, and you have a recipe for a man-made political disaster compounding the natural one.

Unfortunately, the hosts and sponsors of Haiti’s most recent failed debates don’t seemed concerned with questions of the substance of democracy and instead opted for the spectacle and illusion of democracy. Still, expect them or others like them to try it again amid a rising din of hyperbole for democratic principals designed to cover up the dismal socio-political reality in Haiti as Nov. 28 approaches.

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