As the white rulers of Haiti push for illegitimate elections, can the “Montana Accord”- an agreement among some civil society groups to return democracy to Haiti - offer a way out of the country’s neocolonial predicament?
If you were to read (and believe) mainstream reporting on Haiti, the political dysfunction of the country is a long standing, self-inflicted condition, one which can only be improved through additional rounds of direct foreign intervention and “guidance” in the form of so-called democracy promotion. Elections, the unelected US/EU-led CORE Group argues, are the only way towards a functioning society rooted in democracy and the rule of law. The sooner the elections in Haiti the better.
However, reality refuses to conform to this liberal fantasy, which conflates western-backed elections with democracy. Haitian people have seen that internationally imposed, funded, and organized elections in 2010 and 2016 have only worked to consolidate the power of the kleptocratic and authoritarian Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PTHK) mafia, while consolidating western imperialism in the country. To compound this damage, for the past 32 years, the United States, Canada, France, and the small but powerful Haitian elite have done everything in their power to undermine anything resembling genuine democratic participation in Haiti. This group instigated coups in 1991 and 2004 that resulted in a military occupation by United Nations forces, enabled the mass looting of billions of dollars of earthquake reconstruction and PetroCaribe funds, and turned a blind eye to numerous massacres of the masses who oppose violence and imperialism.
Given this dismal record of imperial control, theft, violence against the masses, and the heavily interventionist track record to silence expressions of popular will at the ballot box, Haitian people are understandably rejecting the calls for another round of US/UN-led CORE Group (s)elections anytime in the near future.
This point was echoed by Jean Saint Vil, a Gatineau-based, author, radio host and activist with the Canada Haiti Action Network and Solidarité Québec Haiti. Saint Vil remarked that: “You will find consensus that we cannot hold elections now, anytime within a year or two. We need a break. The reason being, everybody will agree, there is a set of urgent priorities that need to be attended to first. One of them is to regain control of the police so that there can be a sense of security for people to go about their business…Beside the security apparatus, there are also an array of state institutions which need to come back with some credibility and legitimacy before elections can be called.
Under the administrations of Michel Martelly and Jovenel Moïse, who were both installed through electoral farce of the joint actions of U.S., the Core Group, and the Organization of American States (OAS), the Haitian Chamber of Deputies, Senate, and the Judicial system all became dysfunctional. Through this systematic dismantling of Haiti’s political institutions, Martelly and Moïse both came to rule by decree. The western “international community” never wavered in their political or economic support of the PTHK leaders in clear contradiction to their antagonistic positions towards democratically-elected presidents, Jean Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval.
Given the lack of meaningful ways to participate in political life due to the authoritarian rule of Martelly and Moïse and imperial meddling, Haitians increasingly turned to the streets in order to make their political demands known. Throughout the years of PHTK rule, social movements, civil society, opposition politicians, and religious groups all participated in nationwide strikes and protests, calling for the deeply unpopular presidents to step down amidst repeated accusations of systemic human rights abuses and corruption. Rather than engage and concede to popular political pressure, both Martelly and Moïse doubled down on violently targeting opposition groups, increasingly relying on gangs to not just intimidate, but kill suspected political dissidents. This pattern of unchecked state repression and the use of gangs as a political weapon has helped to deepen Haiti’s security crisis.
Since the assassination of Moïse and despite the security crisis in Haiti, the US/Core Group-imposed de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been pushing for elections as soon as possible. Henry no doubt knows that the conditions will ensure the continuation of the neo-Duvalierist/PTHK control of Haiti’s neocolonial government. For example, voter turnout in US and OAS-rigged (s)election in 2010 was around 22 percent and, in 2016, it was 17 percent, the lowest ever recorded in the Americas. If similar (s)elections were to take place in the current context, the turnout will be even lower
According to Saint Vil, this should not come as a surprise: “The status quo of elections in Haiti offers no meaningful avenue for participation in the country’s institutional political life - hence the incredibly low numbers of voters… Having security to participate in an election is an important situation, because if people don’t feel safe they won’t go out to vote. But we know full well that for the CORE Group that is exactly what they want. They have had those low turnout elections, where they say, ‘oh well it's not perfect but for Haiti it’s good enough.’ That’s easier for them, because you can steal an election with low turnout. It is harder to steal an election with a high turnout.”
It is for these reasons, and many more, that many are hopeful that the “Montana Accord” (named after the hotel in Haiti where the accord was signed) may offer a way off the treadmill of destructive imperially coordinated elections. They see this Accord as presenting an important opportunity to build toward what is hoped to be genuinely democratic elections within a window of two years.
The Montana Accord emerged from the work led by the “Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis,” a forum of diverse Haitian civil society organizations. The Commission released its platform in March 2021, in the context of the refusal of Jovenel Moïse to step down at the end of his term in February 2021. As of August 30, 2021, the Montana Accord is said to have included 418 civil society organizations, 105 popular organizations, and 85 political parties from across Haiti’s political spectrum. It claims to represent a cross section of Haitian political life, including Fanmi Lavalas and figures and organizations who had supported the 2004 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide. Importantly, the Montana Accord includes the call for a transitional government, a call that was made as far back as 2018 by Fanmi Lavalas, the “Sali Piblik.”
While the Montana Accord is not perfect, it may be able to provide much needed high voter turnout and corresponding legitimacy to an electoral process which has been hijacked since 2010 by the US and CORE Group to install and keep in power the Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PTHK) regime. While it remains to be seen how much support the Montana Accord will receive from the Haitian masses, Moniqe Clesca, one of the architect’s of the Montana Accord, has stated that the Montana Accord represents the political voice of millions of Haitians in trade unions, peasant and feminist organizations, church and vodou communities, as well as the “PetroChallengers” who have been excluded from the political process since the CORE Group’s interventions in 2010. This is in contrast to the disproportionate political and economic influence of the six oligarchic families in Haiti - the Brandt, Acra, Madsen, Bigio, Apaid and Mevs oligarch families - which control 90 percent of Haiti’s wealth and enjoy exemptions on paying taxes.
We should support those who have crafted the Montana Accord as it presents an alternative path during this critical juncture in Haitian politics. While it remains to be seen whether the Montana Accord can be a vehicle for a platform rooted in grassroots participatory democracy and radical redistributive justice that mass movements have been protesting for in the streets (most recently the striking garment workers), it has the potential to provide a chance for a much needed reset. It may also create a space for Haiti to get away from the charade of bourgeois democracy and imperial intervention, and start the process towards the creation of a system rooted in popular democracy and self-determination.
However, we must remain cautious about the ability of the Accord to remain uncorrupted by interventions by the imperialist CORE Group, remnants of the PTHK regime and political opportunists who may use the transition to serve their own personal ends. The leadership race within the Montana Accord (led by the National Transitional Council in which economist Fritz Jean and former Senator Steven Benoit were selected respectively as interim President and Prime Minister of the transitional government) has been critiqued for failing to be transparent and non-partisan in determining the top tier of candidates.
Despite these early challenges, the growing support of the Montana Accord has not gone unnoticed by the US government. On March 16, President Biden’s new omnibus spending package contained stronger language around accountability, transparency and the need to increasingly recognize the competing poles of political power in Haiti. In addition, seven members of the US Congress have publicly voiced their support for the Montana Accord - signaling that support for Henry can be withdrawn if a better political and economic opportunity arises.
In this context of shifting U.S. strategy, Saint Vil warns about the need to stay the course and remain independent of the CORE Group and PTHK, remarking that “the problem is that if [the leaders of the Montana Accord] give up too much of their road map, if they compromise to integrate parts of the current regime into the accord, bowing to pressure from the U.S., then they will have lost all credibility.” These are important words of caution to avoid the Montana Accord from turning into another vehicle for bourgeois democracy. These words also give us more reason to remain consistent in our calls for the CORE Group to be dismantled and for the US/Canada/EU to stop its ongoing meddling in Haiti. The Haitian people have the ability to chart their own future, rooted in genuine, radical self-determination.
Kevin Edmonds (@kevin_edmonds) is a member of the Toronto-based Caribbean Solidarity Network (CSN), an organization committed to the principles of Caribbean Liberation and Unity across the region as well as throughout the Diaspora. He is also an assistant professor in the Caribbean Studies Program at the University of Toronto.