By Dady Chery. Axis of Logic
Michel Martelly’s inauguration on May 14th brings into effect a new Haitian constitution. This document was drafted and voted on so quickly that, when the parliamentary session closed, the president of the assembly had no time to reread to the lawmakers the amendments on which they had voted the two previous days. The new constitution will be published in French. The version of the old 1987 Constitution in Haitian Creole will not be amended. In effect, this will leave Haiti with one constitution for the rich and another for the poor.
Michel Martelly, Haiti's Prefab President now has
his very own prefab parliament and constitution.
Yes. In Haiti, metaphor and reality casually commingle. One glance at the surface of things often reveals the rest.
Haiti's Prefab Parliament
Let us consider in more detail Haiti’s parliament. To replace the original structure laid low by the earthquake, MINUSTAH (the UN force) financed a spanking new prefab version for U.S. $800,000. It took less than two months to assemble this prefab parliament. The building, I mean. The actual parliament, that is Haiti’s 49th legislature, took slightly longer. It is this prefab parliament that drafted the constitutional amendments.
How the Haiti's 49th legislature came to be:
Aristide’s majority party Fanmi Lavalas, which enjoys support from 80% of the electorate, was excluded from Haiti’s elections and therefore boycotted them. November’s elections were a fiasco by all accounts, and the subsequent runoffs in March were a travesty. The presidency was won with fewer than 20% voting, and the parliamentary elections were a complete debacle. The president-elect’s party, a prefab cult of personality called “Tet Kale” (bald head) got only 3 parliamentary seats. More than 70 of the parliamentary seats were contested. The outcomes of the contests were rapidly decided by a special prefab court set up by the Office of National Election (BCEN). Its indefatigable prefab judges heard as many as 8 to 10 cases per evening, and their decisions superceded those of the regional electoral courts in the towns where the votes took place.
Despite all this rush, 19 congressional seats (17 house and 2 senate) were still unfilled for the first session of the 49th legislature. The contested seats were initially granted to INITE, the party of Haiti’s outgoing president Rene Preval Preval giving it a clear parliamentary majority. If this majority had prevailed, INITE’s ranks would have supplied the new Prime Minister (possibly Preval). The international community, wanting to check INITE’s power, declared itself “shocked, shocked, shocked” that there was cheating in Haiti’s elections. By the time a decision was reached to yank 15 of INITE‘s seats, the prefab parliament had already concluded an extraordinary session to amend Haiti’s Constitution.
For years Haiti’s 1987 Constitution, written immediately after Duvalier’s ouster, has stuck in the craw of colonial powers. When this Constitution was drafted, its text was published in Creole and in French for all to examine. This was followed by a popular referendum in which nearly 90% of the people voted in favor of the document.
The 1987 Constitution:
- Protects human and socioeconomic rights. For all Haitian nationals, the rights to life, security (from forced exile, capricious visa requirements from one’s own country, etc.), and freedoms of expression, conscience, assembly, and association are guaranteed. The rights to education, information, ownership, and work are protected. Haitian nationality however is considered to be permanently lost on naturalization in a foreign country and continuous residence abroad without authorization, or on tenure of a political post in the service of a foreign country.
- Promotes decentralization. In addition to a central government, the Constitution defines three levels of government. Specifically, the country is divided in ten Departments. The Departments are in turn divided into 140 Municipalities, and the Municipalities into 568 Communes.
- Minimizes executive power. The Constitution splits the executive between a President who is popularly elected and a Prime Minister who is appointed. The President’s tenure is limited to two non-consecutive 5-year terms, and all his actions (treaties and agreements etc.) must be countersigned by a Minister or approved by the Parliament. The Prime Minister is chosen from the majority party; the choice of Prime Minister, his program of government, and members of his cabinet must be approved by the Parliament.
- Promotes legislative powers. The Parliament (whose members are chosen by popular vote) can impeach the President or Prime Minister. On the other hand, the Parliament cannot be dissolved or adjourned or have any of its members’ mandates extended.
- Promotes a judiciary independent from the executive. Supreme Court Judges are appointed by the Senate and the Communal Assemblies. Should the president become incapacitated, it is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who assumes the presidency.
Though I much prefer Haiti’s first Constitution for its poetry and great anti-colonialist passions, one can easily see that a lot of thought, and not a little knowledge of Haitian history, went into the 1987 document. Nevertheless, as early as 2009, Haiti’s legislators, together with USAID, declared Haiti to be undergoing a “constitutional crisis” and began agitating to amend the Constitution. The stated reason was its failure to recognize the brain-drain diaspora Haitians despite their remittance of about U.S. $1.7 billion per year to the country in money transfers to their families.
Early proposals for the emancipation of the diaspora were met with strong resistance from Haitians at home, who took exception to being considered Haiti’s arms and legs. But after the earthquake and the corruption associated with the disbursal of reconstruction funds, calls for help from the diaspora became mingled for the calls for dual citizenship. Indeed, in the last few months the Haitian press has promoted the issue of dual citizenship almost to the exclusion of all other proposed constitutional amendments, as if the only reason for changing the Constitution was to loosen the diaspora’s purse strings. In fact, the diaspora vote served to cover a consolidation of power by Haiti’s central government.
Determining the future of a country in under 20 hours in 2 meetings
Within five days of being seated and, in two meetings totaling less than 20 hours, Haiti’s newly assembled 49th legislature modified over 100 articles of the 1987 Constitution. The result was a legislative coup d’etat. The main changes are noted below.
The amended constitution
- The Stealth Article: The amended constitution barely escaped including a stealth article that would have allowed Michel Martelly’s presidency to continue for 10 years. This ploy was thwarted by Senator Steven Benoit at around 11:55 p.m. Tuesday night. Mr. Benoit threatened to resign when he found a prefab amendment in a late draft of the constitution calling for two consecutive presidential terms. This amendment had been absent from all previous drafts, and no one knows how it came to be inserted in the document. Mr. Benoit prevailed and, in the end, the parliament voted to limit the tenure of the president to two non-consecutive 5-year terms without any possibility of a third.
- Consolidation of Power: Several measures in the revised constitution will greatly consolidate power in the executive and the central government.
- Dissolution of the Supreme Court and establishment of a Constitutional Council. The new constitution dilutes the power of the communal assemblies that previously had input into the nominations of supreme court judges. It concentrates power instead into the President, who will appoint the members of a Constitutional Council (to 9-year non-renewable terms) to verify the constitutionality of legislation.
Effectively, a Vichy president gets to make the laws. This opens the way to undemocratic and unconstitutional laws that favor foreign concerns such as Clinton’s CIRH (Interim Committee for the Reconstruction of Haiti). This amendment also increases the power of the Prime Minister, who is now designated, in lieu of the Chief Supreme Court Justice, to succeed an incapacitated president. Since Haitian Prime Ministers are typically picked by foreign powers, this item nicely sets the stage for foreign control of both the presidential and prime ministerial functions.
- Conclusion of all mayoral terms: From now on, until the municipal elections of 2013, all Haiti’s mayors will be replaced by “Municipal Agents” designated by the central government. The stated reason for this decision is the high cost of elections. In fact, the absence of mayors will destroy local governments and expose resources such as commons lands to confiscation.
- Recognition of Haitian citizenship alongside other nationalities: The amended constitution grants diaspora Haitians the right to vote and be treated solely as Haitian citizens while in Haiti. Simultaneously the constitution specifies that dual-nationality Haitians may not hold political office. In effect, the diaspora has gained the ability to swing elections and to be used for electoral fraud, but nothing more. The idea of including Haitians from abroad in the affairs of the country is an old one that was first fielded by Aristide. His proposal, however, was to create an 11th Department comprising the diaspora, with its own political representatives. In this fairer arrangement, the diaspora would have promoted diaspora affairs without meddling in domestic policy.
Certainly the new constitution is invalid, considering the circumstances under which it was drafted. If there is any doubt on this score, one need only consider that Haiti’s legislators amended the constitution to extend their terms, on the final night of their meeting. This was a clearly unconstitutional move. Such temptation. Jobs and places to live are scarce in Port-au-Prince.
It is unclear where Michel Martelly’s prefab digs will be set up, but he got the better job. Unabashed in his new emperor's clothes, he has already named his Prime Minister without consulting the new parliament. Former U.S. President Clinton, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, Haiti’s “special coordinator in the U.S. State Department” Thomas Adams, Honduran dictator Porfirio Lobo, and Haitian ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier are among those to attend Martelly’s 4.5-million dollar inauguration this Saturday on the lawn outside of Haiti’s wrecked national palace.
“Everything is broken,’’ said Daniel Supplice, head of Martelly’s presidential transition team. “But we don’t have a choice. The president has to be inaugurated either way. It has to be done. We have to see how it is done.’’ Mr. Supplice forgets that the 1987 revolt started with the resentment wrought by Duvalier’s 3-million dollar wedding in 1980.
No. We do have a choice.
Read her Bio and more Essays and Translations
by Haitian Author, Dady Chery on Axis of Logic