Freedom in the World
A powerful earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing approximately 200,000 people and leaving close to 1.2 million others homeless. The country’s bureaucratic infrastructure was heavily damaged, as were prisons, police stations, and judicial facilities. A cholera outbreak that began in October had killed more than 3,000 people by the end of 2010. The November first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections was marred by instances of massive fraud, violations of electoral law, and violent street protests, leading to a political crisis that paralyzed the country through year’s end.
Since gaining independence from France in 1804 following a slave revolt, the Republic of Haiti has endured a history of poverty, violence, instability, and dictatorship. A 1986 military coup ended 29 years of rule by the Duvalier family, and although the military permitted the implementation of a French-style constitution under international pressure in 1987, army officers continued to dominate political affairs for most of the next eight years.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular former priest, was elected president in 1990. After only eight months in office, he was deposed and exiled by a military triumvirate. While paramilitary thugs terrorized the populace, the ruling junta engaged in blatant narcotics trafficking. The United Nations ultimately authorized a multinational force to restore the legitimate Haitian government, and in September 1994, facing an imminent invasion, the military rulers stepped down. U.S. troops took control of the country, and Aristide was reinstated. He dismantled the military before the June 1995 parliamentary elections, but his support began to fracture when international observers questioned the legitimacy of the balloting. Aristide retained the backing of the more radical Lavalas Family (FL) party, which won an overwhelming parliamentary majority.
FL nominee René Préval, who had been Aristide’s prime minister in 1991, won the 1995 presidential election and took office in February 1996. The constitution had barred Aristide from seeking a second consecutive term. U.S. forces withdrew from the country in April 1996, while the UN force extended its stay at Préval’s urging.
Aristide returned to the presidency in the 2000 election, which was boycotted by all major opposition parties amid widespread civil unrest and voter intimidation. He ran on a populist platform of economic revitalization, though opponents claimed that he was bent on establishing a one-party state. His supporters gained a majority of seats in both the upper and lower houses in that year’s parliamentary elections.
Aristide’s second term was undermined by cuts in foreign aid, increasing levels of poverty, and conflict with business elites and opposition groups. Faced with an armed revolt by political gangs and former army officers in February 2004, Aristide was flown out of the country in a plane chartered by the United States. He eventually accepted exile in South Africa.
A constitutional transition elevated Boniface Alexandre, head of the Supreme Court, to the position of president, and a new prime minister was named in March.As political decay continued throughout the country, the UN peacekeeping force gradually expanded beyond the capital. Renewed with troop contributions from Brazil and other Latin American countries, the force grew to approximately 9,000 personnel.
Former president Préval returned to power in the relatively well-conducted 2006 elections with 51 percent of the presidential vote, but his newly organized Front for Hope (Lespwa) party failed to win a majority in either house of parliament. Security improved the following year after a UN crackdown on gangs in the capital.
The parliament clashed with the government in 2008 and 2009, forcing out two prime ministers, though the replacement for the second was approved in an orderly succession in late 2009. Also during 2009, Lespwa won 5 of 11 seats at stake in elections for the Senate, retaining a plurality in the chamber.
On January 12, 2010, a powerful earthquake struck 16 miles from Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people and injuring as many as 300,000. At year’s end, over a million people remained homeless, living in approximately 460 camps. The UN headquarters in Port-au-Princewas destroyed, and the infrastructure of the police force and judiciary were severely damaged, compromising security and leading to lost case work and trial delays for an already overburdened court system. In October, the country suffered an outbreak of cholera, which had killed over 3,000 people by year’s end.
The first round of parliamentary and presidential elections, held in November, was marred by widespread reports of fraud, voter intimidation, violations of electoral law, and problems with the composition of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Prior to the elections, the government refused to consider changes to the council that had been requested by the opposition and strongly recommended by the international community.Moreover, new documents had to be issued to displaced voters, and purging the deceased from voter lists proved difficult, as death certificates were unavailable in many cases.Following the election, doctored election tally sheets (procès-verbal) were posted online, and the majority of opposition candidates reiterated their calls for the election to be voided, receiving growing support in Haiti and from abroad.
In the presidential contest, Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and the candidate for the opposition Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP), won a surprising 31 percent in the first round of voting. Jude Célestin, backed by Préval, captured approximately 22.5 percent, while popular musician Michel Martelly finished third with 21.84 percent. All three candidates had supported voiding the elections, but Manigat and Célestin retracted their calls after the results were released. Meanwhile, Martelly’s supporters took to the streets, claiming that fraud had prevented their candidate from advancing to the runoff. The resulting political crisis remained unresolved at year’s end, with a runoff election between Manigat and Célestin scheduled for January 2011.
In the parliamentary elections, 22 candidates for the lower house won outright majorities in the first round, with the remainder of the seats to be decided in the second round in 2011. Inité took 13 of the 22 initial seats, and five smaller parties won the others. Of the 11 Senate seats at stake, Inité won three outright, and Altenativ secured one; the rest went to the 2011 runoff.