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Haiti-Elections: Send this mission packing

The failure of the OAS-Caricom mission…
Posted on Wednesday 5 January 2011

By James Morrell *

Submitted to AlterPresse

The electoral crisis that has now prompted the U.S. and Canadian governments to send a team of six outside experts to conduct a recount sharply underlines the failure of the OAS-Caricom mission to carry out the most rudimentary verification tasks that are inseparable from the nature of an electoral-observation mission. Specifically, while claiming it was present and "closely monitoring" operations at the Tabulation Center, the OAS mission utterly failed to detect the classification as countable of over fourteen thousand evidently fraudulent votes. The counting of these votes changed the results of the presidential race, qualifying the ruling-party candidate for the runoff.

Below, we piece together the incomplete facts surrounding this egregious incident.

On December 4, 2010, the Haiti Democracy Project’s accredited electoral mission in Haiti received an unconfirmed report that the members of the electoral commission were feeling pressure from President Préval to alter the results in favor of the government candidate. Nevertheless, the commissioners reportedly wanted to announce the correct results. They reportedly wanted to meet with the Haiti Democracy Project, as an independent American organization with connections in Washington, to see if it could get the State Department to enhance their security, as they trusted neither the Haitian police nor the MINUSTAH mission.

Although the Haiti Democracy Project mission denied it had any realistic means of getting the State Department to provide the security, it did meet on December 4 with one member of the electoral commission who confirmed the existence of pressure without indicating its source or severity.

On December 5, the mission met with the president of the CEP Gaillot Dorsinvil and three other members including Jacques Belzin and Laurette Croyance at their headquarters in Petionville. In the conversation, Dorsinvil confirmed that the commission felt itself under pressure from various quarters without specifying which quarter or for what reason. Asked what specific measures of security he would need, he replied that he believed he needed a bulletproof car.

In the previous week’s press, it had been publicly reported that U.N. mission chief Edmund Mulet had threatened the CEP members with having their visas removed if they falsified the election results. In the general discussion about pressure at the CEP, the Haiti Democracy Project mission came to believe that this might be one of the pressures the CEP was alluding to. However, the mention of the desire for an armored vehicle indicated that the specific security threat emanated from the government’s armed enforcers, not the U.N. mission.

The Haiti Democracy Project indicated its sympathy with the electoral commissioners’ concerns. It recalled two previous high electoral officials who had been forced to flee for their lives, Léon Manus and Jacques Bernard. In both cases, the Haiti Democracy Project organized seminars in Washington where these officials described the threats that had sent them into exile.

Mr. Dorsinvil indicated that he was aware of these cases. The conversation ended inconclusively.

In summary, the project’s observer mission concluded that two points in the original unconfirmed report had been corroborated: (1) security threat emanating ultimately from Préval, and (3) desire for American help with security. The electoral commission felt threatened and unprotected. On point (2), desire to do the right thing, the mission soon received a report that the commission was about to announce Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly as winners for the second round. This report was completely unconfirmed and even if true, the intention only lasted for one day.

Beginning on December 6, the mission began hearing reports that the electoral commission took out of quarantine roughly sixty of 350 polling-place returns in order to throw the second-place berth to the ruling-party candidate. These reports of de-quarantining remain unconfirmed to this date.

What the mission has been able to confirm beyond a doubt, however, is the existence of a block of votes in the announced results that meet the above characteristics. These are the results of seventy-five polling places with 14,400 votes which display the same pattern of excessive votes for one candidate that caused the Tabulation Center to quarantine 311 other returns containing 38,000 votes.

The existence of a block of suspect votes that were counted, and their general proportion to the quarantined vote, do match up to the reports we have received. Only the claim that these votes were originally quarantined remains to be verified.

After visiting with the electoral commission, on December 5 the Haiti Democracy Project’s mission proceeded to the Tabulation Center with some four hundred carbon copies of official polling-station returns and proposed to compare them with those received by the center. In December 2006, the project’s mission had made a similar request to the Tabulation Center and had been hospitably received. In its investigation then, the project found egregious cases of alteration of returns which fortunately had already been discovered by lawyers working at the center.

This time, the head of the Tabulation Center, Alain Gauthier, denied the Haiti Democracy Project’s request. Even after supplying him with our badge number, and reminding him that Haitian electoral law accorded observers the right to examine all electoral operations throughout the national territory, we were refused. He gave no reason.

In the event, the documents in our possession proved that the returns received and compiled by the Tabulation Center for a deputy’s race in Ouanaminthe had been massively and fraudulently altered in favor of the ruling-party candidate. We have posted on the web an image comparison of the original polling-place returns to the fraudulent results published by the Tabulation Center. In their subsequent investigations, both the Tabulation Center and the OAS have admitted that the published results are false. Since we arrived at the Tabulation Center two days before publication of the results, we regret it did not take advantage of our offer of documentation which could have saved it from publishing these false results.

At the same time as the Tabulation Center was barring the Haiti Democracy Project’s accredited mission, it was admitting the OAS mission.

The OAS mission claims in its press releases that it was present and "closely monitoring" operations at the Tabulation Center "to ensure the integrity of the results." Yet one day after the Haiti Democracy Project’s aborted visit to the Tabulation Center, the OAS mission there either failed to detect, or acquiesced in, the classification of 14,400 false votes as countable, a move that altered the results of the presidential race in favor of the government party and threw the country into turmoil.

Questioned on December 24 by the Haiti Democracy Project mission, OAS mission chief Amb.Colin Granderson said that he did not have enough personnel in place at the tabulation center to detect this particular fraud. He had no reaction when asked how the Haiti Democracy Project with its tiny resources could detect it while his mission could not.

Since Alain Gauthier gave no reason for the exclusion of the Haiti Democracy Project from the Tabulation Center, while admitting the OAS, we cannot claim knowledge of his motivation for this different treatment of two equally-credentialed missions. However, it is difficult to escape the impression that compared to the critical bent of the Haiti Democracy Project and its possession of independent documentation, the OAS’s style of "closely monitoring" everything and detecting nothing may have been more reassuring for this particular administrator.

In August 2010 OAS secretary-general José Insulza visited Haiti and met with both the electoral commission and leading opposition politicians and civil-society members, who carefully explained to him why they found the electoral commission to be totally lacking in independence and subordinated to President Préval. The situation forced these opposition politicians to boycott the election in protest, a protest joined by these civil society leaders. As a result, most of the country’s most credible social-democratic parties did boycott the election.

On leaving the country, Insulza said he found no reason to believe that the electoral commission was anything less than credible. This displayed a pro-government bias and shocking disregard of the facts. For questioning this pronouncement of the secretary-general, the leader of a civil-society group was then accused by the OAS of conducting a propaganda campaign against the OAS.

In fact, the electoral commission’s frank admission to the Haiti Democracy Project of a security threat ultimately from Préval, and its cave-in a day later by counting 14,400 suspect votes for the government candidate, prove that the social-democratic parties and civil society leaders were correct all along in their evaluation of the CEP and the OAS completely wrong.

Its pro-government blinders have rendered the OAS electoral observation mission ineffective in detecting gross fraud to the extent that it has forfeited credibility not only with Haitian public opinion, but even with Washington.

In 2000, after the head of the OAS electoral observation mission, Orlando Marville, detected and requested correction of gross fraud, and was refused by the Haitian government, he formally withdrew the observation mission from Haiti. Senator Marville is a founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project.

The step that Marville took so reluctantly, yet decisively in 2000, is now overdue for a mission that has not only failed to prevent fraud but even to detect it.

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* James Morrell led the Haiti Democracy Project’s electoral mission of fifty-eight observers. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1977.