Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) recently announced that elections will take place later this year. Up for grabs will be local and regional posts in October and the presidency and legislative seats in November. One hundred forty parties are registered to participate and 100 candidates will run for president.

However, given that the U.S.-installed interim government is making it impossible for the Famni Lavalas Party — the party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — to take part, these elections will be neither free nor fair. Because of the repression directed against it, Lavalas has announced that it will not be able to participate.

“How can one speak of elections when our senior officials and activists are imprisoned and our supporters persecuted across the country?” asked Felito Doran, a former Lavalas deputy.

Writing along the same lines, Seth DeLong of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs recently observed, “Lavalas’ decision to not participate is a direct result of the suppression carried out against party supporters by paramilitary factions and gang leaders who get their marching orders from the [Gerard] Latortue government.”

The Latortue government and its U.S., Canadian and European Union backers will not allow Lavalas to participate because it continues to enjoy broad support and could win any election. Tens of thousands of Haitians have braved police bullets to attend demonstrations demanding the return of democratically elected President Aristide.

Winning successive elections, Lavalas ruled the country from 1994 until Feb. 29, 2004, when U.S. marines seized Aristide and then flew him out of the country. The U.S. then set up a government dominated by anti-Lavalas opponents.

The CEP cannot be trusted to organize clean elections. It is dominated by anti-Aristide opponents, while Lavalas and other groups representing the poor have been excluded. Roselor Julien, who represented the Catholic Church on the CEP and served as its chairperson, resigned last November, saying that the council was not able to organize fair elections. He also revealed that he had received death threats.

Julien said that his troubles on the council began when he opposed a proposal made by the anti-Aristide “Group of 184” to introduce electronic voting that would have made electoral fraud easy to commit. He accused this organization — founded with U.S. support and led by powerful businessman André Apaid Jr. — of manipulating the electoral process through its representatives and allies on the council. The Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami Law School recently released a report charging that Apaid is paying gangs in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to kill Lavalas supporters.

“They wanted me to leave them a clear field so they may implement their plan unchallenged,” Julien said. “They [the Group of 184] are using the media to mislead the population and suppress opposition to their plan to hijack the electoral process.”

The CEP then dismissed 60 employees that Julien had hired. The former assistant director for electoral operations, Hoverlaw Prou, said “the decision of a group of electoral counselors to dismiss the personnel of the management of electoral operations was taken in order to manipulate the next election.” Members of the council were concealing embezzlement and financial scandals, he charged, and he called on judicial bodies to investigate.

Unless something changes, the upcoming elections in Haiti will be just another U.S.-style “demonstration election” held to ensure the election of a business-friendly government and to keep Lavalas from regaining power.

tpelzer @ shaw.ca