Haiti's political crisis continues

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Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Haiti is ill-prepared for a political crisis. This year an earthquake and a cholera epidemic have devastated the Caribbean country. There was hope that last month's presidential election would at least produce a functioning government, but thousands of people were not able to vote, and observers witnessed incidents of violence, voter intimidation, and ballot box stuffing. Now, Haiti's electoral council has invited the feuding candidates to appeal the results. Robert Fatton is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. He is from Port-au-Prince and has written extensively on Haiti's political upheavals. Professor, how critical is it that for Haiti to get to a point of political stability soon?

Robert Fatton: Well, Haiti needs stability in order to deal with the major problems facing the country. As you know, the earthquake has devastated the infrastructure of the country, an infrastructure that was already very weak. And the cholera epidemic has exacerbated those terrible conditions. Those issues cannot be dealt with without some political stability, more importantly, I think, a legitimate government.

Mullins: And are they being dealt with now, because what we're hearing today from Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is that Haiti's leaders should listen to what Patrick Leahy, the U.S. senator, has called for, that being a freezing of U.S. aid to Haiti. Does that kind of call resonate with Haitian leaders and would that be likely to make any difference?

Fatton: Well, it remains to be seen what the United States wants exactly with that freezing. Do they want to punish the Reval administration because the elections were very poorly organized, do they want to punish all of the political class, that is to say all the members that are participants in the election, tell them that until there is an agreement they will not be allowed to visit the United States or their banking account might be frozen? This remains unclear.

Mullins: Well, what Secretary of State Clinton is saying is that it wants to ensure a fair and democratic outcome to the elections. Can Haitian officials at this point, given the state of the country, afford not to heed warnings like that?

Fatton: Well, I think they have to be very careful. On the other hand, that election was not just an election organized by the Haitian government and the electoral council of Haiti. It was also an election that was very much out of the foreign community involvement in Haiti. If the elections failed, it's to a large degree not just the fault of Haiti's authority, but also the international community.

Mullins: But if you're putting the blame on the international community, what could've and should've been done?

Fatton: I think it would've been much better to have had some sort of government of national unity created immediately after the earthquake, that would've allowed the country to go on for maybe two or three years, and then organize elections once the emergency situation had been dealt with to some extent.

Mullins: Is there any reason to believe that there is merit to the argument that Haiti cannot govern itself right now in its time of grief crisis, and that it should be a protectorate? Do you place any kind of merit in that?

Fatton: Well, frankly, I don't think this is going to work. I mean Haiti, to a large extent, is a de facto protectorate. Many nations don't like it, but if you look at the budget of the Haiti, virtually something like 70% is coming from outside forces. You look at the peacekeepers, they are the U.N. So while you have a government in name, it's really a situation where you're talking as to some extent, a de facto protectorate, with all the disadvantages of foreign intrusion without the consequences.

Mullins: Sounds like you're saying that it's a de facto protectorate without the advent of protection.

Fatton: Exactly.

Mullins: Thank you very much, Robert Fatton, professor of politics at the University of Virginia. His most recent book is called the Roots of Haitian Despotism. Thanks a lot, professor.

Fatton: Thank you very much.

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