Dr. Maryse Narcisse is a physician, coordinator of the Fanmi Lavalas executive committee and spokesperson for Fanmi Lavalas in Haiti. Fanmi Lavalas is the political party founded in 1996 by President Jean Bertrand Aristide, now living in forced exile in South Africa. The interview that follows, conducted in Haiti in September, has been edited for clarity and length by the interviewer and Narcisse. Excluded from participating, Fanmi Lavalas remains firm in condemning the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections as illegitimate and will not participate, according to Narcisse.
JUDITH SCHERR: What is Fanmi Lavalas?
Dr. MARYSE NARCISSE: Lavalas is a grassroots political organization that works with the poorest, the marginalized people, those in need of support.
SCHERR: What do you mean “in need of support”?
NARCISSE: For almost 200 years, the majority of Haitians have been excluded from participation in the political life of this country. They’ve also been excluded through lack of access to education, healthcare and other basic services. Lavalas is fighting for real changes in Haitian society by advocating for access to health services, education, economic opportunities and democracy in Haiti.
December 16, 1990 was an important date: For the first time, the Haitians voted in a free and fair election and elected Jean Bertrand Aristide to lead the country.
SCHERR: What was Aristide’s role in the formation of Lavalas?
NARCISSE: Aristide created Fanmi Lavalas. He symbolizes the fight of poor, marginalized people in this country.
SCHERR: With Aristide in exile, Lavalas continues – is that correct?
NARCISSE: Yes. Fanmi Lavalas is a duly registered political organization. President Aristide is in exile, but Fanmi Lavalas is still functioning as a political organization. But since President Aristide’s forced departure, Lavalas has been targeted by the Haitian government and its allies. Members and sympathizers of Fanmi Lavalas Party have been harassed, wrongfully jailed, or fired from their jobs. There has been a lot of repression.
SCHERR: Why can’t Lavalas participate in the Nov. 28 elections?
NARCISSE: The Haitian government and its allies are illegally preventing and excluding Fanmi Lavalas, from participation in the electoral process. The Haitian government, some powerful Haitian sectors and a part of the international community have excluded the people — the majority. Fanmi Lavalas’ exclusion is political, in violation of Haitian law and international human rights law.
As required for any political organization, Fanmi Lavalas has been registered here in the country at the Ministry of Justice since November 1996. Fanmi Lavalas has the certificate of official recognition by the Ministry of Justice. Fanmi Lavalas participated in many elections — in 2000, 2001, etc.
Now, let’s go back to the legislative elections of April and June 2009. On Dec. 3, 2008, a new electoral council (Provisional Electoral Council or CEP) asked all parties – all political organizations – to register again for the electoral process. So we re-registered and have Registration Form No. 016 signed by the CEP representative and me as coordinator. Everything seemed to be working correctly. After the registration, there was a period for people to contest the registered parties. That period ended in January 2009. The CEP published the list of parties that were authorized to participate in the April and June 2009 legislative elections. Fanmi Lavalas was third on this list.
After that, they opened a registration process for the candidates. Fanmi Lavalas signed a mandate as required by electoral law for every candidate we had chosen to represent the organization. They verified my signature and the 12 Fanmi Lavalas candidates were registered.
At the end of the candidate registration period, there was a rumor going around that Fanmi Lavalas registered more than one candidate for each position. I did not believe it, because the selection process was public within the organization — we had an electoral commission which chose 12 candidates and we couldn’t have more than 12 candidates.
SCHERR: There wasn’t another list of people claiming to be Fanmi Lavalas?
NARCISSE: We learned that another person, Yves Cristallin, registered additional candidates under the Fanmi Lavalas banner. We couldn’t believe it. First, the deadline for contesting party registration was over and secondly, according to electoral law, only the person who registered a party could sign a mandate for the senatorial candidates.
SCHERR: And you had already registered the party.
NARCISSE: Yes – but the Haitian government allowed him [Yves Cristallin] to register additional candidates under Fanmi Lavalas. Soon after, Cristallin joined the private office of the president and after that he was appointed Minister of Social Affairs. Today he’s a presidential candidate.
[At this point, the CEP disqualified Fanmi Lavalas because there were two different candidate lists presented.] We went to court to challenge the decision of the electoral council to exclude Fanmi Lavalas from participating in the election. We won, but the CEP refused to accept our participation in the April and June 2009 elections.
SCHERR: You won in court, but the CEP could overrule what the judge said?
NARCISSE: No. The CEP cannot overrule or disregard a court order. The CEP decided not to respect the [March 9, 2009] court decision and wouldn’t allow us to participate. At that time, we sent the original mandate signed by President Aristide [authorizing Narcisse as the representative]. The CEP allowed someone with no authority to represent Fanmi Lavalas to register additional candidates after the period for registration had ended and tried to blame Lavalas for the additional candidates
The CEP violated Haitian law and actively participated in preventing Lavalas participation in the elections. That is not the purview of an electoral council. [Fanmi Lavalas boycotted these elections; turnout was variously reported between 3 percent and 11 percent.]
There was another election scheduled for February 28, 2010. We received a letter from the CEP inviting President Aristide to participate in the coming electoral process. I sent the letter to President Aristide [in South Africa] and he answered it. He wrote a letter to the CEP president thanking him for the invitation, but said that he mandated me to represent the organization before the electoral council until he returned. When I brought the letter to the CEP, they said “Oh, we don’t want a copy of the letter.” They said they wanted the original letter, not a copy or a fax. President Aristide was ready to speak personally with the CEP president to tell him that he had sent the letter, that the letter was authentic and to send an e-mail directly to him. The CEP President refused to provide his email address, or his telephone number at my request.
President Aristide sent the original letter by DHL [international mail service] from South Africa. The letter was notarized by a Haitian notary. We brought the letter to the CEP. At a press conference the next day, the CEP said the original letter and copy were different. Rumors about a false mandate and probable arrests started to circulate.
SCHERR: They said you had brought a false document?
NARCISSE: As stated before, the documents were notarized by a Haitian Notary — he attested to the authenticity of the documents. In addition, President Aristide, during an interview on Nov. 25, 2009 on Radio Solidarité further authenticated the mandate, saying, “I’m the person who wrote the letter, who signed it, who sent it.” According to Haitian law, a mandate can be verbal as well as written.
The next day I received a letter from the CEP saying they wanted an authenticated mandate. It seems that to authenticate the mandate, President Aristide had to find a Haitian consulate in South Africa, go in front of the consul and sign the document. But there is no Haitian consulate in South Africa. So, if he had to sign it at a Haitian consulate, he would have to travel to do it. But he can’t travel, because he doesn’t have a valid passport. He has had no valid travel documents for six years.
When President Aristide spoke on the radio, he said he was ready to come to Haiti to sign the document. If the government would give him travel documents he’d be here the next day. The Haitian government is refusing to allow President Jean Bertrand Aristide to travel to Haiti.
The February elections didn’t happen because of the earthquake. When they started the Nov. 28 electoral process, President Préval announced that everything that had been done before the earthquake, regarding the February 2010 legislative elections, was still valid, and that they weren’t going back: Fanmi Lavalas would continue to be excluded from the 2010 elections.
There is no registration issue regarding Fanmi Lavalas, the problem is that the CEP is not allowing Lavalas to participate in the November 2010 elections.
By excluding Fanmi Lavalas from the elections (the largest party with support and membership of 90 percent of the electorate) the government is excluding the majority of the Haitian electorate from exercising their right to choose their own candidate.
For us, the coming elections that are scheduled for Nov. 28 are not fair; they are not honest; they are not democratic. Nobody supporting this process believes in democracy, even the international community. The international community is providing most of the funding for the elections. That’s hypocrisy: The international community speaks loudly about democracy and human rights, but supports and pays for illegal elections.
SCHERR: Is Fanmi Lavalas calling on people to boycott the elections?
NARCISSE: I have said we are not participating in an illegal election. The Nov. 28 elections are not elections, it is a selection process. What we’re doing now is mobilizing people, sensitizing people against the selection. With this selection process, we are not going anywhere. We are moving towards instability that will last for many years.
Eight months after the earthquake, nothing has changed. People are in the streets. If you go inside a camp [for earthquake survivors], you can see the situation. People are living in conditions that human beings are not supposed to live in.
Now, in addition to this difficult social situation, the government and the CEP want to add a political problem. So, what we’re doing, is trying to make people understand that these elections cannot happen. If they select someone, this person won’t have any legitimacy and will not be able to bring changes in the people’s living conditions. Our work now, is to mobilize the people against the Nov. 28 selection.
SCHERR: At this point, you can’t go to court again. There’s no judicial path?
NARCISSE: The Préval government has weakened all the institutions in this country. The judicial system is very weak. The Senate has only 16 senators [terms of other Senators and all Deputies have expired] and consequently the Parliament is not functional. So the only institution functioning is the presidency. We want a country with strong and functioning institutions. All the current process is doing is to further weaken the Haitian institutions.
So it’s clear to us, that now, we Haitians have to fight for our rights. There is nothing else to do. The government is not informing the Haitians about the reconstruction. All of the so-called government plans for reconstruction are made abroad. There is no Haitian participation in the reconstruction. We have a puppet government. Even myself — I’m a professional – I cannot tell you very much about the reconstruction process, because nobody knows what the government wants to do.
SCHERR: Tell me about the status of President Aristide. He doesn’t have a passport. What does he need in order to return?
NARCISSE: The government is refusing to provide him with a passport. According to Haitian law, any former president’s supposed to have a diplomatic passport for life. When you finish your presidency, that’s a benefit that you’re entitled to receive from the state. This is not a favor. This is what they’re supposed to do according to the law.
SCHERR: Has there been pressure from the international community either to return him or to keep him out of Haiti?
NARCISSE: I believe that the international community is exerting pressure for him not to come back to Haiti. But they are not doing it openly; they are operating behind a curtain. They do not want Aristide to come back. After six years, he’s still present in the people’s hearts – in everyday life here, everyone talks about Aristide. Even in these elections, you can see that people – every candidate, even if they were against Aristide in the past – talks about President Aristide. I heard a candidate who was in the opposition, saying, “If I’m elected today, tomorrow or the next day Aristide will receive his passport.”
SCHERR: Didn’t Préval say that when he was running?
NARCISSE: He never said anything when he was running. Préval campaigned for president without speaking. He benefited from his close ties with Fanmi Lavalas. All the people were thinking: it’s better to have him, a person close to Lavalas; this is the best chance for Aristide to come back to the country.
We must come back to principles. I’m against the fact that when you finish your presidency, you have to leave and be exiled. If the individual has done something wrong, he should be judged. He should be arrested. The story of Haiti has been that most presidents go into exile. For Aristide, it was different. He was not exiled after his term in office. It was a coup; he was forced into exile before he finished his term.
SCHERR: Is there anything you want to add that people should know about Lavalas?
NARCISSE: First I’d like to inform U.S. readers that their tax money is being used to support a non-democratic process in another country. I think they have to know that, because what is being done with the upcoming Nov. 28, 2010 election is contrary to human rights and democracy. Fanmi Lavalas and other political parties have been excluded from participating in the Nov. 28 selection.
What we need today is reconciliation. We need a legitimate government. We need a national and strong Haitian leadership. We need to work together for the reconstruction of Haiti.
JUDITH SCHERR is an independent journalist. She can be reached at email@example.com.