Haiti's constitution is being violated by both the U.S.-backed interim
government and by the candidacy of a Haitian American millionaire running strongly
in the polls in a long delayed election, analysts say.
"The government has not been paying much attention to the constitution,"
said Brian Concannon, a U.S. lawyer who worked in Haiti and helped prosecute
military leaders accused of a peasant massacre.
The first round of voting in the troubled Caribbean nation is scheduled for
January 8 with a run-off, if needed, on February 15. But elections officials
have said another delay seems likely.
Dumarsais Simeus, the Haiti-born founder of a Texas food company, has been
running second to former President Rene Preval, but the Provisional Electoral
Council, which organizes elections, has twice said Simeus cannot run because
he is an American citizen.
Haiti's 1987 constitution, a point of pride when it was written in an impoverished
nation struggling to recover from decades of dictatorship, requires presidential
candidates to be Haitian citizens. It also says citizenship is lost by "naturalization
in a foreign country."
Yet Haiti's Supreme Court has twice ruled that Simeus should be put on the
On December 9, the day after the Supreme Court's latest ruling on Simeus, Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue fired five high court justices. Latortue was chosen
by a council of elders after elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced
into exile 22 months ago.
"It's a little ironic that he (Latortue) is saying Simeus isn't legitimate.
To be a prime minister or president you should have to have five years residency
(in Haiti)," said Concannon. Latortue lived in Florida before taking office.
Asked about the controversy, Simeus said tersely in a recent interview: "I
don't want to debate the constitution. The Supreme Court reviewed the case."
"I have Haitian nationality of origin. My grandparents and parents were
descendants of slaves. This Haitian nationality cannot be lost," he added,
describing Latortue's interim government as one of "total anarchy, total
lawlessness, total dictatorship."
WIDER CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES
The machinations over Simeus' candidacy and the jailing without charges of
hundreds of Aristide supporters, widely criticized by human rights groups, are
symptoms of disrespect for institutions of democracy that have been slow to
take root in the former slave colony, analysts say.
Jean-Germain Gros, a Haitian-born assistant professor of political science
at the University of Missouri, said Haitians seem to believe the constitution
is only "suggestive."
"The clauses of the constitution are suggestions only. They are not things
that are binding," he said.
"Haiti is a failed state and when you have a failed state, nothing else
works. Not the constitution, not the economy," Gros added. "The real
issue in Haiti is the absence of a state."
Analysts say Latortue's interim government has already violated a key provision
of the constitution by failing to hold elections within 90 days of Aristide's
ouster in February 2004, and seems destined to violate another by failing to
inaugurate an elected president by February 7.
"The rule of law is thin in Haiti," said Harvard University professor
Robert Rotberg, who has written extensively on Haiti. "I think if you asked
a cross section of a lot of Haitians if they had a constitution, they would
not know how to answer you."