Haitians were promised a free presidential election, their first after 29 years of corrupt and brutal rule by the Duvalier family and two years of slip-shod governance by a successor military junta. What they got instead was a farce. Gen. Henri Namphy’s regime refuses to say how many people turned out for last Sunday’s balloting, but independent observers estimate that probably no more than 10% of the country’s 2.3 million eligible voters took part in what they knew was a sham. The stay-aways deserve the respect of the hemisphere’s democracies for their courage.
The State Department had said in advance of the voting that U.S. policy would be based on whether the Haitian people found the election credible. The mass refusal of voters to participate can be taken as solid evidence that they did not. The country-wide voting boycott showed that people would not be fooled. The widespread fraud witnessed by foreign newsmen showed that the regime tried anyway. Votes were openly bought, ballot boxes were flagrantly stuffed, multiple voting and even voting by children were frequent.
This week’s election was a substitute for the balloting that was supposed to have taken place seven weeks ago. That election was suspended by Namphy after a campaign of terror abetted by the army killed dozens of people. There was a real risk, as the junta saw it, that the Nov. 29 election could have produced a winner who would not be under the control of the military. The elimination of some candidates from the contest and changes in voting procedures for last Sunday’s election were intended to remove that risk.
The move to deny Haitians the opportunity for a free electoral choice in November prompted the suspension of $75 million in U.S. economic and military aid. Nothing has occurred to justify ending that suspension. No one expects Haiti, impoverished and miserable, to become a model liberal democracy overnight. But it is reasonable to expect, and indeed to insist, that a people deprived for so long of any voice in their political affairs will at long last be given some say in how they are to be governed. Until that is seen to happen the nations of the hemisphere should make clear that they refuse to accept the sham that the Namphy junta is trying to carry off.