Can America Make it a Democracy?

It reads almost like a morbid running joke. “… as if the earthquake, hurricane season, cholera, and elections quagmire were not enough, the old president-for-life comes back and considers running once more.” No one laughs; at a certain point, you lose track of the string of ‘what next’ moments  and are no longer phased by a singular event.

It’s in this context that we paste the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Haiti this past Sunday.  While the timing of the visit perfectly coincided with the Provisional Electoral Commission’s (CEP) upcoming final decision on which two of the three presidential candidates will move on to the second round, one should be wary before measuring the tangible impact of such a visit.

Democracy, by its very nature, is something that succeeds or fails largely within the boundaries of a sovereign nation. While there are an untold number of factors that influence the successful formation of a democracy, not the least of these being foreign diplomacy, no single factor or combination thereof can change the definition of a democracy: the will of the people as expressed through their executive, judicial, and legislative systems.  Given that definition, one should view the Secretary Clinton visit less as an attempt by America to impose democratic conditions in Haiti (as suggested by one think tank) and more as an attempt to encourage the CEP to adhere to the OAS findings, which mirror what most Haitians believe and observed: that an aspect of Haitian democracy was and is in danger, but is not too late to be salvaged if the CEP takes an appropriate course of action.

At the end of the day, though, the Secretary Clinton visit was but another one of the singular events of which Haiti sees dozens every year. While the Secretary affirmed the stance of the U.S. Government in solidarity with the concerns of Haitians, her presence does not on its own instantly create a democratic environment.  If the CEP were to abide by the OAS recommendations and hence the demands of the Haitian people, that on its own would not institute a democracy either.

Democracy is a continuum, one whose trajectory can be measured, in part, via events such as elections.  Democracy is also a work in progress, a lesson America knows well, given its history of slavery, limited voting rights, and a list of other historical democratic inefficiencies.  The CEP decision, whatever it may be, will be a drop in the continuous stream of Haiti’s developing democracy. The Clinton visit is a drop of that drop, a droplet if you will. I don’t really know how many drops constitute a functional democracy that reflects the desires and needs of its citizenry.  America is still adding drops to its own democratic stream, nearly 300 years after independence, and counting.  Nonetheless, it’s these drops and droplets that form the gradual bends and twists in the river of a country’s democratic history. While Secretary Clinton’s visit served to affirm the U.S. position regarding the elections, it will take years of on-the-ground grassroots and political effort to build a functioning democratic system in Haiti, as it should with any democracy.

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