Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Of Benjamin Franklin and the Elections in Haiti

I am a little over halfway through “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life,” by Walter Isaacson. A marvelous, fast, fascinating read—though it would be difficult to make B. Franklin anything but fascinating—Isaacson weaves together the diverse but related strands of Franklin’s life as a printer, inventor, scientist, newspaperman, writer, charmer, down home philosopher, postmaster, founder of civic groups, statesman, etc., etc. What a guy! Why do I waste so much time when there is important work to be done? Not that Franklin didn’t have a good time, too; he did. He loved his food, wine, and conversations with the ladies and other enlightened people. Anyway, of all the founders, Ben is the most modern and much of what he wrote and thought applies to current events. To whit:

As relations deteriorated between Great Britain and her colonies,“ [Franklin’s] outlook, as usual, was from the perspective of a new middle class: distrustful both of the unwashed mob and of the entrenched elites.”

Haiti presents a modern example of why Franklin’s concerns are merited. Rene Preval is the huge front runner for president in the recently held Haitian elections and the heavy favorite of most of the poor who live in Haiti. After carrying up to 60% of the vote in the initial days after the election, Preval has seen that percentage shrink to under 50%, meaning a runoff election would be necessary. This seems highly suspicious given that blank ballots are being included in the total, lowering Preval’s percentage, and even more damningly, that huge bundles of ballots marked for Preval were found burning in a PAP dump.

What may explain this is that the powerful elite, who with assistance from the U.S., control things in Haiti, don’t want Rene Preval to be the next president of Haiti. In fact, Charles Henri Baker, the light-skinned, third place finisher, with about 6 percent of the vote, voiced their anti-democratic sentiments when he said after the election that in no way should Preval become president.

People have taken to the streets in huge numbers to protest the voting irregularities and likely fraud. They stormed the luxury hotel, the Montana, and frolicked by the pool. Cars and tires have been set aflame, but no one has been hurt in the demonstrations, except a couple of people who were killed by the U.N. soldiers. The protesting people are calling for Preval to be declared the outright winner.

Fortunately, good, old Rene Preval, is troding the middle ground that Ben loved so well. In a Franklinesque statement, Preval declared that while “massive fraud and gross errors had stained the process," order must prevail. "The Haitian people are frustrated. They have a right to be frustrated. And they have the right to protest. But we must respect private property. We must respect the law. We must respect the rights of others.Do not give in to anger. Today, let's conduct politics intelligently, without violence."

Here! Here ! President-elect Preval. Here! Here!

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