European Union and Haiti: Everyday Neocolonialism?


European Union and Haiti: Everyday Neocolonialism? Source: CETRI. Published on 5 July 2016. By Frédéric Thomas

The European Union (EU) has announced that it is to withdraw its Election Observation Mission (EOM) in Haiti. This unprecedented decision signals the EOM’s opposition to the cancellation of the first round of election results in Haiti and shows the strong antagonism that exists between Haitians and international institutions.  

On Wednesday June 8, following a report by the Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission (CIEVE)[1], the EU announced that it was to end its Election Observation Mission in Haiti. In light of accusations of irregularities and fraud that have tarnished the elections, the Commission effectively called for the first round of presidential elections to be cancelled and for the electoral process to be resumed. This position is in direct conflict with the EU’s own conclusions. The withdrawal of its Observation Mission highlights the gaps and contradictions that have emerged since the elections.


During legislative elections on 9 August 2015, Elena Valenciano, head of the Election Observation Mission for the EU, maintained that in spite of difficulties and some incidents that may have “at times [been] violent”, the elections were nonetheless “an essential step towards a stronger democracy.”[2] This optimism displayed by the EU contrasted with harsh criticism already evoked by Haitian organisations who deemed recent events an “electoral fiasco “.[3]

According to both Haitian and international observers, the October 25 presidential elections could have gone better. The EU, however, took a much more positive position, stating that this was “a decisive period for political renewal, institutional stability and the consolidation of democracy in Haiti.”[4] Yet very quickly, signs of mass fraud emerged. Official results placing Jovenel Moïse as the likely successor to Michel Martelly (still president at the time) ahead of Jude Célestin were largely rejected, including by Célestin. He then refused to attend the second round which for many was a clear sign of an electoral farce.

Under pressure, the second round of presidential elections was delayed and later suspended. Despite being appointed by the government, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEEI) concluded that “the elections on 25 October were flawed “[5] and issued a series of recommendations …which were subsequently ignored. Finally, a provisional government with a new electoral calendar was put into place at the very last minute. From then on, Martelly and other international institutions called for the electoral process to continue as planned. This was in stark contrast with the Haitian majority that was calling for the elections to be subject to independent scrutiny.


Throughout all of this, the EU has continued to insist upon the validity and legitimacy of the elections. It has supported the work of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)[6] and its findings. Although it acknowledged flaws and irregularities, the EU stated that these were not likely to undermine the electoral process. It is therefore difficult not to see the decision to close down its observation mission as anything less than a punishment. How can this be explained?  Beyond potential methodological and technical differences, lies the splintered view of the EU.

EU observation has been increasingly reduced to a mere formality. Its main responsibility no longer involves keeping a watchful eye on Martelly. This is a man who has delayed elections for four years, who reduced the number of members needed to form a political party down to twenty people, who has seen a low voter turnout (around 20%) and a dependent CEP… With its focus firmly fixed on governance and procedural matters, void of all content, the EU would have been ready to approve a second presidential round with only one candidate and a 10% turnout!

The neutrality of the EU is problematic as it has financed the elections and supported Martelly throughout his mandate. Indeed, if it acknowledged that the elections had been a fiasco would it not also have to admit its own shortcomings? Given the level of support provided to the government to continue the elections, the EU has been completely discredited. Yet while the Haitian political class also lacks credibility, this helps the EU appear (more) legitimate. And, in any case, Haitians are not willing to swop their problems with the political class for the “solution” that the EU could provide.

The EU has therefore copied its colonial approach from North to South: by guaranteeing democracy and human rights whilst at the same time pushing and prodding the incompetent and corrupt up to the heights of democratic rule. Not once has the EU changed this stance, even when its position was contradicted by Haitian organisations whose work it has incessantly belittled. This becomes all the more pretentious when you consider that the EU barely provides any transparency regarding how much its mission has cost or the exchanges it has supposedly had with political parties and Haitian civil society. It has also not carried out any evaluations of its own observation mission.

The EU Election Observation Mission report[7], whilst drawing on the Haitian Constitution, calls into question the competency, credibility and legitimacy of the CIEVE. Paradoxically, however, it is not the EU but Haitian institutions and civil society that have most accurately interpreted and respected their Constitution, reconfiguring the contours of national and popular sovereignty.


The EU’s position bears the mark of the neoliberal policies it adopted. If irregularities and fraud have been systematically overlooked, the voice of the people hardly matters when there is a pressing need for macroeconomic stability. This inevitably leads to creation of a development strategy that goes unchallenged as it is supposed to provide the answer to all of the country’s problems.

The technical arm of the CIEVE reacted harshly to the EU EOM report. Responding point by point, it noted a “tune of interference filled with arrogance, insults and contempt for the rights of the Haitian people.” It also denounced a mission that behaves like a “political actor “[8]. It is important to remember that, despite this difficult context, the CIEVE has, within the timeframe it was given, managed to carry out an independent, meticulous, well-argued and serious piece of work.

Ultimately, however, the end of the EU EOM should be seen as a great opportunity. It is now time for Haitians to reclaim control of the political machine, to strengthen their institutions and create a public space open to debate and exchange. In short, to do what the international “community” claims it has already achieved, yet is something that it has not and cannot do. Because, in reality, it is only Haitians who hold the key to solving Haiti’s problems.

[1] The report can be accessed online:

[2] EU Election Observation Mission in Haiti: “Haiti is advancing towards renewed institutionalism. Some irregularities and incidents should not derail an election affected by a low turnout.”

[3] See Preliminary Report on First Round of Elections, 25 August 2015 by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), the National Electoral Observations Council (CNO) and the Haitian Council for Non-State Actors (CONHANE) report from 2015:

[4] EU press release from 27/10/2015

[5] The report is available on line:

[6] In its statement on 23 January 2016, the EU Election Observation Mission noted: “the need to respect the election results of the poll on 25 October 2015 which has placed candidates Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin in the second round of presidential elections.” See

[7] The document is available online:

[8] Response from the technical arm of CIEVE in its analysis of the EU EOM:

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