ANATOMY OF AN OFFICIAL LIE:
Dick Bernard, March 3, 2006
"I would rather tell seven lies than make one explanation."
Mark Twain letter to John Bellows, 11 April 1883
Pearl Harbor Day 2003 was a beautiful Sunday in Port-au-Prince, and we visitors from the Midwest were getting a briefing on Haiti's history. Our host said this about the 2000 Haiti presidential election: "[Jean-Bertrand Aristide] got 92% of the vote...only 60% of the people voted in that election."
It was just another piece of data to receive and file.
Fewer than 60% of Americans had voted in our own presidential election in November, 2000, and no candidate got 50% of that 60%, so "only 60%" seemed an adequate turnout, and "92% of the vote" seemed an overwhelming victory.
A week later, our stay in Port-au-Prince ended, and back home we watched the storm clouds build towards a coup d'etat February 29, 2004.
I recounted, to a friend in a western state, the 92% and 60% comment I'd heard in Port-au-Prince. He apparently checked with someone, and retorted that only 10% of the Haitians had voted in that election. A helpful aide in one of my U.S. Senators office also told me only 10% of Haitians voted for President.
The aide also sent me a publication about Haiti prepared for Congress by the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service (CRS): "Although Aristide won the  election with a reported 91.5% of the vote", it said, "turnout was very low, with estimates ranging from 5% to 20% of eligible voters participating."
Perhaps, I thought, 5% plus 20% divided by two would come out to almost 10%.
But where was the truth between wildly disparate claims?
CNN's World Election Watch, gave Aristide 2,632,534 votes in November 2000 (and suggested more than 3.6 million registered voters - 3,668,049 in 1995.) CNN's source: the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), an American group. In all, IFES data suggested, far in excess of 60% of Haitians voted in the election.
My initial source in Haiti was not engaged in wishful thinking.
I learned that a series of CID-Gallup polls funded by U.S. AID had been done in Haiti about the 2000 Haiti elections, and while the results of these polls apparently have never been publicly released, they supported the original estimate I had heard that day in Port-au-Prince: 60% voted, over 90% for Aristide.
I filed the information until early January, 2006, when I met with another Congressional aide about Haiti. The aide gave me an updated version of the CRS report on Haiti. It included the identical statement on the 2000 Haiti election: "very low...5% to 20% of eligible voters."
I shared with the aide the aforementioned IFES/CNN report, still on-line, unchanged.
Some weeks later, in attempting to rebut the Jan. 29, 2006, NYTimes Report on Haiti, the International Republican Institute (IRI) twice made the claim that in the 2000 Haiti presidential election "an estimated 10 percent of Haitians went to the polls to cast their ballots". (The current board chair of IFES is also on the board of IRI, and is not an unusual example of 'cross-pollination' among such quasi-government NGO boards.)
A Feb. 17, 2006 e-mail from the congressional aide quoted the staff writer at the Congressional Research Service who did the CRS Report on Haiti, who claimed that the 2000 data on CNN/IFES is not accurate: "the numbers [in the CRS report]...came from the Department of State Country Report for Haiti from September 2001...no verified number was ever taken for the November Presidential elections" in Haiti, and "that the number (verified) from the [May 2000] leg[islative] elections was simply carried over to the presidential elections. Considering that there was a massive boycott by the opposition parties in the [2000 Haiti] presidential election (and not the leg.) it is nearly impossible to carry that number over. The 5% - 20% is the only verifiable number available."
"Verifiable"? It seemed that if the legislative elections of earlier in 2000 were indeed "verifiable," that there would be numbers available either at CNN or through IFES. Such is not the case. There seem to be no public numbers supporting the U.S. government argument.
The old story of the optimist confronted by a room full of manure comes to mind. "There must be a pony in here somewhere". Somewhere in this story, there is truth. 10% of Haitians voted in 2000...or over 60% of them did.
What would Mark Twain, that keen observer of Lies and other things, have to say?
I'll take "only 60%" as the truth.
Another Presidential election was just completed in Haiti. What will be the new stories?
More on Haiti
SOURCES for the commentary, in order of appearance:
1. Mark Twain quote: www.twainquotes.com/Lies.html
2. Comment in Port-au-Prince Dec 7, 2003 : verbatim from a personal tape recording at the time.
3. U.S. Election 2000: U.S. Census Bureau Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006 p. 249 and www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p20-542.pdf
4. First comment on 10% vote: from a brother in Utah via e-mail, e-mail not kept
5. Second comment on 10%: phone conversation with Washington DC aide to U.S. Senator Mark Dayton
6. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL32294 March 23, 2004, and December 1, 2005, page 4 of both
7. CNN/IFES data www.cnn.com/WORLD/election.watch/americas/haiti1.html
8. CID-Gallup Haiti Public Opinion Poll Final Report for USAID Haiti, Mar 1 and 8, 2002.
9. IRI rebuttal to New York Times article of Jan 29, 2006 www.iri.org/pdfs/2-8-06-side-by-side%20of%20newspaper%20article.pdf. I have made three specific requests to IRI, including to the president of the organization, for the specific source of this allegation and have received no reply.
10. Reference to shared membership on IFES and IRI Board: reference to Wm Hybl, current chair of IFES and also member of IRI Board. http://www.ifes.org/board.html and www.iri.org/board.asp.
11. Reference to Congressional Aide: Feb 17, 2006, e-mail from Minneapolis MN aide to Congressman Martin Sabo; direct reference to the researcher who put together RL32294 (above). The State Country Reports On Human Rights Practices for 2000 Vol II for Sep, 2001, at page 2625 state in relevant part as follows: "On November 30, the CEP announced that Jean-Bertrand Aristide had won 91.5 percent of the vote in the November 26  presidential elections and proclaimed him the winner. However, controversy continued over voter turnout claims. The CEP announced a nationwide voter turnout rate of 60.5 percent. Other observers, including the opposition and local and international media, estimated voter turnout between 5 percent and 20 percent. [emphasis supplied] The judiciary is theoretically independent, however, it is not independent in practice and remained largely weak and corrupt, and there were allegations that the executive branch interfered in politically sensitive cases." [NOTE: This is an illustration of the very old practice of planting a lie, then hoping that someone people might trust (i.e. "international media") might spread it, and then be used as its source by others. Every effort seems to have been made by the U.S. since the most recent Jan 29, 2006, Haiti elections, including to the present, to elevate the reputation of the same CEP to untouchable integrity.
12. IFES data on-line about 2000 Haiti Legislative Elections
www.electionguide.org/election.php?ID=657 and www.electionguide.org/results.php?ID=657. Could not locate any reference to said election results at CNN.com.