World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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16 May 2000

One week before parliamentary elections in Haiti, the WCC expresses support for the churches and other forces fighting for greater democracy

cf. WCC Press Release, No. 00-14

In four days, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has completed a marathon round of visits. Besides representatives of the country's Protestant and Catholic churches, Konrad Raiser has also met Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis and members of various opposition groups. Raiser said he was impressed by the courageous message issued jointly by the Catholic and Protestant churches of Haiti, reminding the authorities of their duty to organize elections on 21 May next. He added that in his meetings with all the political groups he had urged the need for a spirit of dialogue and negotiation - something that seems to be cruelly lacking in this tiny Caribbean republic.

In Haiti, the state is practically non-existent. Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis implicitly acknowledged as much himself in his interview with Konrad Raiser and a delegation from the Haitian Protestant Federation. Basic areas of state responsibility such as education and public health are left almost entirely to the private sector and the churches are very active in both fields. It is estimated that, without them, 50% of Haitians would have no access at all to primary health care.

In the name of the gospel and because of their deep commitment to the Haitian people, the churches unequivocally reminded the Haitian government of its duties, in a statement issued on 3 April. Parliament was dissolved by President René Préval in January 1999 and the government has already postponed the date of the elections three times, despite the provisions of Haiti's constitution. Given this absence of democratic institutions the churches want to voice their concern that, if the elections are not held on 21 May, the very survival of the country will be at stake. They expressed their anxiety on this issue during their interview with the prime minister, when they also took the opportunity, speaking through the general secretary of the Haitian Protestant Federation, to say "how scandalous they as Christians find the imbalance between the lifestyle of Haiti's leaders and the rest of the population" and to stress the urgency of restoring confidence in the country.

During this conversation Konrad Raiser expressed support for the Haitian churches. He commended them for their courageous stand and the extent of their commitment to the reconstruction of the country. Speaking to Prime Minister Alexis, he also stressed the lack of legitimacy of the present government, a situation which had brought the country to a complete standstill. Lastly, the WCC general secretary said that, while elections alone could not provide the whole solution, they nonetheless represented the only possible way forward towards democracy and re-establishing civil peace and justice in the country.

If democratic elections do take place on 21 May next, the country's political forces will be obliged to live with one another in the government and in parliament. What will be needed after the elections is a culture of negotiation, something that is cruelly lacking in this country still haunted by the ghosts of the dictatorship. But most urgent of all is to continue on the road towards greater democracy in Haiti. Konrad Raiser reiterated these views in all the conversations he had during his visit to Port-au-Prince, whether speaking to the churches, which in any case share this view, or to the prime minister or members of the opposition, some of whom still have a strong tendency to demonize their opponents.

On Sunday 14 May, the final day of his visit, Konrad Raiser was invited to preach in the First Baptist Church in Port-au-Prince, at a service attended by all the Protestant denominations in the country. Speaking before about one thousand people, the WCC general secretary encouraged the people of Haiti to go and cast their vote on Sunday 21 May. He urged them like "the sheep that knows the good shepherd" to show discernment and elect men and women who are genuinely concerned for the best interests of the country, excluding no-one. The population has registered massively to vote, but peope are afraid to exercise their civic rights today because of the numerous assassinations of public figures in recent weeks. Konrad Raiser's message has lent support to the position of the Haitian churches who, along with the rest of civil society, tirelessly keep telling the people that they must overcome their fear and cast their vote: the country's future depends on it.

Before leaving the First Baptist Church in Port-au-Prince, Konrad Raiser received an honorary doctorate of law from the Union of Private Universities of Haiti.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.