News and opinions on situation in Haiti
Haiti Report for February 11, 2006
The Haiti Report is a compilation and summary of events as described in Haiti and international media prepared by Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY. It does not reflect the opinions of any individual or organization. This service is intended to create a better understanding of the situation in Haiti by presenting the reader with reports that provide a variety of perspectives on the situation.
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IN THIS REPORT:
Elections Being Hailed as a Success:
U.N. troops moved ballots by helicopter and mule across rural Haiti and computers tallied results on Wednesday after the country’s first presidential election since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted two years ago. Tensions ran high, and at least four people died in election-day incidents, but a feared explosion of violence failed to materialize as Haitians cast ballots on Tuesday in what could prove the latest election to trouble Washington. (Reuters, 2/8)
International observers on Thursday gave Haitian voters high marks for patience and determination in Tuesday’s election but criticized election officials for late poll openings and irregularities. Voting for a new president and legislature two years after an armed revolt sent Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile, Haitians turned out in large numbers and swamped unprepared polling stations, resulting in chaos during the first few hours of balloting, but little of the violence that had been feared. Two observer teams, representing the European Union and a group of eight countries in the Americas, lauded Haitian voters for persevering in the face of problems at the polls. The report card from the European Union observers was preliminary and would be followed at the end of the election by a fuller analysis.
The Haitian people have clearly and freely expressed their desire to build a future of democracy,” said Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chairman of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections. Both missions said voters lacked privacy at polling stations. Flimsy cardboard screens were set up on tables or in some cases, on floors with voters crouching behind them to write on their ballots. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council “did not possess sufficient administrative and organizational capacity for the conduct of elections,” said Johan Van Hecke, head of the EU mission. Van Hecke, a member of the European Parliament, told reporters that “overall, the administration of the process could have been of a higher standard,” and urged authorities to improve their performance by a second round vote on March 19. Kingsley, whose group represents Canada, the United States, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, said the late openings and other polling problems may have caused some voters to give up and go home, but “I think that that impact was most probably minimal.” The group had more than 120 observers who visited 280 of Haiti’s 800 polling centers. (Reuters, 2/9)
The winner of Haiti’s presidential elections this week has yet to be announced, but the poll is being hailed as a success—a turnout of over 50%, the lack of organized violence and absence of widespread fraud signal a widespread commitment among Haitians to transform their political landscape. The turnout and orderly running of Haiti’s most expensive ($75 million) may have surprised a skeptical international community, but it was no surprise to the Haitian people. Although most of the 802 polling stations were ill-prepared for the hundreds of thousands of people who began lining the streets before dawn, by the time the sun was overhead queues were moving steadily and voters were proudly displaying their thumbs, stained by markers upon their exit from the polling booth.
“You can’t govern in Haiti alone,” added Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group. “You need sufficient cooperation from the losers so that parliament can function and the government can deal with the fundamental problems that makes Haiti the last on every list of human security issues in the hemisphere.” Literacy and employment are less than 50 percent and potable water is available to only 25 percent of Haiti’s 8 million-plus people. The annual income is $390 per person, less than it was in 1995 allowing for inflation.
Rooting out the corruption that pervades every level of state administration is an equally important priority, because it has left the international donor community reluctant to deliver more than 10 percent, thus far, of its 2004 pledge of $1.2 billion in development aid. Still, foreign governments say they’ll support a new government that demonstrates a commitment to inclusiveness, transparency, and disarmament of the gangs that rule many urban areas. (Time, 2/9)
The United Nations Security Council today congratulated the people of Haiti on holding the first round of national elections on Tuesday, calling it a fundamental step towards the restoration of democracy and stability in that Caribbean country. In a statement read out by the Council President for February, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, the 15-member body called on all parties to respect the outcome of the elections, remain engaged in the political process and renounce all forms of violence. Emphasizing that the electoral process should lead to the inauguration of a representative Government, which should promote national reconciliation and political dialogue, the Council noted the importance of elections as pillars of democratic governance in Haiti. It stressed, however, that elections are not the only means to address the country’s longer-term problems. Significant challenges remain in such fields as the rule of law, security and development, the Council said. Tackling these challenges would require the long-term engagement of the international community. (UN Daily News, 2/9)
The chief of a Canadian-led observation mission in Haiti yesterday praised this week’s elections as the desperately poor nation’s best ever, despite two months of delays and massive lines that kept people waiting hours to vote. “These were better than anything they’ve done in Haiti in the past,” said Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chairman of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections and Canada’s chief electoral officer. “The Haitian people have pronounced themselves freely and massively. They have put their hope in democracy and the electoral process allowed this to happen. They overcame the technical difficulties.”
Kingsley discarded the possibility of fraud. “That word hasn’t even been pronounced, “ said the Canadian, who recently observed elections in Iraq. “No one has accused anyone of anything. This is an incredibly good sign.” In neighbourhoods close to Cité Soleil, where armed slum dwellers often clash with UN peacekeepers, polls opened more than three hours late. Protests erupted as angry voters denounced the decision to relocate their polls as a ploy to disenfranchise them. Kingsley criticized the lack of privacy when voters were casting ballots and delays in opening polls, but said such missteps were not unusual given the difficulty of training 40,000 poll workers in “a day or two.” (The Toronto Star, 2/10)
Run Off May be Required to Determine President:
United States Urges Preval to Oppose Return of Aristide:
The United States on Friday urged Haiti’s likely new leader Rene Preval to oppose any return from exile of his ally, ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The move, which avoided unconditional backing of Preval despite his apparent easy win in an election the United States promoted, could immediately undermine the incoming president in the impoverished, unstable Caribbean nation. It will also likely maintain a fissure in U.S. policy-making, which has been polarized between administration conservatives opposed to Aristide and the congressional Black Caucus that backed his leftist leadership.
Preval, who found his strongest support in the same slums that formed Aristide’s political base, has not said if he wants to bring the firebrand former Roman Catholic priest back from his exile in South Africa. The United States sought to pre-empt such a move. “He wasn’t on the ballot. And he is in South Africa, and I would expect that he would stay there,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “We think the Haitian government should be looking forward to their future, not to its past,” he said. Preval’s win is discomforting for the United States. With President George W. Bush vowing to spread democracy worldwide, his administration praised Haitians for holding a generally fair election and promised to work with the incoming government regardless of its political leaning.
With policy toward Haiti underpinned by a concern to maintain enough stability to avoid a repeat of the mass 1990s exodus prompted by rampaging death squads, Washington offered to continue to help the government train its police. McCormack also used language usually reserved to warn leftist leaders in Latin America, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, to follow U.S. policies. “Our interest is in seeing that they govern in a democratic manner.
And a democracy is not just about election day; it is about how you govern,” McCormack said. Peter Hakim, of the Washington-based think tank the Inter-American Dialogue, worried that was a code that could undercut Preval at a time when any Haiti government needs the superpower’s support to help stabilize the chaotic nation. “It’s now in the interest of the United States that Preval is a success. It should unconditionally support a government that wins a democratic election,” he said.
Larry Birns, a longtime critic of what he believes is U.S. interference to impose free-market economic policies in Haiti, said the administration was signaling Preval would have to toe the American line or struggle to win aid. “The final arbiter of Haiti’s domestic policy is the U.S. ambassador because he has the ability to block international funds,” said the director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs think tank. Rep Barbara Lee, a California Democrat in the Black Caucus, urged the Bush administration against undercutting Preval. “The United States must fully support and respect, rather than undermine, democracy in Haiti,” she said. “We must provide the vital humanitarian and economic assistance the country so desperately needs.” (Reuters, 2/10)
Next President Faces Challenges; Preval Talks about his plans:
A candidate running a distant third said he wants the electoral council to investigate reports of fraud, claiming some people voted several times. International observers have praised Tuesday’s elections as free and fair. If Preval wins, he will have to open negotiations with opposition parties in parliament. The gang violence fueling job losses must be stopped, and he must assure the poor he will be effective. “Everything in Haiti is broken and everything needs fixing,” said Robert Maguire, director of the international affairs program at Trinity University in Washington. “One of the most immediate tasks is reconciliation and dialogue among Haitians.”
Preval, a 63-year-old former Aristide protege, has refrained from declaring victory, but indicated he would have an unconventional style. “Don’t ask me to wear a tie,” he told reporters Friday in his home village of Marmelade. He also recalled his youthful days as an anarchist. “I still am,” he quipped, adding that he is a nonviolent one who believes power should flow from government to the people. Preval already has strong support from Cite Soleil, the Port-au-Prince slum where U.N. peacekeepers have regularly traded fire with well-armed gang members. A gang leader who goes by the name Toutou said armed factions are willing to “put down our guns” if their opponents do the same. “I think Preval is going to come in and help with health care, put more schools in the slum, bring treated water to drink and teams who can come in and clean the sewers,” said Toutou, who describes himself as a social activist. “The window will probably not be open too long,” Maguire said. “He will have to show some improvement in their lives. And he will need partnerships of Haitians with resources to do this.” Since wealthier Haitians have been among the kidnap victims, “it’s in their interest ultimately to become proactive in trying to address the problems of Haiti’s poor,” Maguire said in a telephone interview.
Election returns indicated Preval might win a majority of the votes and avoid a March runoff. The early returns had Leslie Manigat, a former president, with 13 percent of the vote and businessman Charles Henri Baker with 6 percent. Baker claimed there was fraud. “We’re starting to hear that people voted five times, 10 times, 20 times,” Baker said. “This is a worry to us because we don’t know if it happened at one center, 10 centers … or all over the country.” Officials at Haiti’s electoral office weren’t immediately available for comment. (AP, 2/10)
Ending the political fighting between the rich and the poor must be the first of a long list of priorities for its next president. And the question looming over Mr. Préval is whether a man whose previous term as president was overshadowed by Mr. Aristide, a polarizing political leader, is up to the task. “Préval has to turn history upside down in Haiti,” said Mark Schneider, of the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan organization focusing on conflict resolution. “For decades, if not centuries, Haitian politics have been ruled by a take-no-prisoners mentality. The determination of the Haitian people to use the ballot to change their history became evident after the record turnout Tuesday. And if the early reports of a first round win turn out to be accurate, I would hope that René Préval knows that he cannot govern alone.”
In an interview last month at his sister’s house in Port-au-Prince, and then another this week in Marmelade, his father’s hometown, Mr. Préval, a former bakery owner, said his priority would be to provide relief to the two-thirds of the population living in extreme poverty. His plans include what he described as a “universal public school program,” and at least one free meal a day for poor children. Mr. Préval also said he would investigate the cases of hundreds of prisoners who claim they are being held for political purposes, and would negotiate with gangs, rather than using only force against them, to end violence and lawlessness in slums like Cité Soleil. “What do you prefer?” he asked. “An amnesty, or for people to keep dying?” Mr. Préval said he that would recruit Haitian professionals overseas to help rebuild the government, and hinted that he had offered a job in his administration to a former presidential candidate, Dumarsais Siméus, a Haitian-born business magnate who was forced out of the race because he is an American citizen.
A chief objective of Mr. Préval’s government, one of his advisers said, would be to attract more investment from the United States. In the last decade, the adviser said, United States investment in Haiti was less than $10 million, the amount invested in a single year in the neighboring Dominican Republic. But Mr. Préval also suggested that he would reach out to his opponents among the middle and upper classes. He said that much of his campaign had been financed by the elite, and that he would appoint a prime minister from the political party that wins control of the parliament, which is highly unlikely to be his own. “People know that I don’t like to speak of myself,” said Mr. Préval, 63. “But I think the first thing that people appreciate about me is that Préval has not stolen. Préval is not an assassin. Préval respects freedom. Préval is frank and honest. He says what he can and cannot do, and he doesn’t make promises he cannot keep.” (New York Times, 2/9)
Cite Soleil Gang Leader Says Weapons will be Turned Over to Preval Government:
Preval has said he does not believe military force is the solution in Cite Soleil. Instead, he says his government would spend on schools and infrastructure. Nicolas, 29, said the gang warfare in Cite Soleil has been a political battle against interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s “illegal” U.S.-backed government, appointed when Aristide was driven into exile. “I was fighting a totalitarian government. Now it’s over,” said Nicolas, a slightly built man with neat sideburns who wore jeans, a blue shirt and a red cap. Nicolas has been accused by police of murder and other crimes, including complicity in the slaying of journalist Jacques Roche last July. He has denied involvement in Roche’s death. The Cite Soleil gangs, he said, armed themselves for protection against Haitian police who he said killed children, women and the elderly in the slums. “The de facto government (of Latortue) and its allies the bourgeoisie waged war against the poor population because they support Aristide,” he said. “The police and U.N. troops won’t be allowed to come and shoot at us any more. With Preval that will end,” he said. (Reuters, 2/10)
Spain to Remove Troops from MINUSTAH:
Ten Things the Media Hasn’t Reported About the Elections:
2) In the elections for Senators for each department, the Senate candidate with the highest number of votes will serve a six year term of office, the Senate candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve a four year term of office, and the Senate candidate with the third highest number of votes will serve a two year term. When these terms of office expire, a new Senator will be elected for a six year term.
3) In the elections for President and Deputy, if one candidate scores more than 50% of valid votes cast, he or she will be elected to office. If no candidate scores more than 50%, the two candidates with the highest percentages of valid votes will contest a second round run-off on 19 March.
4) In the whole country, there are just over 800 polling centers, containing a total of 9,000 polling stations. In other words, there are many polling stations set up in the same locations. The UN peacekeeping mission apparently insisted on a small number of locations for security reasons.
5) Rene Preval has never been a member of the Lavalas Family party, the party founded in late 1996 by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When Preval was elected president for the first time in the presidential election held at the end of 1995, the Lavalas Family party did not exist.
6) The Lespwa platform, for whom Rene Preval is the presidential candidate, has only put up 19 candidates for the 30 Senate seats. Lespwa has no Senate candidates standing in West or North-East departments.
7) Serge Simon, the Senate candidate for the social democratic coalition, Fusion, in the West department, caused a stir last week when he joined a pro-Preval rally in Cite Soleil. He told the crowd to vote for Preval for President and for him for the Senate. (The Fusion presidential candidate, Serge Gilles, was, to put it mildly, not pleased.)
8) Winter Etienne, who is standing as a Senate candidate for Guy Philippe’s FRN party in the Artibonite department, was a leader of the Cannibal Army. This Gonaives-based gang was once strongly pro-Aristide but changed sides in 2003 and took up arms against the Lavalas Family government. Etienne’s Cannibal Army murdered a number of police officers during the fighting in Gonaives in early 2004. Under the interim government, Etienne was given the job of director of the Gonaives port. One report during 2005 stated that Etienne was in hiding following an attempt to arrest him on corruption and theft charges relating to activities at the port.
9) Another candidate for the Senate in the Artibonite, standing for his own party, the LAAA, is interim prime minister Gerard Latortue’s nephew, Youri Latortue. Youri is a former army officer, allegedly involved in the murder of Father Jean-Marie Vincent in 1994, and more recently head of security for his uncle during the period of the interim government.
10) The Senate candidate for the North-East department, the location of the new Free Trade Zone in the town of Ouanaminthe, is Rudolph Boulos, who is standing for the Fusion party. Rudolph is the brother of Reginald Boulos, the well-known businessman and media magnate with a strong involvement in national politics, who is a leading light in the Group of 184 platform. In 1996, Rudolph Boulos’ company, Pharval, distributed medicinal syrups contaminated with diethyl glycol that caused the death of 62 children. (Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group)