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30/4/06

Haiti Report - Legislative Elections | Preval and Chavez Announce Haiti is Joining Petrocaribe | Three Political Prisoners Released | Preval Satisfied with Reestablishing Cooperation with Cuba | Medicins Sans Frontiers at the Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil | Theft from Underwater Research Site at Ile-a-Vache

 

   

Haiti Report for April 30, 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. Please excuse the recent lack of Haiti Reports, due to internet, electricity and power cord failures.

To make a donation to support this service: Konbit Pou Ayiti, 7 Wall Street, Gloucester, MA, 01930.

IN THIS REPORT:
- Legislative Elections
- Preval and Chavez Announce Haiti is Joining Petrocaribe
- Three Political Prisoners Released
- Preval Satisfied with Reestablishing Cooperation with Cuba
- Medicins Sans Frontiers at the Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil
- Theft from Underwater Research Site at Ile-a-Vache

Legislative Elections:
Some 20% Haitians went to vote this Friday to elect 30 senators and 97 deputees in the second round of legislative elections. Elections were generally calm throughout the country. However, there were incidents in the area of Grande Saline (north) where elections were cancelled a second time. A woman was also killed early morning in Gonaïves in an incident that is reportedly not linked to the elections. In several regions of the country, notably in Cap-Haïtien , in the South-East and the Central Plateau, candidates or individuals were arrested with lots of ballots all filled out or were trying to vote several times. The participation level was considered weak by several sectors including the European Union Observation Mission, when compared with the 60% of participation at the first round. Participation is extremely low up to now, about 15%”, Head of the European Union Observation Mission Johan Van Hecke declared. However, some sectors have criticized European observers for their silence regarding the people who had their electoral card in hand but whose name was nowhere to be found on the lists. “It is quite strange to speak about the low level of participation while people who wanted to vote were sent back home by members of voting bureaux under the eyes of European observers, after a request of the CEP general management”, as journalists at the “Building 2004" declared, where Cité Soleil residents have voted. CEP officials have tried to explain their refusal to let people vote in any bureau if they couldn’t find their name on the list where they had voted on February 7th with the fact that people had been told to check the organization’s internet site or to come and check the electoral lists before the elections. ”How many people have access to Internet in Haiti and how many can manage to find their names in the imbroglio of CEP lists, voters wondered. They consider that the Electoral Council has done everything to reduce the participation. Candidates for the Hope Platform and those for Lavalas are favorites for now, even though they will apparently not have an absolute majority at the Parliament. (AHP, 4/21)

At least a million Haitians voted in an election runoff to choose a new parliament, double the initial estimate given by some international observers, U.N. officials said Monday.n An official count showed at least 30 percent of Haiti’s 3.5 million registered voters participated in Friday’s election, said David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, citing data from Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council. Wimhurst said the participation figure represented a “a big step forward” compared to past legislative races in Haiti, despite a claim by a European Union observer team that turnout was poor.  “The fact that we got 30 percent, or 1 million voters, is not negligible,” he said. Many voters in this impoverished Caribbean nation were slow to turn up at polling stations in the early hours of balloting, prompting the head EU election observer, Johan Van Hecke, to call the turnout “extremely weak.” He estimated the participation at no more than 15 percent.  Speaking to reporters Monday, Van Hecke said that estimate was based on ”preliminary information” but stood by his assessment that participation was low.  Election observers had reported isolated cases of people voting multiple times. Haitians voted for 127 legislative representatives, including 97 deputies and 30 senators. (AP, 4/24)

The calm atmosphere in which the second round of Haiti’s parliamentary elections took place on Friday represents a crucial step towards placing the impoverished and strife-torn Caribbean country on the path to peaceful and stable development, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today. ”It will be essential for the country’s progress that all elements of Haiti’s political spectrum and the various branches of Haiti’s Government work in a spirit of close cooperation to ensure that this opportunity is fully grasped,” he added in a statement issued by his spokesman. The statement paid tribute to the “excellent collaboration between Haiti and the international community that resulted in an exemplary logistical and technical process.”  (UN Daily News, 4/24)

The United Nations Security Council today welcomed the recent parliamentary elections in Haiti while stressing that the impoverished Caribbean country still faces numerous challenges requiring international help. In a press statement, Council President Wang Guangya, the Ambassador of China, commended the Haitian people for their participation in the second round of the parliamentary elections, held on Friday, and welcomed the ”calm manner” in which voting took place. ”These elections constitute clear evidence of the Haitian people’s commitment to democracy,” he said, voicing appreciation for the work of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Reiterating the importance of timely municipal and local elections, the Council President stressed that security remains important for the further stabilization of the country. Voters cast ballots at 804 voting centres to elect 27 senators and 83 deputies, according to MINUSTAH, which said that, consistent with expectations, participation was lower than the first round of elections, when René Préval was elected president. (UN Daily News, 4/25)

President-elect Rene Preval’s Lespwa movement fell short of the majority it needs to choose the next prime minister and Cabinet, winning just 11 of 27 Senate seats and 20 of 85 seats in the lower house a runoff legislative election. Preval, who won the presidency after the first round of voting in the chaotic Caribbean nation on Feb. 7, may still be able to  govern effectively by reaching out to several rival parties. All the votes in last Friday’s legislative election have been counted, except from disputed areas where ballots were declared invalid due to violence and other irregularities. Preval, who served as president from 1996 to 2001, will be sworn in on May 14. ”President Preval’s administration can count upon our support in parliament,” said Evans Paul, whose Democratic Alliance party won one Senate seat and 11 in the lower house or Chamber of Deputies. “We can’t demand that he share his victory with us. He is the one who won.” Micha Gaillard, a spokesman for the Fusion Social and Democratic party, which won three Senate seats and 12 house seats, said: “We are going to support the government of President Preval. There will be no obstructionism.” Together with its allies, Preval’s party looks likely to have the 16-seat majority needed to control the Senate. But he will have to reach out to rivals to obtain the 50-seat majority needed to control the lower house. ”We have no interest in putting up opposition to President Preval. He has shown openness and all the conditions for governability are being met,” said Paul Denis, leader of the OPL party, one of those that could help Preval achieve the majority it needs. ”We want the success of the Preval administration. We will contribute to it,” said Denis. Seventeen legislative seats, including three in the Senate, are still up for grabs but they will be decided in another round of balloting in jurisdictions where the runoff vote was canceled because of violence or other problems. A date for the new round has not been set. (Reuters, 4/26)

Many unsuccessful candidates contested the latest results this Thursday. This was the case with the Senate Candidate for the Fusion of Social Democrats Marie Dense Claude who denounced the massive fraud that were recorded at a number of voting centers in Port-au-Prince, according to her; in particular the fraud perpetrated at Building 2004 to the north of the capital where the residents of Cité Soleil voted. Ms. Claude asked the CEP to re-run the elections in this center and to proceed with a recount of all other voting centers where fraud was registered. Wouldi Simon, another Fusion candidate in Marchand Dessalines, denounced acts of brutality perpetrated against voters and officials by a candidate of the Artibonite in Action (LAA), a group headed by Youri Latortue, the nephew of the current interim Prime Minister. Wouldi Simon asked the CEP to cancel the elections in the 4th District of Marchand Dessaline where ballots were found in the city streets.

Candidates and partisans of Fusion are also the objects of grave accusations themselves. In Desdunes in the Artibonite valley, an OPL candidate, Beaudelaire Noelsaint accused the Base 32 gang, which supports Fusion, of having mistreated and beaten with batons voters that belonged to the OPL - employing heavy weight to stop them from voting. He is calling on the CEP to cancel the results at this polling station. The National Coordinator of the OPL, Edgard Leblanc, has also denounced numerous cases of irregularities that were registered during April 21st. ”This situation proves that it is only vagrants who must be going to the ballot boxes in Haiti,” threw out Edgard Leblanc. Another OPL candidate in the Bombardopolis/Baie-de-haine ridding, Vasco Thernelan also criticized the unfolding of the electoral processes in several regions of the country. According to Mr. Thernelan, the CEP itself committed serious breaches and errors in the voting process.

One of the elected deputies of the Fusion of Social Democrats in the riding of Chambellan (Grande-Anse), Sorel Jacinthe, denounced on Thursday the threats he alleges have been directed against him by partisans of the KOREGA organization in the area. At the same time Sorel Jacinthe denied information according to which he had killed a person who’s body was later found in his car. According to Mr. Jacinth, the body was planted in his vehicle with the aim of accusing him. He asked that his persecutors leave him alone so that he can freely occupy himself with his work.  (AHP, 4/27)

Preval and Chavez Announce Haiti is Joining Petrocaribe:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Monday welcomed Haitian President elect René Préval in the presidential palace of Miraflores. In a joint press conference, Préval gave the floor to Chávez: “When I am the one who is asking, I rather give the floor to he who is going to give. In this way, I get to know what he is going to give me.” Chávez and Préval announced Haiti is joining Venezuelan oil initiative Petrocaribe. The Venezuelan ruler offered Haiti his ”humble expertise regarding social missions” -the way he calls his social aid programs. ”We are ready to find a more flexible formula under Petrocaribe,” said Chávez, adding that social programs to help Haiti “would be coordinated with Cuba.” The Venezuelan ruler said next May 2nd a team of experts from state oil firm Pdvsa is to visit Haiti to prepare the island incorporation to Petrocaribe. Under Petrocaribe, Venezuela sells oil and by-products under preferential terms to Caribbean and Central American countries. Chávez also vowed to donate fuel to Haiti, “especially diesel for use in hospitals and schools.” (Diario El Universal, 4/25)

Three Political Prisoners Released:
Human rights activists and Haiti’s pro-democracy populace are cheering about the fact that three political prisoners have been released in Port-au-Prince. On Easter weekend, Judge Mimose Janvier, the investigating magistrate in the cases of Mario Exilhomme, Harold Sévère and Anthony Nazaire, ordered the three to be freed, saying that no evidence had been produced to indicate they committed a crime. Exilhomme had been illegally imprisoned for 10 months while Nazaire and Sévère had been held without charge since March 2004. Exilhomme is a grassroots pro-democracy activist. At the request of the Haitian Ministry of Justice, he was arrested in the Dominican Republic, where he was staying legally, and extradited to Haiti on July 22, 2005. He was never charged with a crime, and prosecutors never produced any evidence of wrongdoing.

Harold Sévère , the former mayor of Port-au-Prince, was one of those freed. Sévère was arrested March 14, 2004, but was never charged with a crime. Anthony Nazaire, a former officer in the National Palace Security Unit, was arrested the same day. On Dec. 23, 2004, a judge, recognizing that the government had produced no evidence against them, ordered Harold Sévère and Anthony Nazaire to be freed on their own recognizance. The prosecutor even agreed to execute the order but was overridden by an illegal order from the minister of justice, says attorney Mario Joseph of the human rights organization Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port-au-Prince. On Dec. 30, 2004, former Justice Minister Bernard Gousse sent a letter to the chief judge of the Port-au-Prince trial court, ordering him to remove all the case files in the possession of Investigating Magistrates Jean Sénat Fleury and Brédy Fabien. This came days after Judge Fleury ordering the liberation of Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste, a pro-democracy activist, and Judge Fabien ordered the provisional release of Sévère and Nazaire, says Joseph.

No one knows how many political prisoners there are in Haiti, says American attorney Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “Prison authorities routinely limit human rights groups’ access to prison records. But we know that 90 percent of the total prison population has not been convicted of a crime and that some were engaged in political activity before their arrest.” More than 2,000 people are currently imprisoned in Port-au-Prince. As political prisoners languish in prisons and police stations across Haiti, three police officers implicated in a bloody massacre at a USAID-sponsored soccer tournament last August have been released from prison. On April 17, by order of Judge Jean Péreste Paul, Inspector Renan Etienne, who served as the director of the Central Police
Administration and reportedly had close ties to the rebels who staged the 2004 coup, was released along with three other officers. Speaking on Radio Caraïbes Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for released police officers said that they did nothing wrong and expected to be fully cleared of any criminal acts in the August 2005 incident. (San Francisco Bayview, 4/19)

Preval Satisfied with Reestablishing Cooperation with Cuba:
In Havana President-Elect of Haiti Rene Preval expressed his satisfaction at reestablishing cooperation with Cuba, particularly in the area of health. Minutes before his departure after a working visit to the island, Preval said that during his stay very precise decisions were made, especially relating to medical coverage in his country. Referring to his talks with President Fidel Castro, the Haitian leader described them as fraternal and intense. They were not diplomatic talks, but instead were friendly and addressed global political issues, above all those concerning South-South relations and bilateral ties between Cuba and Haiti, he added. Preval affirmed that the encounter with the Cuban leader resulted in very concrete points, to be addressed in more depth by a joint committee session of the two nations, scheduled for the end of June or early July. In that context, a varied delegation composed of agronomist, health workers, artists, and specialists of other sectors accompanied Preval on this visit. Highlighted among the priorities established by the president-elect of Haiti was his commitment to the integration of Latin American and the
Caribbean, and in particular, the promotion of relations with Cuba. The president-elect thanked Havana for sending doctors to Haiti and for training hundreds of Haitian students as future physicians. ”The Cuban doctors are working in places where Haitian professionals do not dare venture,” he emphasized. The Cuban medical brigades, located in remote areas, have made more than 8 million consultations and performed some 100,000 operations, in a little more than six years. In addition, an important number of Haitian patients have received treatment in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, many of them through Operation Miracle, a Cuban-Venezuelan project offering free ophthalmologic attention to poor patients in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the case of Haiti, some 600 affected persons have received medical attention and have undergone surgery. (Granma International, 4/19)

Medicins Sans Frontiers at the Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil:
‘Gunfire has been the soundtrack of Cite Soleil since I arrived,’ said Loris De Filippi, head of mission for Medicins Sans Frontiers, the international medical relief agency which operates two facilities in the heart of what is arguably the worst slum in the Americas. MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, was until recently one of only two organizations willing to brave routine street battles between armed gangs and tank-embedded U.N. forces assigned to stabilize the shooting gallery of tin-and-cinderblock warrens at the water`s edge of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Waves of killings and kidnappings have besieged the city since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile in Feb. 2004. The death toll has climbed past 2,000 lives in the meantime, and abductions averaged between six and twelve per day at their peak, according to police and human rights groups. Called the ‘deepest would in Haiti’s belly’ by U.N. envoy Juan Gabriel Valdes, Cite Soleil has been the epicenter of political and criminal violence. De Filippi told United Press International that MSF’s emergency care unit at Choscal hospital — the only hospital in the slum — had seen a ‘huge’ increase in gunshot victims leading up to February’s presidential ballot: 34 wounded in November, 80 in December and 103 in January — 90 percent in the first three weeks alone — before a relative calm set in. Over 50 percent of patients were women, children and the elderly.

MSF had already worked in Haiti for 15 years when it decided to re-open Choscal last August, performing some 12,000 medical consultations and 800 emergency procedures in the first three months as attacks in the sprawling shantytown neared fever pitch. The hospital had been abandoned a year before due to insecurity. ’We decided to intervene in Cite Soleil because we found it unacceptable that a population of 250,000 people, the size of a medium European city, caught in an epidemic of social, gang and political violence, could be left without any care to speak of,’ said De Filippi, an easygoing Italian who has worked in hot zones from Somalia to Kosovo. ’We always ask ourselves: are we putting in balance the risks we take with the lives we save,’ he said, noting the high turnover of MSF staff, particularly among surgeons. ‘Our ability to work in Cite Soleil is precarious… Sometimes security is an excuse not to go.’

Choscal is a bleached compound with thick 15-foot high walls situated deep in the slum. Forbidden to leave after 5 p.m., MSF employees and volunteers must travel to and from the hospital in a convoy of Land Rovers, through gang-controlled neighborhoods built on trash whose concrete hovels are peppered with bullet holes. MSF typically has 2 surgeons and three anesthesiologists on duty to man an emergency room, along with a medical coordinator and three or four local doctors for general consultations, maternity and pediactrics, all of whom pull 24-hour shifts. Double shifts, and bed shortages, are not uncommon when gunfire erupts. ’Between the end of December and early January we were full, performing surgeries around the clock,’ said Carlo Belloni, another Italian doctor with a bottomless reserve of energy. ‘The capacity here is unlimited… it’s war surgery.’ Stray bullets ripped through the second floor pediatrics ward one night in January, just missing sleeping patients. Pediatrics has since been moved to ground level, where it is protected by concrete filled steel drums. Quarter-sized pock marks were also found on the doors of two rooms where doctors once rested. ’That is heaven, this is hell,’ said Belloni, pointing to a Catholic-run primary school at the end of a dirt soccer pitch beyond the periphery of the MSF compound.

Although members of some aid groups have been shot and kidnapped in the past, MSF staff insist they have never been directly attacked. ’MSF has been most welcome here since the beginning,’ according to Reginald, MSF`s Haitian-born security liaison with the Cite Soleil community. ‘They understand that we are only trying to help in a respectful manner without any political agenda whatsoever.’ He explained that MSF officials met with gang leaders as violence intensified last June and July, calling on them to avoid stirring chaos and to permit free access by medical staff since ‘the first victims are always women and children.’ MSF has also pleaded with the 9,500-strong U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti to cease launching incursions into the slum where residents now curse the blue-helmets. The mission, known by the acronym Minustah, has been criticized for heavy-handed tactics that have claimed scores of innocent casualties. While MSF has provided medical relief to at-risk populations in more than 70 countries worldwide since its founding in 1971 by a group of French doctors, the Nobel Prize-winning organization`s stated policy is to remain neutral from governments. If human rights abuses are encountered by field teams, violators are confronted and public information campaigns are waged to pressure them. Private donors account for more than 80 percent of MSF funding, which further ensures independence.

Belloni, who had operated on a domestic violence victim with five gunshots to the hands and feet the previous night, said the free emergency care administered by MSF was the least that could be done for people abandoned by their own government. He said, however, that MSF care was often inadequate or too late as he checked the IV of a 6-year-old boy stricken with a lethal infection; hours later a white sheet silhouetted the child`s lifeless body. And nearby, an advanced breast cancer patient whose torso was swollen and jaundiced waited for time to expire. ’We could discharge her as there is nothing more we can do, but then where would she go,’ said Belloni. Class-based hostilities, official corruption and international neglect have conspired to make Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The average Haitian lives on less than $2 a day, with many forced to further degrade a once-fertile land turned scorched earth where 80 percent of inhabitants are unemployed and more than half are malnourished.

But February`s landslide presidential victory of Rene Preval has salvaged hopes among Cite Soleil`s forgotten residents that their woes may finally be addressed. The specter of violence invariably attends elections in Haiti, but aid workers say people of late have had little reason to feel intimidated. ’Cite Soleil was a war zone,’ said De Filippi. ‘Now the trouble has all but disappeared… We have passed from a state of constant emergency to stability.’ The MSF mission chief cited a sharp drop to 20 gunshot victims in February, down from over a hundred the previous month, and about half as much in both March and April — the result of normal criminality, not confrontations between armed gangs and U.N. forces. Most impressive is that the people inside Cite Soleil are optimistic and ‘waiting to see what Preval will do’ he said, with a number of international and local aid organizations circulating the slum to ‘evaluate the needs and moods of people.’ Food distribution and inoculation programs are up and running, and Choscal feels less like a bunker each day. ’The hospital is still full but people move freely,’ De Filippi said with a touch of disbelief. ‘It has been a major adjustment to have a normal setting for consultations and care.’ (UPI, 4/22)

Theft from Underwater Research Site at Ile-a-Vache:
The co-manager of the American company Sub Sea Research LLC, Greg Brooks, who signed a contract with the Haitian state to carry out underwater research in the region of Ile-à-Vaches, denounced on Thursday the theft of 4 bronze canons at the research site. The theft occurred, he said, in November, when he and other members of his team were in the United States carrying out rescue operations for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. ”Some individuals brought the canons, which can be worth up to 2-million dollars each, on a boat to Panama,” said Mr. Brooks, underlining the fact that the theft couldn’t have occurred without the knowledge of the interim regime. He highlighted the fact that a representative of that government, a certain Ernest Wilson, was present at the research site during that time.

According to Greg Brooks, Wilson had asked technicians working for Sub Sea Research not to inform the public of the results of their underwater discoveries. Brooks also confirmed that a witness had filmed the plundering of the cannons that were intended for Panama and eventually Canada. Gold and emerald plaques were also stolen, he said. The representative of this American company explained to us that the interim government cancelled the contract signed in 2003, while forcing it to initial a new document with the provisional Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture. At the same time, Mr. Brooks continued, “a new company, Caribbean Marine, directed by the historian Jean-Claude Fignolé entered the picture, even though it didn’t have the appropriate equipment for this type of work.” 

On the eve of the coming to power of a new government, Greg Brooks says that the members of his team are now being asked to leave the country. ”We’re not going to leave, because if we leave, the pieces that we’ve found and handed over to the interim regime will take the same route as the cannons,” he stated, adding that all light must be shed on the case of the stolen pieces. Mr. Brooks also accuses the current regime of not having respected the terms of the contract that was signed, according to which Sub Sea Research should have received 50% of the sales of the found pieces. ”If we have invested 4-million dollars in the context of our underwater research, we haven’t received anything on our end,” Greg Brooks continued to complain. (AHP, 4/27

  
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