Haiti Archives 1995-1996
21/12/95 “WE’RE NOT TURNING BACK” Haitians Vote Despite Frustration with Economic Conditions and Lack of Disarmament

From: Oxfam Advocacy <oaadvocacy@igc.apc.org>

Newsgroups: apc.reg.carib

Subject: US NGO Statement on Haiti’s Election Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 14:41:10 -0800 (PST)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE U.S. Contacts December 19, 1995 Lydia Williams, Oxfam America (617-728-2409) Marx Aristide, Washington Office on Haiti (202) 319-4464 Port-au-Prince Contacts: Jenny Russell, Voices for Haiti (509) 57-1699

“WE’RE NOT TURNING BACK” Haitians Vote Despite Frustration with Economic Conditions and Lack of Disarmament

This statement represents the findings of a 110-member citizens’ observer mission, the largest independent, non-governmental delegation to observe Haiti’s December 17, 1995 presidential elections. CIOD is comprised of private citizens who represent twenty-two U.S. states. Among the delegates are a dozen who currently reside in Haiti; the majority of delegates live in the United States and financed their own travel to Haiti.

The delegates observed at over 425 polling stations in the areas of Port au Prince, Petion-Ville, Cit? Soleil, Kenscoff, Furcy, Croix des Bouquets, La Gonave, Jacmel, Petite Rivi?re Artibonite, Gonaives, Hinche, Petit Goave, Papay, Les Cayes and Jeremie. At all of these stations, the observers witnessed no violence or intimidation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, observers also witnessed no attempts at fraud. At five voter stations in the Artibonite region, CIOD observers did question the validity of the results when observed voter turnout and final counts were not consistent. The minimal logistical problems that did arise were resolved in a creative and cooperative manner by electoral officials.

Coalition observer teams reported that low turnout at the polls was widespread, with an average of 25% at observer sites. Turnout ranged from a low of 10% in Petit Goave, where a vacant UN vehicle was fired on two hours before polls opened, to a high of 100% at one polling station in Gonaives. Explanations by Haitians for the low turnout include citizen apathy for those who wanted President Aristide to complete his five year term; a sense of “fait accompli,” with Lavalas presidential candidate Rene Preval widely expected to win; and disillusionment at virtually no economic progress since the restoration of democracy over a year ago.

In observations around the country, coalition members noted that election officials at all levels displayed a high degree of professionalism and serious-mindedness. To the many members of the coalition who had observed the June legislative elections, the polling station workers appeared to have received more extensive training and had an improved understanding of their duties. They showed transparency throughout the voting and tallying processes. The involvement of numerous young adults, including many women, was seen as a positive sign for the future of democracy in Haiti. When Haitian voters went to the polls, they chose from a slate of fourteen candidates representing a wide spectrum of political ideologies. The scheduled inauguration of the new president in February 1996 will mark the first time in Haitian history that one democratically elected government peacefully transfers power to another.

The coalition congratulates the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the Haitian government and the Haitian citizenry for accomplishing this great task in an atmosphere of calm and peace. In light of the violence and repression that have marred this country’s history, this election can certainly be viewed as a victory for the people of Haiti.

“Although the smoothness of this election is very important for the emergence of democracy in Haiti, this election alone cannot solve Haiti’s serious political and economic problems,” emphasized Tom Reeves, coordinator of the New England Observer Delegation in Haiti.

The problems in this poor country are many and varied. There are widespread allegations that anti-constitutional forces have hidden arms which will be used to destabilize the government after the UN forces pull out this spring. CIOD strongly urges the US government to use its influence and abilities to accelerate disarming anti-democratic elements around the country before the end of April, when US troops are scheduled to withdraw.

Much international investment and aid has been made contingent on the government adopting a structural adjustment program, including privatization of government-operated industries, an unpopular issue facing the current and future Haitian governments. The new government also faces the marathon tasks of building an infrastructure, restoring the environment and social services, and jump-starting a nearly moribund economy.

Above all, these elections demonstrate that much has changed in Haiti since October 15, 1994. The Haitian people now feel free to express their political will without threat of persecution. Fundamental obstacles, such as widespread illiteracy, poverty, and poor infrastructure remain. But the driving spirit of democracy and hope in Haiti is best expressed by one resident of the largest slum in Port-au-Prince, Cite Soleil, who said “Nou pa fe bak” (”We’re not turning back.”)

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