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Archive for November, 2010

Kids-peeking-out

Unfortunately, the elections on Sunday were a spectator sport for most Haitians.  These kids peeked a view at a protest supporting Michel Martelly as it marched by their house in Village Solidarite.  The campaign posters plastered to the wall are EVERYWHERE in the city, covering every flat surface that campaign workers could find.  Now we wait for results, which will hopefully come out within the next couple days, and which will be plastered on this blog as soon as they are released.

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Ballot-into-the-box

Haiti is in a state of limbo after elections ended with thousands of Haitians claiming they were unable to vote, and allegations of fraud resulted in 12 of the 19 candidates asking that the election be annulled.  Countrywide there were reports of complete disorganization which resulted in Haitians being sent to the wrong polling center, or being left off the list of voters all together.

It was an election that the entire world was watching, and one that had ramifications for a number of reasons.  The next president will be presiding over the distribution of billions of dollars in international aid, and will lead the country through the first phases of a reconstruction that will likely take decades.  With over a million people in tent camps and a cholera outbreak that has killed over 1,700 Haitians, the next president has his work cut out for him.  But unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Ben, David and I drove around the city, and the surrounding neighborhoods, to cover the elections that everyone had anticipated were going to be a problem.  Just days before, Michel Martelly, who is one of the front-runners, claimed in a press conference that the results of the election could not be trusted. “I can tell you that this election will not be credible,” he said to a group of journalists during a press conference, “there will be widespread fraud.”  That night someone attempted to assassinate him, and Martelly’s campaign claimed it was the Preval-backed Inite party, whose candidate, Jude Celestin, is the one that many are accusing of fraud.  Celestin has become the villain in this saga, as he’s backed by a president that has an incredibly low approval rating among the people.  Haitians do not like President Preval, and they expect Celestin to be more of the same.

Sunday came and the streets were empty.  Only authorized cars were allowed to drive, motorcycles were banned from the roads, and stores and shops were closed.  The polls were scheduled to be open from 6am-4pm, so we left early to get to a polling center before they opened.  At a school in Petionville which was acting as a polling center, voters lined up around the block as poll workers took their time to count ballots and arrange ballot boxes.  The problem?  They were still doing it an hour and a half after polls were supposed to open.

Flipping-through-ballots-wide

Flipping-through-ballots

Ballot-Boxes

Inside the polling center, voters would check to make sure their name was on the list of voters designated to vote there, and then would enter one of the small classrooms.  A poll worker would check your fingers for the indelible ink that was put on a voter’s thumb after they vote (to make sure you weren’t voting twice), they would check their voter ID card, and then they were given their ballots.  The three boxes designated the three elections taking place: Senate, Deputy, and President.

Voting-line-through-the-chair

Checking-for-mark-on-the-thumb

Voting-for-President

Marker-on-the-thumb

At another polling center just blocks from the Presidential Palace, dozens of Haitians were complaining that their names were not on the lists that were plastered outside the voting center.  “I have a card saying this is my polling center,” one woman said, “but I’ve looked for my name and it’s not there.”  According to monitors this was a growing problem.  With so many displaced people after the earthquake, voter registration was severely lacking, and those who had moved into tent camps or in with relatives, were unsure where they were supposed to vote.  Many lost their voter registration cards in the earthquake, and attempts by thousands of Haitians to get them replaced before the election were unsuccessful.

Looking-for-names

And in a country where so little services are provided by the government, many people just didn’t come out to vote.  Voter turnout was extremely low, especially in the countryside where the government is practically non-existent.  By the time polls were closing around 4pm, there were no lines at polling stations, and little voting was being done at all.

About 3 months ago I started to make a point of asking the Haitians I would speak to if they were going to vote, and 90% of them said ‘no’.  The responses were typically the same, but included at least one of these reasons:

1. I don’t have a voter registration card.
2. I don’t really care.
3. The government doesn’t do anything anyways.
4. I don’t like any of the candidates.
5. It doesn’t matter who I vote for, they will steal our money no matter what.

While many of these complaints are the same no matter where you vote, the reality is that the government here has never given the people a good reason to participate in the democratic process.  Preval is the first president in the history of Haiti to be elected into office and finish his term (if he finishes it in January, of course), and he has done a terrible job.  The country continues to deteriorate, especially after the earthquake, and the government has done nothing to stop it.

Unfortunately, the heavy presence of NGOs, both large and small, has not helped this situation either.  Aid organizations are, in fact, incredibly un-democratic, considering that they cause people to rely on them instead of the government.  They provide Haitians with the goods and services that a government should be providing, so when the population is in need they don’t go to their local officials, they go to the aid organizations instead.  Whether or not the government can provide those services doesn’t matter, they have been dis-empowered to the point of being irrelevant in their own country, which is never a good thing.

Holding-Mickey-Sign

Angry-protestors

Protestors-blocked-by-police

We left the polling centers and ran into a march of supporters of Michel Martelly that were chanting in opposition of Celestin.  The group grew as they sprinted down the major arteries of the city, and were blocked by police at a number of intersections as they tried to march towards the Provisional Electoral Commission’s headquarters.  They snaked through neighborhoods to avoid the police barricades and then came across a polling center which was underneath a large building that houses Haitians in small apartments.  The crowd rushed into the crowded polling station and caused a stampede resulting in people grabbing ballot boxes and running, while others were thrown to the ground after being pushed over.

What was left was a polling center in ruins.  Ballot boxes were laying on the ground while empty ballots carpeted the floor beneath the voters.  Behind the building, in a small stream, was a ballot box filled with ballots soaking in the murky water.  And while many of the voting booths closed down, some stayed open as there were still Haitians that wanted to put in their vote before it was too late.

Protesters-storm-voting-center

Ballot-boxes-on-the-ground

Empty-Voting-Table

Handing-over-an-ID

Ballot-Box-in-the-Water

Looking-a-stray-ballots

Soon after, the protesters began throwing rocks, and the polling center emptied once again.  UN and Haitian police came in and formed a perimeter to protect the voting center, and then after showing an incredibly unnecessary amount of gun-power, went into the nearby tent camp and arrested half-a-dozen protesters who had allegedly been the rock-throwers.

Ready-to-Fire

UN-Troops-Load-Tear-Gas-Canisters

Riot-gear

Arrest-in-a-tent-camp

Arresting-Protestor

It was at this point that the situation became depressing.  While the election was never truly expected to run seamlessly, there was always that little ray of hope that it would be successful and Haiti would move into another, more positive phase.  You want so badly for this to succeed.  But after seeing the ballots floating away in the creek and watching the protesters destroying the voting center, you started to realize that this election was never really going to work.  While there was obviously fraud occurring in a number of polling stations around the country, it appears that it was the utter lack of organization that, in the end, made this election such a failure.

And then, with 4 hours still to go until polls closed, 12 of the 19 candidates, including 3 of the front-runners, held a press conference calling for the elections to be annulled.  Just to be clear, there are no exit polls in Haiti, so there is no way for anyone to know who is winning until the votes are actually counted.  These candidates jumped the gun, and took to the streets to protest against reports of fraud that they were getting from around the country.

I caught up with Charles Baker, who is one of the leading candidates (but not a front-runner) in the election, as he was marching with the crowds.  “There is massive fraud,” he explained as he walked with a crowd who’s numbers had quickly reached the thousands, “Our people, Mickey’s people, Manigot’s people, they’re not letting them vote.”  He was explaining that in some polling centers only Celestin voters were being allowed in, and in other centers where Celestin supporters had realized they were losing, the ballot boxes were being stolen.  “We’re taking to the streets until they annul the elections,” Baker explained, “and then we need to disband the (Provisional Electoral Commission), they were not prepared to handle this election.”

Charles-Baker-Marching

Protesters

The crowd grew and the march stretched on for miles.  With chants of “Down with Celestin, we want Martelly!” echoing around the city, protesters vowed to march until Celestin was ousted from the race.  Unfortunately for them, some election officials around the city found the protest to be counteractive to the cause, as Celestin supporters continued to vote while Martelly supporters instead took to the streets.

Celestin-Posters-in-Gutter

Martelly-Crowd

We won’t know the official results of the race until later this week, and maybe as late as December 7th.  After that they have already scheduled a run-off for January 16th, as it’s next to impossible for any of the 19 candidates to get the 51% of the vote needed to take office.  Until then the country is expecting to see an increase in demonstrations and violence, as reports are coming out that Celestin may have the most votes, illegitimately or not.  Take into account that I have not spoken to a single Haitian in the past 3 months that has told me he or she is going to vote for Celestin, and I think we can all agree that those results would be a disaster for a country whose people are already on the brink.

Ben and I were talking while waiting for the protest to return to where we were, and he explained that this could quickly move from being just a protest to becoming a movement, and he’s right.  There are already reports that outside of Port-au-Prince there is violence as a result of the elections, and while today was quiet in the city, today’s announcement by the external governing body that oversaw the elections saying that the election process was relatively successful will only anger a population who feels slighted.  It’s just a matter of time before the population rises up against a government, and a flawed democratic process, that has left their country unable to stand on its own, and unfortunately for Haiti, who already has enough problems to deal with, trying to sift through a fraudulent election to find a legitimate leader is not something that they need.

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Today were elections in Haiti, and I can tell you first hand that they didn’t go well.  Ben, David, and I went out all day to cover the elections, and have been up since 5:30am driving around the city.  Because of that, I’m going to bed, but tomorrow I’ll thoroughly post on the happenings from this Sunday’s elections.  There were allegations of fraud, MAJOR issues with voter registration, protests that disrupted polling centers, and an enormous protest that ended the day.  Stay tuned…

P.S. Because of the influx of journalists here in Haiti that are trying to upload photos just like me, the internet was too slow to upload even one…hopefully tomorrow morning will be better.

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US

While the past couple of weeks have been tough, sometimes it takes an American holiday like Thanksgiving to remind us just how much we have to be thankful for.  We have each other, we have Olie, we have our health, and we have great friends and family who we miss dearly.  To drown the sorrow we have because we won’t be spending the holiday at home, we’ll be heading over to a friend’s apartment this evening for an all-out ex-pat Thanksgiving feast.  We will be contributing candied yams and party potatoes, and afterwards will probably hire someone with a wheelbarrow to carry us home.   Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

P.S. If you have never experienced party potatoes before, you must (MUST!) go to your nearest grocery store and get the ingredients so that they can help contribute to your turkey-induced coma.  They are freakin’ delicious (and very bad for you). The recipe is here.

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Hand-on-a-gurney

A lot of people have been asking how they can help those who have gotten cholera here in Haiti.  After being to a handful of Cholera Treatment Centers (CTCs) and talking to a bunch of people, it’s those organizations that are directly dealing with cholera patients that need to the most help right now.  Here’s a break-down:

Doctors Without Borders has been managing the majority of the CTCs in Haiti since the epidemic began, and recently wrote a scathing message about how the other NGOs in the country need to step up their efforts (you can read that here).  According the UN Health Cluster, which (attempts to) coordinate the distribution of aid in regards to health care, MSF is managing nine out of the 19 CTCs in the country, including the ones that are located in the worst parts of PAP.  They are definitely someone who could use your hard-earned money, and they would put it to good use (you can donate here).  Also, if you are a doctor or nurse and you speak fluent French or Kreyol, they are in desperate need for your help and you can volunteer with them for a period of no less than a month (for more info on that click here).

Little-girl-with-feeding-nose-tube

Elsewhere, the German Red Cross is running a CTC is Arcahaie, just an hour north of the city, and is doing a really great job trying to keep up with the overflow of patients that are constantly flooding in.  In addition, they have taken their work a step farther and have started “mobile clinics” that drive through the surrounding areas and inform people about the symptoms of cholera, and what to do if they get it.  Often times people just don’t have transportation to the hospital, so these mobile clinics are also working as makeshift ambulances if they come across someone who needs to get to a CTC ASAP.  The website is in German, but inputting your credit card info is an international language.  You can do that here.

Boy-in-CTC

Other Orgs that are managing CTCs are International Medical Corp (donate here), Partners in Health (Paul Farmer’s org, donate here), and Gheskio (donate on their homepage in the link to the left).  All these organizations are doing great work, and not only are helping with the cholera outbreak, but they train Haitians to become medical professionals and work on hygiene promotion to stop the spread of disease in the future.

Almost every organization in Haiti is doing their best to step up and help with the cholera epidemic, and while they all need the help too (I’m sure), I truly think that if you want to directly help the people on the front lines of this epidemic, it’s those organizations listed above.  These are trusted organizations with a history of working in this country, and if you are looking to make an impact then donating to them is the way to go.

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Cholera-Victim-Feet

The cholera epidemic that has killed over 1,300 people and left tens of thousands sick has reached the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and is quietly taking it toll on a population that lack proper access to sanitation and hygiene.  Aid workers are not concerned so much with the disease reaching the larger tent camps, as many are provided clean drinking water and have such a heavy NGO presence that the necessary aid would likely be provided in the event of an outbreak.  They are more worried about it spreading in the slums, especially in places like Cite Soleil, where shanty towns lack access to clean water, and where the sanitation infrastructure is non-existent.

Carrying-to-the-hospital

From our perspective, it wasn’t clear that cholera had hit the city, even though news reports were claiming otherwise.  You just don’t see it.  Living in our house in a relatively nice part of town, the presence of cholera was not obvious, which stresses that this is not a disease that people who have the proper resources get.  It’s a disease that affects the poor, but with the vast majority of people in this country living on less than $2 a day, almost everyone is vulnerable.  All we needed to do was travel downtown last Thursday and the toll of this cholera epidemic slapped us in the face.

Ben and I were driving around PAP Thursday looking for protests when we drove by a man who looked like he was dead on the side of the road.  We pulled over and looked down, “Yeah, he’s dead,” I said just as the man moved his head back and forth lethargically.  We were shocked, so we asked people who were standing close-by how long he had been laying there.  They explained that the man had cholera and that he had been there for a couple hours.  Soon after his mother came and began to wail, saying that he was her only child and asking “Why is this happening?” in Kreyol.

Greiving-Mother

NOTE: The following pictures are graphic.  If you would like to continue reading please click “continue reading”.

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On-the-Road-Again

While talking to my sister recently, I realized that most of the things that I have been taking pictures of, and therefore writing about in this blog, are kinda depressing.  I don’t mean to do that, it just sometimes works out that way.  But in an effort to balance the sad with some happy, she recommended that I go out and dedicate a day to taking pictures of good things, things that won’t make me bummed out when I go back and process the photos.

She’s right, it’s a really good idea to try to step back from the harsh realities here and see the good.  Now while I haven’t actually gone out with the intention of just taking fun pictures, I found this one which I took on my way to Saint Mark a couple weeks back with NBC.  Considering how sometimes it’s hard to find the beauty here, the sunset never fail to impress, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to make it look good.  Here’s to another day.

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