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Posts Tagged ‘Election’

Calling-Aristide

Last week Jean Bertrand Aristide’s American lawyer, Ira Kurzban, confirmed that Haiti had issued his client a diplomatic passport, effectively ending the deposed leader’s exile from this country. (here’s a dated article)  He’s probably not coming this week, but it’s pretty much an inevitability that he will be back in Haiti soon.

It’s a tough situation for a country that is already struggling to stay afloat.  While Aristide has every right to come back to Haiti, it’s hard to see his return as a good thing.  I’m all for democracy, and abiding by the will of the people, but his return will no doubt bring widespread unrest among his supporters.  Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, was barred from participating in the elections, which was a ridiculous decision made by a president trying to keep his party in power, but where do you go from here?  Will the people rise up against the current regime (old or new), and attempt to put him back into power?  That doesn’t seem ideal…

The elections have been conducted (legitimately or not), and now the country is left at a cross-roads.  It can move on from here, or continue to look into the past.  Many of the Haitians that I’ve spoken with don’t necessarily want Aristide to be president again, but feel slighted that he was forced to leave the country when such a large percentage of the population had elected him as president.  But bottom line, he’s coming back, so make sure you have your water stocked, and your Ramen noodles ready!

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Small-Girl-Tear-Gased

Haitians took to the streets in front of the Presidential Palace today calling for President Rene Preval to step down, and for a new government to take control, but were faced with riot police and tear gas canisters.  The protests began because, according to the constitution here, today (February 7th) is the day that Preval should give up his presidency, and a new leader should be sworn in.  Because the elections have been delayed and the second-round run-off isn’t scheduled until March 20th, Preval has announced that he will stay until May to make sure the transition goes well.  This did not make people happy…

Kid-Throwing-Rocks

Dumpster-going-over

Men-pushing-dumpster

Rolling-Concrete-Tube

Wall-on-Fire

The constitution in Haiti allows for a presidential term to last for five years to the day, and five years ago Preval was supposed to be sworn in on February 7th, 2006.  But because there was a delay, Preval was actually sworn in on May 14th, which is the day that he has announced as his new last day as president.

Protesters clashed with Haitian police with force, throwing rocks, building barricades and lighting fires.  Haitian police responded in kind, and showered tear gas canisters down on the protesters.  Unfortunately, the majority of them were aimed in the wrong direction (or hit their targets…depends on how you look at it), and landed in the middle of the tent camp in Champ d’ Mars, where thousands of people are still living after losing their homes in the earthquake.

Tear-Gas-in-the-Tent-Camp

Tear-Gas-in-the-Tent-Camp2

Girl-after-Tear-Gas

Small-Boy-Tear-Gased

Man-Holding-Tear-Gas-Canister

An older woman (not pictured) holding a tear gas canister ran to me and grabbed my arm, “Come!” she yelled in Kreyol, “You have to look back here, they shot at my home!”  I following the woman back to her make-shift home-made of tarps and corrugated steel, and she pointed out all the places where the tear gas had rained down into the camp.  All around were people rubbing at their eyes, and children screaming and yelling.  A harsh stinging haze lingered in the air, burning your eyes and stinging your throat.

The tear gas just angered the protesters more, who continued to throw rocks in the direction of the police.  While the protest began with political motivations, it quickly became a fight to protect their homes, and their families, from the tear gas that had now filled the tent camp.  The protesters began working in earnest to block the roads and stop traffic from entering, but a team of Haitian police officers armed with assault rifles and revolvers barreled towards the crowd, exited the car, and sprinted towards the protesters firing round after round into the air.

Police-Firing-Shots

Police-Standing-By

Police-Running-with-Shotgun

The protesters and the crowds dispersed into the camps, and the policed followed, marching through the tents and makeshifts shelters as if they were hunting down an enemy.

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Hands-up

In the end they arrested no one, and after standing guard for about 15 minutes they piled into their SUV and sped away.  The crowds died down, the barricades were pulled away, and a calm fell over the camp.

The reality is that the people have a reason to be upset, Preval has been a rather stagnant president over the past year, and he is largely seen as the reason why the November elections were marred by fraud. Many Haitians call the Presidential Palace the devil’s house, and Preval the devil, and having him stay in power for another three months is hard for them to swallow (especially as they live in the shadow of the still collapsed Palace).

On the flip side, it does make sense to have him stay while the electoral process is seen through.  A transitional government would take time, and would leave the country in a state of limbo.  Even the US government has said they think Preval staying is a good idea.  “The United States believes that a peaceful and orderly transition between President Preval and his elected successor is important for Haiti,” Jon Piechowski, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, told the AP (Article HERE).

But unfortunately, the police’s reaction to the protesters has left many with only another reason to fight.  Time and again we go to these protests and tear gas canisters and rubber bullets are shot into tent camps or neighborhoods, hurting innocent people and leaving a resentment that results in more fighting.  These protests will likely continue for the coming weeks, if not months, until Preval has stepped down.  But in reality, they could continue forever if the police and UN forces fail to show some restraint, and as a result cause innocent people to be victims of their continuing carelessness.

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Ben-Depp-Resting

While waiting 10 and a half hours last night (yes, 10.5 hours) at the CEP for the final results of the election to be released, sometimes the only thing you can do is lay back and relax.  The makeshift briefing room prepared for the announcement was filled with journalists who eventually turned the space into a massive bedroom, with journalists sprawled out in every corner, and on every pillow they could find.

Snoozin

Snoozin-2

At 10:45pm, CEP spokesman Richard Dumel came out and asked that we have patience, and that they are still working, so hang tight and he’ll be out later.  Ben and I hung out for another 7 hours, and after waking up from a nap around 5:30am, we decided to call it a night (or morning) and head home.  Of course, two hours later Dumel came out and announced the results.

Richard-Dumel-Announcement

All I know is I’m glad that this circus will only happen once more for this election, after the results of the March 20th run-off are tallied.  But next time Ben and I are coming prepared with Scrabble, granola bars and a case of beer, because if we’re going to sleep on the floor of a briefing room again, we’re doing it in style…

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Campaign-Posters

Almost two months after the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results of the Haiti’s November elections, the CEP is planning on announcing the final results today.  The biggest question is who will be included in the March 20th run-off.  A couple of factors have muddied this situation considerably, so here’s a quick breakdown:

The preliminary results were released on November 8th, and were broken down like this:

1. Mirlande Manigat – 31.37% (336,878 votes)

Manigat

2. Jude Celestin – 22.48% (241,462 votes)

Jude Celestin
(Photo by Ben Depp)

3. Michel Joseph Martelly – 21.84% (234,617 votes)

Michel-Martelly

These results were received with an incredible amount of anger, as reports of fraud committed by Celestin’s camp forced tens of thousands of Martelly supporters onto the street to fight Celestin’s inclusion in the run-off, and Martelly’s subsequent exclusion.  In addition, there were reports that President Preval had pressured the CEP to change the results so that Celestin overtook Martelly.

As a result, President Preval requested that the Organization of American States (OAS) do a review of the results, and submit it to him and the CEP in an effort to quell the anger that had resulted after the announcement.  While the review was never made public, the AP got a copy of it (link to article here), and here is the breakdown as the OAS saw it:

1. Mirlande Manigat – 31.6% (323,048 votes [13,830 votes found invalid])

Manigat

2. Michel Joseph Martelly – 22.2% (227,467 votes [7,150 votes found invalid])

Michel-Martelly

3. Jude Celestin – 21.9% (224,242 votes [17,220 votes found invalid])

Jude Celestin
(Photo by Ben Depp)

The results were delivered to President Preval and the CEP, who then came out and said that these were simply a suggestion, and that they did not have to be followed.  The United States Government, as well as a number of other major international bodies, then came out saying the that the CEP needs to go with the OAS recommendations, or else… “We urge the Provisional Electoral Council to review and implement the OAS report’s recommendations,” U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said in a statement on January 20th, “Sustained support from the international community, including the United States, requires a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes.”  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton later clarified that the United States would NOT be pulling funding if the run-off did not include the OAS recommendation.

The CEP then came out and said that they can’t do anything, according to the Haitian Constitution, without a formal appeal by the candidate.  On the same day that Susan Rice made her statement, Martelly’s lawyers walked into the CEP, and formally submitted an appeal claiming that their candidate should be included in the run-off.  A couple weeks prior to that, Jude Celestin’s lawyers walked into the CEP and submitted an appeal of their own.  Their claim?  That Celestin won 52% of the vote and that there shouldn’t be a run-off at all.  No joke.

Celestin-Posters

To muddy the waters even more, rumors have been flying since last week that Celestin had decided to drop out of the race, a relatively surprising decision considering how logical it was, therefor making it incredibly unlikely.  It was the best case scenario: Celestin drops out, which means his people wouldn’t protest when the final results did not fall in his favor, and Martelly’s people wouldn’t take to the streets because Celestin could no longer take his place in the run-off.

The Haitian Press Corp huddled around a small, circa-1980s restaurant by the port and waited for what was supposed to be a press conference to announce his withdraw, but it never happened.  Then that weekend Hillary Clinton visited Haiti and met with Manigat, Martelly AND Celestin, effectively proving that the rumor was false.  Celestin’s campaign subsequently released a Youtube video which included a picture of Clinton and Celestin shaking hands covered by 14 minutes of Kompa music and titled: “Secretary Clinton Falls in Love at First Sight with Jude Celestin” (link here)

So that’s where we are left.  It’s not sure yet if there will be a press conference or not, but we’ll let you know what they say no matter what.  It’s sure to be an interesting couple of days, and most organizations are preparing to go on lock-down, with the UN recommending that their staff have “adequate resources (food, water, and gas, medications) for one week at least.”  Most organizations have instituted travel restrictions in the city after 3pm, and some banks are closing at 2pm just to be safe.  We will be safe, we always are, and we’ll keep you updated as soon as we hear news.

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Pray-For-Change

A man looks to the skies while protesting the results of the November 28th elections in front of the presidential palace.

Today is Sunday, which means most Haitians are in church.  Instead of the chants of political protesters, you hear the chants of churches filled with songs and prayer, which is a nice change of pace.  The city was open again today, so we made another trip to the grocery store to stock up on extra non-perishable foodstuffs, and even made it to La Reserve to watch a little football.

But the calm isn’t supposed to last much longer.  Already schools have been canceled tomorrow in anticipation of more large protests and barricaded streets.  The protests are reportedly going to be against the CEP, which is the body that ran the elections.  On Saturday, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly announced that they were rejecting the “recount” that was proposed by the CEP, which has raised fears that the protests and riots could start anew.  It turns out the recount wasn’t really a recount anyways, and was simply a “retabulation” of the tally sheets from polling stations.

But the reality is that the final results of the election won’t be announced until December 20th, leaving many ex-pats (including us) who have plane tickets to go home for the holidays debating whether we should leave a little earlier.  Almost everyone we have spoken to has moved their tickets from the 22nd or the 23rd to the 18th or the 19th, because they’re worried that the airport will be closed following the announcement due to more riots.  We’re going to figure out our gameplan tonight while munching on some delicious homemade pizza.  But I guess it could be worse, I mean, at least the roof of our football stadium isn’t collapsing because 20 inches of snow had just fallen on it (Check out this video!).

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Protester-Running

Port-au-Prince is still on lock-down after thousands of protesters took to the streets for a second day contesting the results of Haiti’s November 28th elections.  “If they don’t make Martelly president by the end of today,” one protester explained while following a group marching through the streets of Petionville, “then we will burn the city down.”  The number of crowds had decreased significantly compared to Wednesday and many of the protests were much calmer, but road-blocks on many of the main roads have been fortified to the point of being almost completely impassable.   At one road block on Delmas our moto-taxi driver was forced to pay a group of way-too-drunk-for-10am Haitians 50 goudes before we were allowed to pass.

The sky was filled with rain clouds, which sent showers cooling the tension in the city periodically throughout the day.  The storm proved to be the perfect way to keep the number of protesters down, because if there’s anything that Haitians hate more than feeling that their votes have been stolen, it’s rain.  The weird thing was that we haven’t had a rain shower here during the day in months, so it was almost as if the skies had realized that the city needed a little break, and decided to try to keep people off the streets, even for just a couple hours.

Woman-with-Umbrella

Burning-Car

But after the storm let up the protests continued, and a general sense of frustration was felt amongst the people.  “We are fighting for Martelly,” explained 27 year-old Dabouzae Lexima while he participated in a protest outside the CEP in Petionville, “He understands the people, he understands our problems.”  But when pressed about why Martelly is the right choice for the country, and why they are fighting for him, his answer was simple: “Because he is not Celestin!  Preval and Celestin are the same, and we don’t want the same problems we had before.”

This man’s frustrations seemed to reflect a growing sense of anger not necessarily because Martelly was left out of the second-round run-off, but because there is the possibility of Preval’s pick being their next leader.  “Preval is the devil!” explained another protester, “We call the presidential palace the Devil’s house.  He has done nothing for us.”

And while many of the protesters chant pro-Martelly chants and carry around his posters, the huge turnout in the streets also reflects the anger people have about the general situation they face everyday in Haiti.  For instance, protesters are still taking any chance they can get to pelt UN tanks and troops with rocks and bottles.  “MINUSTAH (UN forces) gave us cholera, they are trying to kill us,” explained Dabouzae, “Why are they here?  We should kill them!”

Protester-Throwing-Rock

Huge-Crowd-on-Delmas

This afternoon the Provisional Electoral Council (or the CEP) announced that they would be reviewing the results of the elections with the top three candidates, and that that review may lead to a recount.  According the Miami Herald, the Inite party (which is lead by Celestin) will be contesting the results of the election on Friday, even though he came in second place and is slated to be included in the second-round run-off.  This is the guy who everyone is marching against, and who everyone has charged with widespread election fraud, and he has the guts to say that he was cheated.

What I fear most is that they could be trying to use this recount as a way to prove to the people that the results they reported were correct.  If, at the end of the recount, Martelly is not included in the run-off then these protests and riots will be taken to another level, and the city may actually be burned to ground.  After it was announced that there would be a recount, protesters flocked to the CEP office in Petionville and demanded to be let inside.  “We want to burn the CEP down,” said one protester, “and then we want to give Martelly the presidency.  Not for 5 years, but for 10.”

Approaching-UN-Troop-Line

UN-Troops-with-Shields

Angry-Protester

UN-Troop-Line

The protest stayed relatively peaceful, and only once was there an exchange of rocks from the Haitians, and tear gas from the UN troops.  We headed home and called it a day as the sun was setting and it would soon be unsafe(r) to be driving around the city.  Jillian and I sat at home and ate a delicious meal that she prepared for us, and we debated when the next time we would be able to go to the grocery stores would be, as they have been closed since the protests began.  We’re hoping sooner rather than later, as Olie has run out of food (priorities people!), but we fear that this could last weeks instead of just days.

At the end of the night I went to our land-lady’s house to grab her internet modem as our internet bill was not paid because of the commotion happening in the city.  We got to talking about the election, and she explained that she hadn’t gotten the chance to vote because she was in Miami that day.  But when I asked her what candidate she would have voted for she quickly responded, “None of them!”

“These people are protesting for Martelly,” she explained, “but he has no credentials to be president, why should I pick him?”  We talked about how she was, for the first time in her life, considering leaving Haiti, which is a big statement for a Haitian.  “I’m tired,” she exclaimed as she let out a deep breath, “I’m tired of all of this, I’m tired of having to worry all the time, I’m tired of everything being so unorganized.”  She admitted that, in the end, she would likely never leave the country that she loves, even if it has it’s problems.

As I left I asked her if she thought any of the candidates would make the situation in Haiti any better, if they could make the country right.  “It won’t be better, it will just be a different,” she said with a sigh, “Haiti has been like this since 1986, and to be honest, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

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Burning-Tires

Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, leaving the city crippled after the results of the November 28th presidential elections were announce late Tuesday night.  The protesters, many of which were supporters of Michel Martelly who was left out of the country’s January 16th second-round run-off, erected roadblocks at practically every major intersection in the city.  By using burning tires and cars, as well as rocks and rubble, the streets quickly became completely impassable for anything other than a motorcycle.

Burned-Car-Roadblock

Casket-in-the-road

Ben and I traveled around the city with the help of an awesome moto-taxi driver who seemed to know every single person at every single road-block.  At one point a group of protesters surrounded us holding rocks and demanding we give them gas from the motorcycle so they could light a barricade on fire.  He looked around and found someone he knew who quickly explained to the people that we could pass, and we drove away safely before they got the chance to use their rocks.  Bottom line, he’s a keeper.

We maneuvered through protests and barricades, as Haitians ran through the streets holding Michel Martelly posters, and in the mean time destroying Jude Celestin and Mirlande Manigat posters along the way.  Businesses had boarded up their windows and doors, and the entire city was practically closed down, but the streets were packed with people chanting, “We don’t need Celestin!  Down with Preval!  We want Martelly!” in Kreyol.

Protesters-Running

Old-man-martelly-protester-champ-mars

Man-with-Anti-celestin-poster

And while many of the protesters marching the streets were peaceful, some resulted in violence and destruction.  At the Port-au-Prince campaign headquarters for Jude Celestin, protesters broke in and looted the building before lighting it on fire.  Local firemen (which I didn’t even know existed) sprayed down the smoldering remains of the HQ, which was filled with piles of burning Celestin campaign posters.

Unfortunately, it’s acts like this that detract from the real message, which is that these people feel that their democratic process has failed them yet again.  Like I said yesterday, it appears that the real results of the election actually included Martelly in the top two candidates who would move on to a run-off, winning over Celestin by over 10%.  They have the right to fight for that, but they should not do it at the expense of those whose personal property is now being destroyed because of it.

Firefighter-spraying-Posters

Fireman

Firefighter-Spraying-room

We traveled further downtown to the presidential palace, which had a peaceful march of a couple thousand Haitians.  “Celestin bought his votes, he bought this election,” explained one of the protesters as he passed by the palace, “But we don’t need money, we need a president that can lead our country.”  We doubled back towards the Delmas region, which holds one of the main arteries of the city.  Our moto-taxi driver expertly maneuvered around rubble that had been thrown into the street, and we came across one of the offices of the Provisional Electoral Commission (or the CEP).  Remember, these are the guys who ran the elections, and are also the ones that many hold responsible for having reported fraudulent results.

UN troops were standing guard at the CEP office building when suddenly rocks and bottles came raining down on their heads.  The protesters, who had been peacefully held back until this point, started to approach the line of troops, and the UN engaged.  Using flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, the UN troops pushed back an increasingly violent crowd that was slowly creeping towards the CEP.  The rocks came from all directions, and the UN troops were outnumbered.  They jumped into their tanks and drove full speed towards the protesters, temporarily scattering them before they would quickly reconvened.

UN-Troop-Ready-to-Fire

UN-Troop-Throwing-Flash-Grenade

UN-Troops-with-Two-guns

Protesters-Running-From-UN

Tear gas filled the air and we left the area, heading up the hill towards the CEP office in Petionville.  There we found another protest that, while much smaller, proved to be much worse.  About a dozen protesters were throwing rocks at UN troops there, but the UN response could only be characterized as irresponsible.  Rubber bullets flew past the protesters and into crowds of people surrounding the area.  A tear gas canister also missed its target and landed in the middle of a nearby tent camp, causing it’s residents to flee from the toxic fumes.

And then, just 10 feet away from Ben, a flash grenade exploded right underneath one of the protester’s feet.  He hobbled away from the intersection and looked down at his foot, which was now riddled with shrapnel and bleeding profusely, and then collapsed on the sidewalk.  He started to moan as fellow protesters assessed his wounds.  His foot was badly injured, and the first layer of skin on his legs had been burned off.  We helped him up, and then carried him to a clinic nearby where we left him slumped on a chair as he waited for medical attention.

Protesters-Throwing-Rocks

Protester-Injured

The question now is whether the protests will continue with this intensity.  President Rene Preval spoke on the radio this afternoon asking for protesters to stop the violence and accept the results.  Michel Martelly came out with a statement of his own saying that the people have the right to fight for their vote, but also asking that the violence end.

The city will remain on lock-down until this dies down, but that could take days, if not weeks.  American Airlines has canceled its flights for today (Wednesday) and tomorrow, and the US embassy has warned American citizens to avoid the streets.  There are less gunshots tonight than last night, which is a good sign, but only time will tell if that means that order is being restored, or if the people are just resting for yet another day of chaos in Port-au-Prince.

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