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Posts Tagged ‘Michel Martelly’

Wyclef-hand-hurt

According to Wyclef Jean, and the people around him, ‘Clef (as the kids here call him) was driving down Delmas 65 in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday night around midnight when he got a phone call.  Because Wyclef does not like talking on the phone in front of his driver (weird, I know…), he told the driver to stop the car so he could hop out and have the phone conversation privately on the side of the road.  While having said conversation, Wyclef claims to have heard a gun shot, after which he looked at his hand and saw blood dripping from his palm onto his shoe.  Wyclef had been shot!  The bullet had grazed his palm!!! Right?!

Well, according to Haitian police, Wyclef refused to talk to them about the incident, and some people think he just cut himself on a piece of glass.  That’s right!  Rumors are flying that he made the whole thing up, and that the whole gun shot incident is just a story.  Why he would make up something like this is beyond me, but I can venture some guesses.  Maybe he got in an embarrassing argument with a can of pickles that just wouldn’t open, and needed a better explanation for his injury than “I just could not open that jar of pickles, so I broke it…on my hand.”  Maybe he’s looking for some street cred in anticipation of his next hit album.  Maybe he actually got shot, who knows?

But what we do know is that he’s not shy about the injury whatsoever.  In fact, while voting today at a polling center on Delmas 29, he made it a point to insert the ballots into the ballot boxes not with his good, un-shot (and completely functional) hand, but with the bandaged hand that required a polling center employee to assist him in the process.  He then walked out and gave several interviews to various press organizations about the incident.  He explained to my friend Allyn, who was working for CNN, that he didn’t want this to be a distraction to such a historic election.  Hmmm…

Wyclef refused to speculate as to who could have possibly shot him in the hand, and because he refuses to talk to police it sounds like justice in this case may never be served.  But I think we were all taught an important lesson from this incident: that you should NEVER stop on the side of the road in Port-au-Prince at midnight on a Saturday and get out of your car to take a phone call.  You live and you learn, right?

Wyclef-placing-ballot

And P.S. He voted for Martelly.  More on that later.

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In a dimly lit room at a guest house in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, the press anxiously awaited something that had been promised to them every day over the past week, but never delivered.  Since Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had mysteriously returned to Haiti on an Air France flight on the evening of January 16th he had not spoken to the press, not even uttering a word to any of the hundreds of journalist covering his homecoming.

Behind a over-sized wooden table in the dimly lit room stood a short older Haitian man in an olive colored suit, his hands on back of a large wooden chair embroidered with red fabric.  He looked down nervously as dozens of cameramen and photographers jockeyed for position in anticipation of what was to come.  The man in the olive suit looked to the side, saw someone approaching, pulled back the chair, and then stepped away.  From a hallway attached to the room walked Duvalier, he sat down on the chair and a paper statement was dropped in front of him.  This was it, this is what we were waiting for…

Duvalier Speaks

“Dear friends of the press,” he read in French as flash bulbs filled the room with light, “Thank you for having responded to my invitation today.  I take this opportunity to speak to my fellow citizens.”  His voice seemed strained, like he had a mouth full of cotton balls, but his delivery was better than expected.  Since returning to Haiti, he seemed to be unaware of his surroundings, and some even thought he had the look of someone with Parkinson’s, but when he began talking it made it appear that it was all an act.

The question on everyone’s mind since the bizarre return of the exiled dictator was why he had returned.  In his statement he inadequately answered that question: “I wanted to pay homage to the victims of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010,” he explained while reading from his paper statement, “which caused, according to official estimates, the death of 316,000 people. Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time for the anniversary.”

Duvalier Fist Bump

For the past week Haitians, journalists and the international community has been speculating as to what the real intentions of this unexpected homecoming was.  This speculation was broken down into five educated guesses:

1) He missed Haiti, and wanting to see his buddies (according to his lawyers)
2) He was sick, and wanted to die in his mother-land (rumors were flying that he had pancreatic cancer)
3) He had returned to help Haiti, even though it was completely unclear how he would actually do that…
4) He wanted to be President again (but because he was named President-for-life before, technically he never stopped being President, right?)
5) He was broke, and he needed money…

In the end it turned out that number five, that he needed money, was the most likely reason.  Duvalier has returned to Haiti in an effort to unlock six million dollars in frozen funds in a Swiss bank account.  According to a new law in Switzerland, if he returns to Haiti without being prosecuted for crimes related to the money, his chances of getting it back into his own pockets becomes much better.

In addition, reports have said that he has until the end of January to do so, making this trip more strategic then heartfelt.  While I’m sure Duvalier would love to help this struggling nation get back on its feet after the earthquake, I’m not exactly sure how him getting that money, instead of returning it to the people who he stole it from, actually helps anyone other than himself.

Duvalier at Court

But Duvalier had a snag in his plan, and was asked to come to the Parquet (or courthouse) to be questioned.  There a judge opened an investigation into charges that he embezzled funds, took part in corruption, and other dastardly things before being released while the investigation continues.  In Haiti, charges are proposed and then investigated by a judge who decides whether those charges should be brought to court.  That investigation could take up to three months, after which a proper trial would begin.

The problem is that the statute of limitations in Haiti is between 10 and 20 years, and because he’s been gone for 25, it may be impossible to hold him accountable for many of the crimes he committed during his dictatorship.  Amnesty International thinks differently.  “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity,” explained Gerardo Ducos at a news conference on Friday, “Duvalier needs to be held accountable for his crimes now so that others don’t think they can get away with this in the future.”  He’s right, but unfortunately for him there appears to be a major disconnect between how the Haitian people perceive Duvalier’s return, and how the international community perceives it.

Amnesty-International

“I think it’s a great thing,” explained one resident of the Petionville golf course tent camp speaking about the former-dictator’s return to Haiti, “When he was here there were jobs, the streets were clean, and there was no crime.  The country was good back then.”   And while there is no doubt that Duvalier was a tyrannical leader, killing anyone who objected to his way of ruling, the people here see those times as better than it is now.  “Preval has ruined this country,” he explained, “we should have Duvalier as our president now, he could bring change.”

And this message is echoed throughout the city.  Even our landlady, whose father was killed by the Duvalier regime, considers his return as insignificant.  “It’s just a distraction,” she explained, “We have so many other bigger problems to deal with, why would he come now and make things complicated?”  And she’s right.  The reality is that this story has distracted the country, and the world, from the more pressing issues that this country is facing right now.

Two weeks ago the Organizations of American States (OAS) concluded a review of the presidential election results saying that the Preval-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, should be excluded from the second-round run-off, and that Michel Martelly should be inserted in his place.  Since that announcement, Preval has come out and said that the review is just a suggestion, and it doesn’t need to be followed, and now the country is still waiting for the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP) to announce who will actually be going on to the next round.  According to the UN, the final election results will be announced on January 31st, and Martelly said in a new conference on Friday that if the CEP doesn’t go with the OAS’s recommendation, then his people will be back on the streets fighting for their vote. (We all remember how awesome that was…)

Michel-Martelly

All of this coupled with the United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, coming out and saying that if the OAS review is not implemented then both US funding, and possibly funding from the UN, for future aid projects could be withdrawn means that this country is on the verge of another collapse.  Add the ongoing cholera epidemic and the continuous need to help those left homeless from the earthquake, and this whole Duvalier thing seems more and more ridiculous.

So after 6 minutes of talking, Duvalier finished his statement, stood up, and walked away.  The moment we had been waiting for had come, and was now gone.  As he finished his statement, about two dozen Haitians erupted in applause behind us, having snuck in while we were focused on the former dictator’s first speech in Haiti in over 25 years.  Later they told reporters that they had been paid to show up and show their support for Duvalier, and that his people had let them in so they could cheer for the cameras.

Duvalier at Hotel

What this whole debacle has taught me is to keep my logic at the door when operating in Haiti, as nothing seems to make sense in any way that you would typically expect it to.  If you would have told me two weeks ago that Duvalier would be here now, I would have laughed and called you an idiot (in a nice way…of course).  If you would have told me that Preval would shrug off a review of the election results (that he asked to be conducted, BTW) and said they were simply a suggestion, I would have scoffed and said that would be stupid.  But now I’m forced to prepare for the illogical in a place that could really use some logic.  Now there are rumors that Aristide may return, which seems TOTALLY ridiculous, but now, not so unbelievable.  God forbid there was some structure here, god forbid there was some order.

According to Duvalier’s people, he will be staying in Haiti until the investigation into his past offenses are complete.  “Everything that has a beginning,” explained one of his advisers, “must have an end.”  But for Haiti, this is just another speed-bump on the road to recovery, and a soap-opera that is diverting the world’s attention when it’s needed elsewhere.  Hopefully the “end” will come sooner rather than later, so that we can focus on what’s important, and not on what’s not.  Holding Duvalier accountable for his crimes is a necessary step, but it shouldn’t take precedent to the recover effort, because the past is the past, and the future here is grim.

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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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Richard-Dumel-Side

Recording-Audio-CU

The streets of Port-au-Prince are filled with violent protests tonight after the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP) released the results of an election that has been fraught with allegations of widespread fraud and irregularities.  In a press conference at a concert hall in Petionville, CEP Spokesman, Richard Dumel, read the results as throngs of local reporters held their phones and voice recorders to speakers hanging from the ceiling.  There were 19 candidates for president, but only the top three received enough votes to be notable.  Here is the breakdown:

Mirlande Manigat – 31.37%

Manigat

Jude Celestin – 22.48%

Jude Celestin
(Photo by Ben Depp)

Michel Joseph Martelly – 21.84%

Michel-Martelly

The top two candidates, Manigat and Celestin, will now go on to a run-off that will take place on January 16th.  The reason why there are countless gunshots outside our complex, burning barricades in the streets, and loud explosions filling the night is because Michel Martelly will now be left out of the second round.  A heavy favorite amongst the people in Port-au-Prince, Martelly’s followers are now flooding the streets and protesting results that they claim are fraudulent.  Jude Celestin, who is backed by current President Rene Preval, has been accused of election fraud throughout the country, which makes this announcement that much harder to swallow for the Haitian people.  At one road-block that Ben came up to, they asked him for gasoline so they could light a truck on fire that the protesters had pulled into the street.  He said ‘no’, and they then threw rocks at him.  We passed the same road-block 10 minutes later, and they had, in fact, lit the truck on fire.

Vote-Tallies

We then quickly drove towards our houses (we live almost next-door to each other), but as we were driving we passed by the market which had a large group of people congregated around it.  Amongst the protesters was a man who works with the CEP that I had met while getting my credentials.  I approached him and asked him how he was doing.  He explained that he was scared, and that he needed to get out of the market area.  “I have CEP on my back,” he explained, “these guys are going to kill me.”  He looked around nervously as he scarfed down some street food.  “They’re going to burn down the city,” he whispered, “this is not good.”

He explained that the people are unhappy with the results, and that they should be…as they were incorrect. “President Preval put pressure on us,” he explained, “we were forced to include Celestin in the second round.”  I was shocked, this man was clearly scared for his life, yet he was divulging this huge bomb of information that the President of Haiti forced one candidate out of the run-off, and inserted his own hand-picked candidate into his place.  “We kicked Martelly out of the race, and now the people are going to destroy the city,” he said.  I prodded further, asking him what the correct percentages were.  “Manigat had 39%, Martelly had 27%,” he said, “and Celestin had 15%.”  If these are, in fact, the correct results, then Michel Martelly has been cast aside from the second round of an election that he fairly won a chance to participate in.

The man had been abandoned by his colleagues at the CEP who had “escaped to the hills”, and he pleaded with us to give him a ride to his home in lower Delmas, which is not a good part of town (especially considering what was happening).  Things were quickly escalating, and the people around us were starting to give the man dirty looks and yelling angerly at him.  We told him to jump on the back of the motorcycle, “We need to get out of here, NOW,” Ben exclaimed as he started the bike.  We took the man down the street to an empty street corner and let him off, going any further would have been dangerous as ahead of us in the road was a newly started fire.  As we pulled away the man stood in the middle of the road, searching for somewhere to go, or someone to bring him to safety.  He had been abandoned by his co-workers, and now had to defend himself amongst his own people, all because of a decision the CEP was forced to make.

We went straight home, passing a barricade that a group of men were putting up at the entrance to our neighborhood.  Ben, graciously, allowed me to drive his motorcycle home, as the streets were no longer safe to walk on.  “If you’re going to go, go now,” he hastily said, “and don’t stop.”  Ben is a really level-headed guy, so when he says that it’s not safe you know it’s not safe.  I accelerated down the road towards my complex as a group of men were congregating in an alley ahead of me, and made it safety home as the sound of gunshots filled the air.

The following days are expected to be filled with more protests and, I’m assuming, an appeal by Martelly.  According to the man from the CEP, these results are final, and they will now just move on to the run-off, but I was also told that the final results would not be released until just before Christmas, and that these were just preliminary.  Either way the people here feel slighted, and are upset that yet another election has resulted in the same fraud that has permeated their government for decades.

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