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Posts Tagged ‘Preval’

Aristide-Supporter

Exiled former-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is scheduled to returned to Haiti by the end of the week, leaving a country gearing up for it’s second round run-off elections on pins and needles to see how his return will be received.  While Aristide has repeatedly claimed that he is not returning for political reasons, his timing could not be more political, coming just days before Sunday’s elections are supposed to take place.

Aristide has been living in exile in Pretoria, South Africa for the past seven years after being ousted (or forcibly removed, however you see it), in 2004.  He claims he wants to return to Haiti to help with the earthquake recovery, and pursue his passion, which is education.  He also mentioned that he has had a number of eye surgeries while in South Africa, and that his eyes would be better maintained if he returned to Haiti (which doesn’t really make sense to me considering all the junk that is flying around in the air here, but I’m not an optometrist).

Aristide-Supporter-2

There are a few reasons why Aristide may have chosen this specific time to return to Haiti:

1. He is worried that after a new President has been elected he, or she, will not allow him to return.
2. He would like the elections to be annulled and conducted again (his Lavalas party was banned from participating in the elections).
3. He really wants to come back to help.
4. He’s worried that he will become irrelevant once the elections are over.

There are rumors that Preval had a hand in this, making way for the return of his former colleague in an effort to cause chaos during a run-off that his hand-picked candidate was left out of.  Either way, it’s a tense time in the country, and everyone is wondering what is going to happen next.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility to think that supporters will take to the streets once he returns, in fact, it’s inevitable.  What effect this will have on the elections is the question on many people’s minds, especially the US State Department who has (again) encouraged him to wait until after the run-off is complete.  His comments once he arrives are going to be crucial to whether Sunday happens or not, so stay tuned, and stock up on your water!

Aristide-Supporter-5

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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…

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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.

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Small-Boy-Tear-Gased

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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.

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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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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Angry-protestors

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Richard-Dumel-Makes-Announcement

As you probably already know, Wyclef Jean was deemed not eligible to run for President of Haiti yesterday by the country’s electoral council (the CEP), a decision that everyone pretty much already saw coming.  In an effort to stop violent protests from starting after the announcement, and also to make the members of the council feel like they were celebrities for as long as possible, they held the list of candidates until 9pm Friday night, a move that totally ruined Ben and my’s dinner plans.

Waiting-in-the-Lobby

Ben and I decided to head over to the CEP earlier that day to see if anything was going on, and in the lobby was practically every journalist that works in Haiti, all anxiously waiting in the lobby of what used to be a Gold’s Gym.  The gym was confiscated from a drug dealer last year after police determined the building was actually just a front for peddling drugs, and was converted into the CEP just after the earthquake.  Now it houses some of the slowest election officials in the world.

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Ben and I figured that waiting all day in that lobby was a complete waste of time, so we went out and grabbed some lunch, drove out to a tent city an hour outside PAP, picked up Ben’s wife from work, arranged Kreyol lessons for me, and grabbed a beer, all before returning.  When we got back, all the same people were exactly where we left them, and then we waited for another 4 hours.

So the officials came out and told us to arrange around a table. “It was here,” they told us, “that we would be given the list of candidates!”  About 3 dozen journalists, most of them Haitians, flocked around the table, trying to get the best vantage point for the impending announcement.  And then there was a gun shot…

No joke, out of nowhere, someone ran beside the building, shot a gun into the air, and then ran away.  Many of the journalists, including me, ran to see what was happening.  I mean, in America, this would mean the building is shut down, helicopters are looking for a suspect, and the list of candidates would have to be released at another time.  But here in Haiti, the office workers looked at each other and laughed, the police shrugged their shoulders, and most of the Haitian journalists didn’t even leave their positions next to the table.

Waiting-for-the-Announcement

But after the gun shot, the whole idea of holding the results until late at night kinda made sense.  Wyclef’s supporters are extremely passionate, and have been known to get violent.  Unfortunately for them, the harsh reality was that their candidate was just not eligible.  Wyclef has not lived in Haiti for the past 5 years straight, a clear prerequisite in the constitution of Haiti for presidential candidates.  There are no if, ands, or buts about it, so protesting against it seemed futile.

But this debate is what everyone has been talking about in PAP for the past couple weeks.  A celebrity candidate who actually had a chance to become the president of a country!  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  You can liken it to the idea of Bruce Springsteen running for president in the States.  Almost everybody loves the Boss, and crazily enough a bunch of people would actually vote for him, but in reality would he be a good president? Probably not.  (I can just see the campaign ads against him…”Do you really want a “tramp” in the White House?”)

And whether Wyclef’s exclusion from the race was done as a political move because the opposition thought he could actually win, or because the elite just didn’t want a president who wanted real “change”, the bottom line was that he didn’t qualify.  On one side it’s a pity, considering no matter how inexperienced he is politically, there’s really no way for him to do any worse than any of the presidents prior to now.  He would have come in, already a wealthy man, and shook up a system that needs it SOOOOO badly.  It would also keep the international community interested in what is now a pretty lack-luster election, which is now full of a bunch of usual suspects running to have the chance to steal billions of dollars from people who really need it.

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So after they moved us to yet another room with another blue table, Richard Dumel from the electoral board sat himself behind about two dozen microphones, and just as many cameras, and announced what we had all been waiting for.  Of the 34 candidates that had applied, 15 of the were deemed ineligible, and Wyclef Jean was one of them.  That was it.  The entire thing lasted about 3 minutes, tops.

Once the press conference was over there was an incredibly anti-climactic feeling.  It was almost as if you had been on a 10 hour flight, knowing that there was a 99.9% chance that you are going to land safely, but there’s always that chance that something else could happen.  This plane landed, just like everyone knew it would, and then everyone went home.

Ben and I left the CEP and headed back to his house, where we were supposed to eat dinner with Jillian and his wife, Alexis, earlier that evening.  We grabbed a quick veggie burrito and then drove through the streets looking for some semblance of protests, which everyone had been expecting once the decision was made.  But there were none, the streets were bare except for the usual prostitutes that perch themselves on the street corners, chatting with the local police forces.  We headed home, disappointed that the day had ended with such a fizzle.

As a journalist, I can say that this whole election story is not off to a good start.  For me, a Wyclef ticket on the presidential ballot would have made this election so much more interesting, and garnered a bunch more attention from the States.  Now expectations are lowered for yet another sketchy election in “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”  Whose going to win?! Could it be Aristide’s old Prime Minister?!  Preval’s old Prime Minister?! Any of the other 17 candidates?!?!  Either way it’s kind of a snoozer, and means another five years of the same old politics in Haiti, which makes the decision to leave Wyclef out of it that much more depressing.

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It’s been almost 5 months since the earthquake, and tensions are rising in Port-au-Prince.  In a recent trip to Champs de Mars, which is the tent city located in front of the Presidential Palace, these tensions were abundantly clear.  Because of almost constant protests against President Preval’s actions (or lack thereof) after the earthquake, both local and UN police have become more vigilant in stopping violent gatherings before they begin.

For instance, on the day that I took these pictures I had driven Pinotage downtown to take an updated picture of the crumbling Palace, but found the street adjacent to it (which is the epicenter for many of the protests) barricaded by UN forces.  The night before there had been gun shots in the tent city there, and the international aid community is becoming increasingly worried about the safety of their workers.

This all comes on the heals of new reports that the anger, which was usually directed toward the government, is now being turned towards the organizations providing aid.  During separate instances around the city, one aid organization’s car was stoned, and an aid worker was pulled from a car at knife-point.  Both got away unharmed.  There are also unconfirmed reports of more aid workers getting kidnapped, but details on those incidences aren’t typically released.

In response to reports like these, and the fact that all the dangerous criminals were released from the PAP prison when it collapsed on January 12th, the UN has decided to increase the number of UN police officers by almost 700. According to the UN, they will come to make a “sustainable and visible” presence here in the capital, which may sound like a good idea for security, but you can be pretty sure it’s going to piss off a bunch of Haitians who aren’t really cool with the idea of being treated like criminals.

The U.S. Military has also drawn down their forces to just 500, which some officials at the embassy are slightly nervous about.  When talking to locals here, there is a slight air of disinterest in the UN presence.  While it bothers them, it’s almost a given that you’ll drive by the light blue hats on your way to the bank, or wherever you’re going.

But when the U.S. troops were here, there was a sense of respect among the people that you didn’t see before.  The U.S. troops seemed less like occupiers, and more like armed assistance, as the government had asked for their help after the earthquake.  The UN never asked for the government’s permission, and they have been here for years.  U.S. troops weren’t always respectful of the local population, and they also cost the U.S. over $500 million after just 3 months of their work, but there was some comfort in knowing that they were keeping a relative calm over the city.

So it’s a culmination of these events, and the fact that Haitians are getting sick of hearing that help is on the way while the rains flood their tents every night, that are slowly spiraling the security situation out of control.  Elections are scheduled for August, which could potentially mark a breaking point.

But the people living in the tent city at Champs de Mars face these security issues everyday.  While kidnappings are a problem with the international aid community, it’s typically Haitians that are taken hostage instead of foreigners.  Crime and assaults (especially against women) are rampant in the tent cities as well, as there will never be enough police to constantly snake through the practically endless rows of tents.  And while sitting in the shadow of the Presidential Palace seems like the best place to get assistance after the earthquake, aid here is sparse, if not non-existent.

So as I left the barricaded Palace, I ventured into the tent city just across the street to see if the conditions had changed.  While many people sat staring stoically into space, I passed by a group of kids that had found a piece of rope and had decided to have some fun.  I got off Pinotage and asked if I could take some photos.  They said “No”, but I did it anyways…just kidding.

So in this city square that seemed to be such a symbol of lingering problems and unhappiness, these kids had found something to smile about.  They had filled the void created by angry-looking UN troops on one side, and terrible living conditions on the other, and just had a good time.  You couldn’t help but just watch and smile, as joy in the eyes of the people here is, at times, hard to come by.

And as I sat there and took about a million pictures, a HUGE Haitian man wearing a bright yellow sleeveless shirt and carrying a gallon of gasoline came up behind me and started yelling, “Hey Blanc, Blanc!”  I turned around to see him staring at me, smiling ear-to-ear, and giving me the middle finger.  I was confused.  I asked him if he wanted me to take his picture, he said “No”, and after about another 30 seconds of me getting acquainted to him flipping me off, he decided he had made his point and walked away.  I took my cue, and decided to leave as well.

So before I end this, I want to assure you that Jillian and I are making sure we are being safe and secure.  We don’t typically drive at night, and we walk Olie around our complex which has a security guard at the gate at all times.  While I’m a big believer in not letting the terrorists win by changing your lifestyle, I’ve made sure that I only go to places where I know exactly where I am, and how to get out quickly, if needed.  Jillian has a driver when she is working, but when she goes to work she’s driven by ME!  In my opinion you can’t be much safer than that.

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