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Posts Tagged ‘UN’

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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Ballot-into-the-box

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

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

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

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

Flipping-through-ballots-wide

Flipping-through-ballots

Ballot-Boxes

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

Voting-line-through-the-chair

Checking-for-mark-on-the-thumb

Voting-for-President

Marker-on-the-thumb

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

Looking-for-names

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

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

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

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

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

Holding-Mickey-Sign

Angry-protestors

Protestors-blocked-by-police

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

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

Protesters-storm-voting-center

Ballot-boxes-on-the-ground

Empty-Voting-Table

Handing-over-an-ID

Ballot-Box-in-the-Water

Looking-a-stray-ballots

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

Ready-to-Fire

UN-Troops-Load-Tear-Gas-Canisters

Riot-gear

Arrest-in-a-tent-camp

Arresting-Protestor

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

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

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

Charles-Baker-Marching

Protesters

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

Celestin-Posters-in-Gutter

Martelly-Crowd

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

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

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UN Troops Love Pinotage

IMG00018-20100906-1329

No, UN forces in Haiti weren’t drinking on the job, they were simply enjoying a delicious goblet of our trusty chariot, Pinotage, yesterday while I was shooting video for a Smithsonian Channel documentary.  The shoot was of UN engineers using some heavy machinery to excavate art from a gallery that had collapsed during the earthquake, and because the UN always rolls deep, they had enough troops to make sure that Pinotage was safe and sound all day.  Needless to say, she’s never been in better hands.

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