On the brink: Familiar politicians fail to help Haiti

17Feb11

Edmonton Vue Weekly, Feb. 09, 2011 – Issue #799 :

Baby Doc’s shock return to Haiti may have raised a lot of eyebrows around the world, but he may not be the last exiled former president to make a surprise visit to this earthquake-stricken country. On Monday, after days of speculation and rumor, AFP reports that Haiti’s government has issued a diplomatic passport to Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide was removed in a coup d’etat involving Western powers in 2004 and has been living in exile in South Africa ever since. His Fanmi Lavalas party still remains by far the most popular political group in the country but was excluded from running in the November 28 elections, a move widely interpreted here as a government attempt to retain power.

Adding to the instability is outgoing President Rene Preval’s announcement that he would stay on until May 14 if necessary. Following the announcement that a couple hundred protesters burned tires, and chanted “Preval must go” in front of the crumbling National Palace. Opponents see the offer as a violation of the constitution and want him replaced by a provisional government and call for new elections.

Last week Haiti’s electoral council announced it would accept international recommendations to eliminate the ruling party’s candidate from the second round, but since then it appears half the council members did not approve the run-off decision, which needs a majority.

Preliminary election results put the ruling party’s candidate, construction official Jude Celestin in second place allowing him to go to the second round, leading to violent protests at the beginning of December and prompting international monitor, Organization of American States (OAS), to return and investigate the results.

The chaos over voter registration and the continuing cholera epidemic, which has now killed around 4000, deterred many Haitians from going to the polls and by noon on election day, a majority of the candidates—including the 70-year-old front-runner and former first lady Mirlande Manigat, and popular compa musician Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly—had held an impromptu press conference calling for the annulment of the election. Rather than conduct a recount of the votes, the monitors conducted a statistical analysis based on a sample of 17 percent of the votes, coming to the conclusion that Martelly should replace Celestin in the second place by a margin of 0.3 percent.

Into this volatile mix, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew into Port-au-Prince Sunday to meet with the main candidates, and warn Haiti’s political leaders that Washington expects those international recommendations to be followed.

“We want to see the voices and votes of the Haitian people acknowledged and recognized,” she said at Port-au-Prince airport on her arrival.

Outside the airport, groups of protestors waved signs in English reading “Haiti Did Not Have Free and Fair Elections” and “Sham Elections.” Speaking to Vue, Selvator Junior said “We would like Hilary Clinton to go inform President Obama of the will of the Haitian people, which is for the cancellation of the farce election on November 28 … to finally put an end to the chronic instability we suffer in this country by giving us new inclusive elections.”

Some analysts agree: “It is highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented for any electoral authority to change the results of an election without a full recount,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research which conducted an independent investigation of Haiti’s election results.

CEPR carried out a full recount examining more than 10 000 tally sheets and subjecting each of the top three candidates’ vote totals in each voting booth to a statistical test for irregularities. The organization has criticized the conclusions of international monitors as arbitrary. “For a foreign mission to do so with such flawed methodology, and for foreign governments to then bring pressure on Haiti to accept the changed result, that really makes a complete travesty of the democratic process,” says Weisbrot.

Frustrations have never been higher in Haiti. Despite the global promise of 11 billion dollars in assistance from donor countries and over a billion more donated to relief organizations, many Haitians struggle to find shelter, clean water and food in displacement camps. The US alone is still withholding the promised $1 billion in reconstruction aid pledged last year, insisting the country implement the OAS’s recommendations.

A report released earlier this month found that one in two families reported not being able to feed their children for a full day the previous week. “With few work opportunities, aid assistance is necessary for most Haitians living in IDP camps,” says Nicole Phillips, from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti which authored the report.

The return of Jean-Claude Duvalier only adds to the political stalemate. Although charges of crimes against humanity and embezzlement of state funds have now been filed against a man many Haitians considered a brutal dictator, with so much uncertainty over the electoral process, his return to politics has not yet been ruled out.

Last month, Aristide issued a statement once again calling for his desired return to Haiti, “To contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.”
Even if the political stalemate is broken, many Haitians will still feel disenfranchised, and the calls for Aristide’s return are likely to continue. V

http://vueweekly.com/front/story/on_the_brink/

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