Monday, February 13, 2006

Haiti: We Spoke Too Soon?

Two images from Haiti - February 13, 2005

Haiti's hopes for a peaceful election have vanished, as protests erupted across the country in response to alleged fraud. I should not even include that caveat as we already know about the poll shenanigans, which left people unable to vote despite walking 8 miles.

"I walked miles to cast my vote last week, and now these rich people need to respect it," screamed Noel Rolane, a merchant who stood over a burning auto chassis in the Cite Soleil slum.

Then yesterday we had 2 election officials coming forward with claims of witnessing fraud, to get frontrunner (and Aristide ally) Rene Preval below the 50% threshold. Preval stands at 49%, though no one knows much else. Actually, the Post reports Haitian's electoral commission's Web site, which "showed Preval with 49 percent of the vote in a ledger, but 52 percent in a pie graph." More than 1/20 ballots is being disqualified for irregularities, raising further suspicion.

The response has affected all areas of the country, with fire road blocks cutting off transport and commerce. Two Preval supporters were killed (pic above) yesterday when gunshots rained down on a peaceful protest in Tabarre. Eyewitnesses blame the UN, while the UN first denies it fired shots, then says it only fired shots in the air. The main Petitionville (rich area) hotel (where vote results were being announced from) was stormed by protesters, who took a dip in the pool (above) while Desmond Tutu refused to be evacuated by helicopter. They said they came looking for the truth and later left peacefully.

The distant 2nd place finisher (11.8%) Manigat could end all this by withdrawing, but he's said, "I will not withdraw. If Preval doesn't win a majority, it will go into a second round."

The US agrees, with State today emphasizing the need to "respect the results" and not resort to violence. Despite the fact that the only 2 killed were protesters (wearing Preval shirts) everyone knows we meant it is those pro-Preval folks need to calm down. But the US's predominant strategy here is distance. Haiti is not even mentioned as the top 5 issues on the State Dept. homepage - instead we have "US Concerned about (March 19) Belarusian election?!?"


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