by Wadner Pierre
HAITI—On the eve of presidential and legislative elections in Haiti, skepticism and disenchantment among Haitians is widespread.
“I am not going to vote,” said Elause Jacques, a mother of two who runs a cyber cafe with her husband in Port-au-Prince. “I have no candidate.”
Jacques’ sentiment is shared by many Haitians, who may be turning away from the polls by the millions in an act of silent protest against the exclusion of Haiti’s popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), and the spending of millions on elections instead of badly needed healthcare and infrastructure.
The backdrop to the elections is grim: more than a million people remain homeless after the January earthquake, and now the country is confronted by a cholera epidemic that has already taken 1,500 lives.
FL has reiterated its position to boycott tomorrow’s elections, after being excluded by Haiti’s Interim Election Commission (CEP), which is hand-picked by the government.
“It [FL] is not supporting any candidate, it doesn’t have anybody representing it, and it is not sending anybody to represent it,” said the party in a statement. The statement also criticized the United Nations representative in Haiti, Edmund Mulet, for “having no respect for the Haitian people,” and President Rene Preval for running a “ungrateful hypocritical regime which has come to bury the memory of our ancestors.”
The CEP is facing other problems. In the days prior to the vote, many Haitians have still not received their electoral IDs.
“As President Aristide said, the November 28 elections will not be elections, but selections,” said a unidentified Haitian women, while waiting for her flight to Haiti from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport in Florida.
Former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, interviewed in mid-November by film-maker Nicolas Rossier in South Africa, where he is living under forced-exile, criticized the Haitian government and some of its international allies for betraying the Haitian people.
“When we say democracy we have to mean what we say,” said Aristide, who was deposed in 2004 by the United States, France and Canada. “Unfortunately, this is not the case for Haiti. They talk about democracy but they refuse to organize free and fair democratic elections. It is as if in the US they could organize an election without the Democrats.”
Criticism of the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas has been issued from some quarters.
In a letter sent to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Maxine Water and 45 congress members urged the US government to ensure that the elections in Haiti are fair, free and democratic.
The letter called on the US government to “state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements.”
The members of Congress recalled a previous CEP decision to exclude Fanmi Lavalas: “A previous CEP, with many of the same members, also excluded Fanmi Lavalas and other parties from Senatorial elections in April 2009. Haitian voters boycotted, and most observers estimated a three-to-six per cent voter turnout.”
In a report to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Republican Senator Richard G. Lugar called on the Haitian government to reform the CEP.
Meanwhile, President Preval continues to appeal to Haitians to vote while reiterating his support for the CEP.
Eleven months after an earthquake ruined the capital and its surrounding areas, the situation remains dire. Several months after the first cases of cholera were discovered in the Down Central Plateau and Artibonite regions—one of Haiti’s few agricultural centres—over 1,500 people have died and over 30,000 have been hospitalized. Haitians’ already low trust in the United Nations troops has taken another hit, as mounting evidence indicates Nepalese forces were responsible for spreading the disease.
“Why spend all these millions for these elections while our people are dying from cholera?” said Haitian singer Lord Divers Morsa. “Why don’t we spend the money to buy anti-cholera shots or vaccines?”
Others question the priorities of President Preval and his support for Jude Celestin, the candidate of INITE or UNITY, Preval’s party.
“President Preval is using the state’s resources to back up Jude Celestin, his friend,” said Maude Salomon. “But he doesn’t care for people. Cholera is killing us, but Jude found millions of dollars to campaign.”
The international community has pledged several millions of dollars to organize the presidential and legislative elections. Yet critics point out that the same countries have disbursed only a fraction of the money that was pledged to rebuild the country after the January earthquake.
Another concern cited by critics is that the names of people who died during the earthquake remain as eligible voters on the CEP’s electoral list. This news was disclosed in a meeting in Washington by Chief of the Joint OAS-CARICOM (Organization of American States-Caribbean Community) Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti, Ambassador Colin Granderson. Many are asking the question: to whom will the CEP attribute the votes of dead Haitians?
A day before the elections, the mood seems to indicate that not many will vote tomorrow. And in the face of unfair elections and a growing health disaster, the prospects for the struggle for social justice and a state of law are likely to remain uncertain and fragile.
Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2007, he won a Project Censored Award for his investigative journalism work on the impact of media and corruption in military policies.