How long must Haiti continue to suffer? Judging by events over the past few days, the answer is: for at least some more time to come.
After a number of delays, Haiti finally had its presidential and parliamentary elections on February 7. At first, things seemed hopeful, with the polling taking place peacefully. But then trouble started.
The leading candidate, Rene Preval, looked like he was on his way to securing a comfortable majority when things started getting murky. By February 14, with 90 percent of the votes counted, Preval had suddenly dropped in the vote count. His proportion of the vote currently stands at 48.7 percent, a tad short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
It is hard to say what exactly happened. But Preval’s abrupt drop off seems to be dubious, to say the least. And doubts about the vote are heightened by the fact that a member of the nine-person electoral council has come out and alleged fraud.
“According to me, there’s a certain level of manipulation,” Pierre Richard Duchemin told AP. “There is an effort to stop people from asking questions.”
Another official, Jean-Henoc Faroul, has also alleged deceit. “The electoral council is trying to do what it can to diminish the percentage of Preval so it goes to a second round,” Faroul, president of one electoral district, told AP.
Who would be behind the manipulation?
The suspicion falls on the interim government, headed by Gerard Latortue. Preval, a former head of state himself, is an ally of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Twice elected president, Aristide remains very popular among the Haitian poor. And while his own record was not without serious blemishes, the Bush Administration had no right to encourage his overthrow. The interim government hates Aristide with a passion, and has jailed a number of people from his regime, including the prime minister under him. (Aristide is in exile in South Africa.)
“The long-term imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune continues to raise serious concerns” states Human Rights Watch. “Although formal charges were finally brought against Neptune in September 2005, the apparent political grounds for Neptune’s detention undermines confidence in the validity of the charges and in the fairness of any future trial.”
Latortue appears determined to keep Aristide from coming to power, even by proxy.
“Preval was leading with 70-80 percent of the vote, and then there suddenly was this surge within a few minutes where his opponent, Leslie Manigat, got a huge number of votes,” says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. “Where were the election monitors? Were they inside the room or out in the streets?”
Washington is deeply implicated in the actions of the Latortue government, since it helped install it in 2004.
“An indictment can be brought against the United States for putting Latortue in power by extraconstitutional means,” says Birns. “He’s been both cruel and inept, a complete disaster. If there’s a Christ, then Latortue is the anti-Christ.”
But Washington is not interested in calling its protégé to task. In spite of budgeting $400-plus million in aid for the interim government in 2004-2005 (in marked contrast to its stinginess toward Aristide’s administration), it hasn’t even begun to address the grave human rights abuses that the government has been committing.
“After installing Latortue, Washington hasn’t had a word to say,” says Birns. “It pretends to not have anything to do with the regime.”
Condoleezza Rice issued a boilerplate statement on February 10 commending the high turnout and the “free and fair election process,” but has been quiet since then. Worried over possible turmoil, the Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, has called Rice to urge the U.N. Security Council—presided over by the United States this month—to take up the issue.
By failing to act quickly to ensure that the Haitian people are not denied their choice, the Bush Administration would mock its platitudes about democracy.