Oh, fellow faithless bloggers, I hope the world forgives us. Maybe I’ll make up for it by sharing election riot news.
The elections were held on November 28th, just a couple of days after our great Thanksgiving dinner. Volunteers and our kitchen staff worked all day making a great combination of Haitian and American food, and we invited all our local volunteers, guests, and friends in the community for dinner. I got stuck on door duty for a couple hours, checking that people were on the guest list, but even so it was a warm, loving Thanksgiving with about 120 people. We had stuffing for two days after.
Then on Sunday the 28th and Monday the 29th, we were on lockdown. No one allowed to leave the base. It turned out that Leogane, like in past elections, was quiet, but there were lots of irregularities in the voting and violence or riots in response. Many people reported to the same polling places they’d voted at for years, only to find their names weren’t on the rolls. There were reports of men with guns chasing people out of polling places and people stealing or stuffing ballot boxes. Twelve of nineteen candidates called for the results to be cancelled, though the CEP, the governmental provisional election committee, said only four percent of voters had trouble voting and declared the results valid. Every Haitian I talked to suspected the CEP of rigging the results and ignoring widespread fraud, which, since the CEP is appointed by the president, isn’t so implausible. One alternative interpretation is that the CEP didn’t invalidate the election because, though they can’t change the fraud, they can hopefully cause some calm by encouraging a smooth transfer. I think the truth probably has some of both of these speculations.
Haitians felt cheated, hopeless, angry, and cynical, and rioted. A polling place in Saint Marc, the center of the cholera epidemic, was set on fire by people who couldn’t vote. MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission, was on high alert. When there’s a security incident, we call MINUSTAH and all these really nice Sri Lankans in blue helmets show up. Since they were too busy to look out for us, we stayed on base. There were riots in Port au Prince, Cap Haitien, Petionville, Petit Goave, Grand Goave, Jacmel, and probably other places all around Leogane, but not in Leogane. We had one noisy march, or manifestation, go by the base, full of a few hundred people who were upset that their candidate for mayor didn’t win, but there was no violence here. Not in November, anyhow.
Since then the whole country has tensed. We first heard reports from friends, ex-volunteers, and other NGOs that people in the countryside strongly associated foreigners, blancs, white people, with cholera. An NGO testing water in a village was chased out by a mob. A group of two current and two ex-volunteers with us were arrested for, essentially, swimming in a stream while white. They were released after a couple of uncomfortable hours, but the experience has made us all cautious. In the last day or two, people in Leogane, who are used to seeing blancs around and have an idea what NGOs do, have, kind of inarticulately if you ask me, started to point at us and shout “cholera!” This is discomfiting, but not dangerous. Not yet. Well, not as of yesterday.
Yesterday, the election results were announced by the CEP at 6 pm. Madame Mirlande Manigat, the former first lady and a known front-runner, received 31.37%. Jude Celestin, the son-in-law and first choice of outgoing president Renee Preval, received 22.48%. Michel Martelly, a former pop singer known as “Sweet Micky” and the favorite here of everyone I talked to in Leogane, got 21.84%, less than a percent difference from Celestin. A runoff is scheduled between Manigat and Celestin for January 16th. As of this morning, there were gunshots, riots, roadblocks of burning tires, and street protests all over Port au Prince. Especially since the results were inconsistent with what the national Election Observation Council, the US embassy, and other monitors saw on election day, because Celestin wasn’t a front runner before the election, and because everyone believes the vote was rigged, people are rightfully angry. In Leogane, which was very calm on election day, in contrast to other parts of the country, there was a “manifestation,” or march last night with drums and singing. We’re not sure how many people were involved. There are two known roadblocks in town, one near the bus station and one in a part of town where we also had a chaotic distribution of sanitation supplies last week. Outside of town, in Carrefour Dufort, the market stalls have been pulled into the street, and in Grand Goave, burning tires have blocked the bridge.
Naturally, we’re on lockdown, confined to base for at least the morning, though I think likely the whole day and maybe more. This is the third or fourth time we’ve been on lockdown since hurricane Tomas, and the mood is a lot lighter than during the storm.
And oh yeah, we finally started machine demolition and rubble trucking in association with our cash-for-work rubble clearing program. This post is too long already, so I’ll post photos and observations about heavy equipment in Haiti in my next blog.