Red flags line road to Haiti’s Nov. 20 elections

Leopod Berlanger in front of CEP sign.jpg

Léopold Berlanger, who heads Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), was “a leading figure of the 2004 US-backed coup against democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberté, Nov. 16, 2016

Only six weeks ago, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti’s southern peninsula, leaving close to 600 people dead, thousands of homes destroyed, bridges and roads washed out, and over one million people in great distress. Ten days ago, another storm dumped a foot of rain in 48 hours on Haiti’s north, causing massive, destructive flooding in Cap Haïtien and at least 10 deaths.

Haiti’s verdant south provides much of the country’s food, but now “tens of thousands of acres of crop land and millions of fruit trees have been destroyed," said Ann Lee, the chief executive of J/P HRO, the humanitarian relief NGO founded by actor Sean Penn after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

This has raised the specter of famine. "If we don't manage to re-launch agriculture in three to four months, we'll find ourselves with a major food crisis," Haiti’s interim President Jocelerme told the BBC. "Our projection is that we need between $25 million and $30 million to resolve the farming issue. Right now we have $2.5 million."

It is in this catastrophic context that Haiti is rushing to hold elections on Sun., Nov. 20, despite the almost certain exclusion of thousands of storm victims. Run-offs are scheduled for Jan. 29, 2017.

The elections – a redo of the first-round of presidential elections which were originally held on Oct. 25, 2015 and a second round for dozens of legislative seats – were originally scheduled for Oct. 9, but they had to be postponed until Nov. 20 after the hurricane hit.

Washington, in concert with the European Union and compliant UN officials, is pushing Haitian authorities hard to hold elections rapidly. It was angry when Privert formed an independent verification commission in April and even angrier in June when the commission recommended the 2015 presidential elections be reheld. In July, the Obama administration refused further financial support for Haiti’s 2016 elections, but Privert’s government said it would carry on anyway with a budget of $55 million.

Three weeks after the hurricane, Washington partially reversed itself. Matthew had “resulted in an unanticipated, urgent, and considerable need to rehabilitate voting centers and roads in the affected regions of southwestern Haiti,” the U.S. Embassy wrote in an Oct. 31 press release. The U.S. did not agree to help fund the Haitian government, which took charge of relief efforts after Matthew, but, without providing a figure, said it would “provide financial support to United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to support a timely and transparent election process.”

UNOPS, which is a key agency of the Washington-backed 5,000-member UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) military occupation force, played a central logistical role in Haiti’s 2015 elections, which the verification commission found to be fraudulent. UNOPS was widely accused of having a hand in some of those election irregularities, particularly in the questionable transport of ballots.

Also pushing for rapid elections are the presidential candidates themselves, particularly the four leaders of the field of 27: engineer Jude Célestin of the Alternative League for Progress and Haitian Emancipation (LAPEH), banana-businessman Jovenel Moïse of the Haitian Bald Headed Party (PHTK), former senator and mayor Moïse Jean Charles of the Dessalines Children party (Pitit Desalin), and Dr. Maryse Narcisse of the Lavalas Family party (FL).

In a Nov. 6 speech at the Renaissance Village in Zoranje near Port-au-Prince, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the FL founder, told a crowd that if there are no elections on Nov. 20, “there will be uprooting (dechoukaj),” a statement which caused clucking among Haiti’s media and political class. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) summoned Narcisse, accompanied by Aristide, to “explain” the statement. As had other FL leaders, they claimed the remark had been misinterpreted.

“If the provisional president [Privert] is not capable of guaranteeing the good functioning of institutions so that the electoral council can organize free, fair, and democratic elections, he must leave,” said Joel “Pacha” Vorbe, one of the FL’s leaders, to Le Nouvelliste.

On Oct. 27, the CEP gave Privert’s government ten days to repair 280 voting centers and the roads to another 161 voting centers, as well as distribute thousands of new voter identification cards (Cartes d’identification nationale or CIN) to people who may have lost them during the hurricane.

Privert responded that Nov. 20 was “irreversible” and agreed to carry out what many Haitians are calling “mission impossible.”

In a Nov. 15 press release, Haiti Action, an FL support group based in California, listed seven reasons why the coming elections give cause for concern:

1) The CEP is headed by Léopold Berlanger, a leading figure of the 2004 US-backed coup against democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

2) The main 2004 coup leader and wealthy sweatshop owner, Andy Apaid, plays a central role as lead consultant in the CEP tabulation center where the votes will be counted and the results published.

3) The CEP under Berlanger's leadership has not implemented a number of recommendations of the Electoral Verification Commission, which was established in response to the massive fraud in last year’s elections. The CEP has allowed fraudulent parliamentary results to stand, favoring supporters of outgoing President Michel Martelly who was imposed by the U.S.

4) The CEP insists on quarantining a candidate's votes from a precinct where this candidate obtains 200+ out of a total of 550 ballots. Under the pretext of preventing fraud, perfectly valid ballots are eliminated from the count because a popular candidate is receiving ‘too many’ votes. Officials of Fanmi Lavalas have been protesting this measure as it arbitrarily discards valid ballots in precincts that have large turnouts in favor of their candidates.  Quarantined or provisional ballots end up not being counted and are likely to be destroyed.

5) A leading figure of the 2004 coup, Rosny Desroches, is in charge of the officially-designated election observer teams of 1,500 individuals.  The media reports that funding for the observer teams came through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in collaboration with International Foundation for Electoral Services (IFES).  While the International Republican Institute (IRI) does not have offices in Haiti, it operates from the Dominican Republic through a number of existing organizations in Haiti.  Both NDI and IRI are part of the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy; the IRI was implicated in the 2004 coup and are known for funding interference, destabilization and other efforts to influence elections to impose US foreign and economic policies, including regime change.

6) It has been reported that the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) is organizing an election observer team of 200 people.  NOAH has worked closely with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the US State Department, both of which have been ardent supporters of fraudulent elections in Haiti.

7) The OAS, which is sending a team of observers for the Nov. 20 election, has been thoroughly discredited in Haiti for its recent support of the massive fraud orchestrated by the CEP in 2015.   The OAS record of support for fraudulent elections in Haiti includes its intrusive role in the 2010-11 elections that resulted in Martelly being imposed as president.”

In recent weeks, the editors of Haïti Liberté newspaper have argued that, following the storms of October and November, large segments of the Haitian electorate would be unable to take part in the Nov. 20 elections and have urged President Privert to postpone them to a later, more suitable date.

The Haiti Election Blog also reports that “CEP member Jean Simon Saint-Hubert admitted to having some doubts about elections occurring as scheduled, but stated that missing the Nov. 20 date would place the country in ‘an extremely difficult situation.’”

President Privert apparently feels too much pressure from Washington and his many enemies and rivals in Haiti’s “political class” to call for a prudent delay. The fact that U.S.-ally Léopold Berlanger heads the CEP and Rosny Desroches Haiti’s “national” observers gives even more reason to worry that the results of Nov. 20 may not end up reflecting the will of the Haitian people.

 

Posted Nov. 17, 2016