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Mission: Haiti

In the News, Page 3

Voting fraud discovered (Feb. 15, 2006) — Hundreds of smashed ballot boxes and bags apparently used to carry vote count sheets were scattered across a garbage dump north of the Haitian capital Wednesday. Associated Press reporters saw hundreds of empty ballot boxes, at least one vote tally sheet and several empty bags — numbered and signed by the heads of polling stations — strewn across the fly-infested dump.

 

Leading candidate Rene Preval has alleged that election officials have undercounted his support in an effort to prevent him from winning a first-round victory in the Feb. 7 voting.

 

Haiti's interim government has called for a review of election results to investigate accusations of voting fraud and irregularities.

 

Vote counts to be reviewed (Feb. 14, 2006) — Haiti’s interim government agreed Tuesday to review vote counts from the Feb. 7 election, after presidential front-runner Rene Preval claimed that “massive fraud or gross errors” had deprived him of victory.

 

The agreement came after Preval urged his supporters to continue protesting the vote count, but to do so peacefully. Blazing roadblocks that had paralyzed the city for two days disappeared almost immediately after Preval’s nationally broadcast radio address, demonstrating his power to control the streets, and sending a signal to political opponents to concede to his election. None complied.

 

Still waiting for results (Feb. 14, 2006, 10 a.m.) — Roadblocks remained up in the capital Tuesday as the nation tensely awaited final results of presidential elections, more than 20 hours after the last results were posted from the balloting. Election day was one week ago today.

 

Anger returns to the streets (Feb. 13, 2006, 9 p.m.) — Tens of thousands of angry protesters filled the streets of Haiti’s capital Monday, setting fire to barricades, storming a luxury hotel, and demanding that front-runner Rene Preval be declared the winner of last week’s presidential elections.

 

At least two people were killed and several injured in gunfire in the Tabarre neighborhood near the international airport. Witnesses interviewed on Haitian radio blamed United Nations peacekeepers, but a U.N. spokesman denied troops had fired on protesters. Associated Press journalists saw the body of a 19-year-old man on a street, his blood-soaked T-shirt bearing Preval's image.

 

A mob stormed the Hotel Montana in search of election officials they accused of trying to deny a victory to Preval. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, who is visiting Haiti, came out of his suite to appeal for calm. One of his security agents said the South African had refused to be evacuated by a helicopter plucking guests from the roof.

 

After several hours, the crowd filed out of the hotel, where rooms reportedly cost $200 a night. The average annual income in Haiti is $350.

 

Electoral council employees did not show up for work on Monday “because they felt insecure,” a U.N. spokesman told reporters.

 

With 90 percent of the vote counted, Preval was leading a 33-man field with 48.7 percent, election officials reported. His nearest opponent, former president Leslie Manigat, had 11.8 percent. Preval needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff election on March 19. Of the 2.2 million ballots cast (out of 3.5 million eligible voters), about 125,000 have been declared invalide because of irregularities.

 

As Port-au-Prince descended into chaos, Preval returned to the capital for the first time since the election. “We have questions about the electoral process,” he told reporters after meeting with the top U.N. official in Haiti and ambassadors from the United States, France, Canada and Brazil. “We want to see how we can save the process.”

 

Saving the country might be a more immediate need. Barricades made of old tires were ablaze across the capital, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the sky. Protesters let only journalists and Red Cross vehicles pass. “If they don't give us the final results,” one protester screamed, “we're going to burn this country down!”

 

Threat of presidential runoff looms (Feb. 13, 2006, noon) — Former President Rene Preval fell further below the 50 percent he needed to win the Haitian election outright as the counting of ballots continued on Monday and allegations of manipulation mounted.

Smoke from burning tires rose over the capital of Port-au-Prince from impromptu barricades as suspicions spread among protesting Preval supporters that the count was being tampered with to stop the one-time ally of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from winning a first-round victory.

Like Aristide, Preval is viewed as a champion of the Caribbean country's poor masses, most of whom live on $1 a day, but he is distrusted by the small and wealthy elite.

With 89.9 percent of ballots counted, Preval's share of the vote in last Tuesday's largely peaceful but chaotic election had slipped to 48.7 percent by Monday morning, the Provisional Electoral Council said on its Web site.

One woman among the thousands who marched in support of Preval over the weekend was quoted as saying: “Nobody can block Preval. The will of the people is the will of God.”

A runoff election would be held March 19.

Runoff for Preval? Protesters say no (Feb. 13, 2006, 9 a.m.) — Thousands of Haitians took to the streets of Port au-Prince for a second day of protests Sunday over electoral results that showed former President Rene Preval falling just short of the margin needed to avoid a runoff after last week's presidential vote.

Results released Sunday showed Preval, a onetime ally of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with 49 percent of the more than 1.6 million votes counted in last Tuesday's balloting. About 75 percent of precincts had been tallied, the country's electoral commission reported.

Preval supporters also rallied Saturday, venting their frustration over what they called the slow counting of election results. Demonstrators marched through slum of Cite Soleil and rallied outside the presidential palace.

Cite Soleil, where support for Aristide still runs high, is considered the “epicenter” of Haiti's widespread political violence and crime.

Preval supporters hold victory celebration (Feb. 11, 2006) — Thousands of chanting supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval marched in a victory celebration from a seaside slum past the national palace Saturday, even as electoral officials still counted ballots that gave Preval a wide lead.

Preval had 50.33 percent of 1.28 million valid votes counted so far, with the other candidates far behind, Haiti's election council said. The winning candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a March runoff with the second-place finisher. According to the official partial returns, Leslie Manigat, a former president, had 11.88 percent of the vote. Businessman Charles Henri Baker was third with 7.76 percent.

At the same time, in Trinidad, it was being reported that Haiti will be allowed to rejoin the 15-member Caribbean Community if the presidential and parliamentary elections are deemed free and fair, the group said. Haiti's membership in the group, known as Caricom, was suspended after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in February 2004. The group had refused to recognize Haiti's interim government and Caribbean leaders accused the United States and France of being accomplices in Aristide's ouster.

Preval's poll lead narrows (Feb. 10, 2006) — Presidential candidate Rene Preval's lead narrowed Friday as more ballots were counted, raising the possibility he would have to face a runoff against the second-place finisher to determine who will lead a fractured and impoverished Haiti.

Election workers were still tallying votes late Friday, three days after a huge voter turnout almost overwhelmed poll workers.

Preval, a former president and agronomist who is highly popular among the poor, had 50.26 percent of 1.1 million valid votes counted so far, the electoral council said. More than 1.75 million voters cast ballots, U.N. officials told the media. Leslie Manigat, a former president, was in second and businessman Charles Henri Baker was a distant third out of the 33 candidates. Baker is claiming election fraud, saying he has heard people voted “five times, 10 times, 20 times.”

If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held March 19.

The winner of the election will face the challenge of bringing together Haiti's polarized society that is split between the few rich and the majority poor, experts say. Preval already has strong support from Cite Soleil, the huge shantytown where U.N. peacekeepers regularly traded fire with well-armed gang members before the election. The gangs are supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Gang leaders believe Preval will help with health care, put more schools in the slum, bring treated water to drink, and clean the sewers. But experts agree that the new president's honeymoon period will be short.

“The window will probably not be open too long,” one observer of Haiti said. “He (the new president) will have to show some improvement in their lives. And he will need partnerships of Haitians with resources to do this.

“Everything in Haiti is broken and everything needs fixing.”

First returns announced (Feb. 9, 2006, 8:30 p.m.) — Rene Preval took a strong lead Thursday in Haiti’s presidential election with the release of the first partial official returns giving him a majority of the votes counted so far.

 

Preval, a former president seen as a champion of the poor, won 61.5 percent of 282,327 valid votes counted, Haiti’s electoral council said. It refused to say what percentage of the total votes cast these figures represented. According to the United Nations, a majority of Haiti’s 3.5 million eligible voters cast ballots.

 

The council said of the next two highest vote getters, Leslie Manigat had 13.4 percent and Charles Henri Baker had 6.1 percent.

 

Rene Preval appears to be winning (Feb. 9, 2006, 10 a.m.) — A main rival to electoral front-runner Rene Preval said Thursday that he feared the former president had made “a clean sweep” in the first round of Haiti's balloting even as the slow vote-counting process dragged on for a second day.

Leslie Manigat, 75, a candidate who was president for five months in 1988 until the army ousted him, said early returns from party representatives monitoring the count showed Preval with a wide lead over his opponents.

He told The Associated Press that returns showed him coming in second, followed by Charles Henri Baker, 50, a wealthy garment factory owner. Though no officials results have been released, Manigat's comments were the latest sign that Preval appeared to be heading toward a big, first-round victory.

Election officials said many ballot counts were still being ferried from remote polling places by plane, truck and mule. A clear picture of the results wasn't expected until Friday night or Saturday.

Early returns favor ex-president (Feb. 8, 2006, 7 p.m.) — A spokesman for former Haitian President Rene Preval said Wednesday that unconfirmed early results showed him with a wide lead in the country’s presidential race — even though many ballots were still being carried in from remote polling places by plane, truck and mule.

 

A Miami Herald look at several individual polling centers — which post results on their outside walls — in the capital and the port cities of Gonaives and St. Marc suggested Preval might win outright. By 6 p.m. Wednesday, only 3 percent of the vote had been officially tabulated, and only 20 percent of the tally sheets from each of about 800 polling centers across Haiti’s mountainous terrain had arrived at electoral headquarters in Port-au-Prince.

 

The first official results were not expected to be released until Thursday. Final results might not be available until Friday. Officials said collecting and tabulating the results would take several days. But some polling stations posted unconfirmed local results outside. These showed strong early support for Preval, a shy and soft-spoken 63-year-old agronomist widely supported by Haiti’s poor masses.

 

If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters would be held March 19.

 

Mules return ballots from mountain villages (Feb. 8, 2006, 4 p.m.) — Guarded by U.N. troops, mules carrying sacks of ballots trotted down from mountain villages Wednesday as authorities began the slow process of collecting and tabulating election results.

 

It is believed more than 50 percent of the 3.5 million registered voters cast ballots.

 

Election workers counted votes by candlelight overnight and resumed early Wednesday. The hardest part was getting ballets back to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where the vote tabulation center is located. In some cases, it was expected to take two days to return ballots.

 

To help the effort, U.N. officials are relying in part on 280 mules, some of which were loaded with bulging sacks of ballots and then led by handlers and U.N. troops from the countryside into towns. Later, the ballots were to be loaded onto helicopters that will carry them to the capital.

 

Votes being counted (Feb. 8, 2006, 10 a.m.) — Election workers in Haiti Wednesday counted votes that will determine the new president and parliament of the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Because of a massive turnout polling stations stayed open past their closing time. Thousands waited in lines for many hours to cast a ballot, the first in Haiti in six years.

Four people were killed, two in crowd crushes, according to U.N. officials. In another incident, a police officer shot into a crowd and killed a person. The crowd retaliated and lynched the officer.

Polls have shown that Rene Preval, a former Haitian president, leads 33 presidential candidates.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended that Minustah — the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti — “be continued in its present configuration for another six months while a post-electoral mission strategy is worked out.”

Huge turnout for election (Feb. 7, 2006) — Scuffles broke out and polling stations opened hours late Tuesday as masses of Haitians waited — sometimes in mile-long lines — to vote under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers crouching behind machine guns and patrolling alongside armored vehicles, according to The Associated Press.

Press reports said the turnout for the vote — called a key step toward steering this bloodied, impoverished nation away from collapse — overwhelmed electoral officials. At dawn, when the 800 polling stations were supposed to open, it immediately became apparent the day would not go smoothly.

 

Polls closed by late Tuesday — nearly four hours later than scheduled — said Stephane Lacroix, a spokesman for Haiti’s elections commission. The nation’s electoral council said early results would not be available until late Wednesday.

 

“The people have voted massively,” Juan Gabriel Valdes, a U.N. special envoy, told reporters after election officials extended the voting period by several hours.

 

Government officials sought to maintain calm, assuring Haitians that everyone would have a chance to vote. By mid-afternoon, the process appeared more orderly. U.N. troops were deployed in force to calm the crowds. Election authorities said the problems were largely limited to Port-au-Prince. By early afternoon, all polls across this country of 8.3 million were open, said U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst.

 

Lacroix said four people died Tuesday at polling stations throughout the country. In the northern town of Gros Morne, a Haitian policeman reportedly shot and killed a man in line at a polling station. A mob then killed the police officer. There were two other reported deaths in polling stations in the capital — two elderly men who collapsed while waiting in line. 

Election day arrives (Feb. 6, 2006) — A country virtually ignored by the outside world is getting its 15 minutes of media coverage, thanks to a long-awaited, oft-postponed election day. Reporters from media outlets such as The New York Times, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald and CNN have filed stories in recent days about the Tuesday, Feb. 7 elections.

Before this, few outside Haiti would have known that clear front-runner Rene Preval, the only Haitian elected president to finish his five-year term (1996-2001), or Charles Henry Baker or another former president, Leslie Manigat (he served for five months in 1988 in elections rigged by the military), were among the 33 presidential candidates. Let alone that there is 80 percent unemployment in Haiti, where the average salary is $1.07 a day for those who do have work.

But now, in the wake of an election postponed four times, we have learned from The Associated Press: “Mules laden with sacks of ballots were led into Haiti's countryside Monday to reach remote villages on the eve of elections aimed at putting Haiti's experiment with democracy back on track.”

Out of fear of violence, schools were closed for the week, international flights halted, and patrols by police and foreign troops beefed up throughout the nation — one of the poorest in the world. The blue helmeted-troops of MINISTUH, the 8,900-man military contingent of the United Nations, were out in force on street corners around the capital and in other cities after a very peaceful weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, helicopters dropped political leaflets, and rallies drew thousands of chanting supporters but surprisingly little violence, a U.N. spokesman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

 

In 1987, elections were canceled when 16 men and women were shot and hacked to death by thugs as they stood in line waiting to vote.

 

“More than five years have passed since Haitians last voted,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Those elections were marred by violence and fraud, leading to an armed rebellion, the president's flight into African exile and the arrival of foreign troops in an effort to impose order.”

 

Founded by liberated slaves in 1804, the world's first black republic has been run by an appointed government since president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was run out of office on Feb. 29, 2004, by a revolt of ex-soldiers and gangs, and under pressure from the United States. Aristide was a former Catholic priest regarded by many in the country of 8.3 million as a “champion of the poor.”

Haitian priest released from jail (Jan. 29, 2006) — A priest who was an ally of the ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was provisionally released from prison on Sunday and allowed to seek treatment for leukemia in the United States.

The Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest, is to be treated at a hospital in Miami, according to Michel Brunache, chief of staff of the interim president Boniface Alexandre.

Father Jean-Juste was jailed for more than a year before charged with involvement in a journalist's murder. Those charges were dropped, but he now faces charges of having illegal weapons and being involved in illegal gang activity. His supporters say he was jailed to prevent him from running for president.

New Brazilian general in charge (Jan. 18, 2006) — A Brazilian general, Jose Elito Carvalho de Siqueira, will replace the Brazilian general who committed suicide earlier in January as the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Haiti.

It was not known when de Siqueira would arrive in Haiti or how long his command would last.

De Siqueira, 59, a three-star general, succeeds Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, who was found dead of a gunshot wound Jan. 7 in his hotel room in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. Brazilian and U.N. forensic specialists concluded he had committed suicide.

De Siqueira takes charge of 9,000 peacekeeping troops from more than 40 countries sent to help restore democracy two years after a rebellion overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Two U.N. peacekeeper killed (Jan. 17, 2006) — Two U.N. peacekeepers from Jordan were killed and a third wounded by gunfire in the Port-au-Prince slum Cite Soleil on Tuesday.

The U.N. mission in Haiti was sent in to keep the peace after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country in February 2004 in the face of an armed revolt. Street gangs that control many of the sprawling slums in Port-au-Prince are seen as supporters of the exiled Aristide.

Two dozen Haitians found dead in van (Jan. 11, 2006) — At least 24 Haitians suffocated in the back of a van thought to have smuggled them into the Dominican Republic, local media reported on Wednesday in Santo Domingo.

The bodies were found in the van by members of the Dominican armed forces, Radio Popular said. An army spokesman said the driver and owner of the van had been arrested and an investigation was under way.

Up to 1 million Haitians, most of them illegal immigrants, are believed to be living in the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with their impoverished homeland. Most work on cattle ranches and sugar plantations, or as domestic servants and construction workers in conditions criticized by human rights groups.

But conditions are better than in Haiti, where half of the population lives on $1 a day. Haitians reportedly pay Dominican smugglers between $40 and $60 to take them across the border.

Haitians strike to protest gang kidnappings (Jan. 9, 2006) — Most businesses ground to a halt Monday in a general strike to protest kidnappings that have terrified Haiti's capital and cast a shadow over troubled efforts to restore democracy.

The one-day general strike in this Caribbean nation was called by the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to pressure U.N. peacekeepers to move against gangs — allegedly loyal to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — who have carried out many of the kidnappings.

But leaders of the peacekeeping force were occupied with their own tragedy: the death Saturday of their commander, Brazilian Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, in an apparent suicide (SEE story below). Teixeira was described as a compassionate soldier who was deeply committed to restoring law and order to Haiti following the rebellion that toppled Aristide nearly two years ago.

Difficulties in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations have contributed to four postponements in staging the elections. Reportedly, there are 35 candidates running for president and hundreds more for 129 legislative seats. Elections are now scheduled for Feb. 7.

But the kidnappings for ransom have added to the uncertainty. International election workers and journalists have been among those taken hostage by gangs and stashed in the sprawling slums while ransom payments were negotiated. Ordinary Haitians have also been targeted.

New election dates set — again (Jan. 8, 2006) — Haiti's electoral authorities set a new date for its postponed presidential election, saying that the first round of voting will take place Feb. 7, as the United Nations has demanded. If needed, a runoff will occur on March 19.

The election was supposed to take place on Jan. 8 after having been repeatedly delayed since November. But the country's Provisional Electoral Council canceled the vote a week ago without announcing a new date, leading to a rebuke from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

U.N. Haiti peacekeeping commander reportedly commits suicide (Jan. 7, 2006) — The Brazilian commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti was found dead on the balcony of his hotel room in Port-au-Prince  in an apparent suicide, authorities said, a blow to the 9,000-strong force and efforts to restore democracy in Haiti.

A senior U.N. official confirmed to The Associated Press that 58-year-old Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

The multinational force is attempting to restore democracy to this impoverished Caribbean island nation two years after a rebellion overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Peacekeepers from more than 40 countries have struggled to control gangs that still hold sway in sprawling slums.

The security situation has been unraveling in past weeks, with a rash of kidnappings hitting the capital. International election workers, journalists and ordinary Haitians have been among the victims.

Bacellar's death also came days after officials postponed national elections for the fourth time, blaming security problems and delays in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations. The elections had been planned for January 8. No new date has been set and it was not immediately clear what effect Bacellar's death would have on a new election timetable.

The U.N. named Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate Herman as the interim commander.

Elections postponed for fourth time (Dec. 30, 2005) — Haitian electoral officials, plagued by delays and disorganization, said that national elections set for Jan. 8, 2006 would have to be postponed for a fourth time.

The presidential and legislative elections — the first since a rebellion ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide nearly two years ago — were to have been held in November, and have since been postponed three times.

Delays in distributing 3.5 million voter ID cards, disorganized voting centers and problems with the voter database were the main reasons the vote needed to be postponed again, Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, told The Associated Press.

U.N. peacekeeper killed (Dec. 26, 2005) — A Jordanian soldier serving as a peacekeeper for the United Nations in Haiti was shot to death on Saturday, Dec. 24, while on patrol in the Cite Soleil slum in Port-Au-Prince, it was reported today.

Gunbattles between peacekeepers and gangs occur almost daily in Cite Soleil, regarded as the most dangerous place in Haiti. Observers fear the armed gangs there could disrupt the scheduled Jan. 8 elections. Haitian police do not enter the slum, which is now watched over by a battalion of Jordanian peacekeepers in armored vehicles. About 1,500 of the 7,600 U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti are from Jordan.

The peacekeepers arrived in Haiti in June 2004 to stabilize the country after the February 2004 ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Seven peacekeepers have died in action since June 2004, according to the United Nations.

Election dates changed – again (Nov. 25, 2005) — For the fourth time, Haiti's electoral board has postponed the country's first elections since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a rebellion almost two years ago.

The nine-member Provisional Electoral Council set a new date of Jan. 8 for presidential and legislative elections, followed by a Feb. 15 runoff, according to press reports.

The electoral council reportedly decided that Haiti was unprepared to hold the election on Dec. 27, the date announced eight days ago. The election is to replace the interim government installed after Aristide's ouster in February 2004.

Election dates set (Nov. 17, 2005) — Haitian presidential and legislative elections have been scheduled for Dec. 27 with a runoff on Jan. 31, 2006. These elections have been postponed twice already.

Haiti's constitution requires the new government to take control on Feb. 7, 2006. The elections are the result of the February 2004 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is in exile.

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