2010 has been a difficult year for Haiti, and it does not appear to be ending on a positive note.
Ten months after a devastating earthquake leveled the country – killing 250,000 and leaving another million homeless – Haitians are mired in violence and outrage over voting irregularities during this weekend’s much anticipated presidential elections. This election comes at a key moment for the future of Haiti, which is battling a cholera epidemic and desperately trying to rebuild after the earthquake. Haiti has often been a forgotten topic in the daily news cycle. However, for the next weeks the world will watch to learn if this struggling nation can begin the long journey to rebirth.
Haiti's general election was held on Sunday. More than a dozen candidates were competing for the presidency, including Jude Celestin, President Rene Praval’s hand-picked successor. Unfortunately, it became clear early on that this election would not be drastically different from Haiti’s infamous past. Many voters claimed they had no idea where to vote, while others arrived at polling stations only to discover that their names were not on the rolls. Frustrated Haitians took to the streets, and is some cases resorted to violence. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement expressing concern for Haiti and calling for calm as the ballot counting continues.
Initially, twelve of the nearly 20 presidential candidates called for the vote to be annulled due to fraud. Many feared that President Preval had interfered with the electoral process in order to ensure a victory for his political party. However, the joint mission from the Organization of American States and Caricom, which was overseeing the electoral process, declared the elections valid despite “serious irregularities.” Two apparent frontrunners – Mirlande Manigat, a longtime voice of opposition, and Michel Martelly, a popular recording artist better known as “Sweet Micky” – later backed away from calls to cancel the election. The results of the elections will most likely be revealed on Dec. 7, and a final tally should come before Christmas.
Haiti simply cannot afford a post-election spiral into confusion and violence. Haiti’s history is replete with numerous manipulated elections, bloody coups and failed leaders. In 1983, Pope John Paul II visited Haiti as a guest of the brutal dictator Bebe Doc. The pope was criticized by many for granting legitimacy to Haiti’s corrupt leadership. However, John Paul had no intention of spouting diplomatic niceties. When his plane landed in Port-au-Prince, the pope walked away from the red carpet and kissed the Haitian soil. He ignored a large banquet thrown in his honor and instead spoke directly to the people in their native Creole. In a nationally televised speech, the Holy Father attacked the mistreatment of Haiti’s poor and the misery of life under a government more intent on enriching its leaders then serving its people. John Paul’s memorable words in Creole – “fok sa chanj!” (“Things have got to change here!”) – were widely hailed as the beginning of the end of Bebe Doc’s rule.
Nearly thirty years later, John Paul II’s words still ring true. Change in Haiti must begin with strong leadership grounded in the voice of the people. Following last January’s earthquake, President Praval was barely visible and failed to inspire the confidence of the people of Haiti or the international community. Today, with Haiti in ruins and hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid being held up until the political situation is resolved, Haiti’s future rests on its ability to democratically elect a president who can fairly administer a rebuilding effort. If change doesn’t happen now, Haiti’s lagging reputation as the world’s oldest “failed state” may no longer be an insensitive moniker, it will be the nation’s epitaph.
- David Naglieri