Confusion, charges of fraud, chaos, and, for now, a “tentative” calm.
Two days after presidential and legislative elections, few have a clear idea what is next for Haiti as electoral officials work in silence, allegedly counting those ballots cast Sunday, and which were not destroyed amidst Sunday afternoon protests that rocked various polling stations around the country. In a press conference Monday, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, the musician-turned-presidential contender whose supporters led many of the anti-Preval street demonstrations in Port-au-Prince Sunday, appeared to step back from the call that elections be cancelled – a declaration he made with 11 other candidates at a Port-au-Prince hotel while votes were still being cast Sunday. In Martelly’s Monday statement, he again maintained that the elections were marred by “massive fraud” on the part of the Preval government. But Mr. Martelly suggested that, even so, he would remain open to letting the eventual results stand. Al Jazeera says the other presidential front-runner, Mirlande Manigat, made similar remarks to reporters Monday. And if the Miami Herald has it correct, those words may have broken one day of rare political unity that brought all of the country’s major presidential candidates out against the Preval government and its preferred candidate, Jude Celestin.
Meanwhile, Wyclef Jean – who joined Martelly and his supporters on the streets after the joint declaration of electoral fraud on Sunday afternoon – also spoke at Monday’s press conference. The hip hop artist, prevented from running for president after failing to meet residency requirements, made obscure references to the capital “going up in flames” if the international community did not in some way intervene. Wyclef, quoted by the LA Times:
“I came here today because I know that in 24 hours, if we do not have a decision, this country will rise to a level of violence we have not seen before.”
Such prophecies of violence have so far been unfulfilled. For its part, the international community seems prepared to validate Haiti’s election, despite continuing claims of electoral fraud. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, Colin Granderson, head of the Organization of American States observation mission, said Monday that “as serious as some of the irregularities were, they did not invalidate the electoral process.” [The OAS’s initial estimate is that voting processes were disrupted in only 4 percent of polling stations]. Granderson added that the declaration of fraud made by 12 candidates while votes were still being cast Sunday was “precipitous, hasty, and regrettable.” Those words echo similar public statements made by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) late Sunday night.
However, the reporting of journalists, photographers, and independent observers, all of whom greatly outnumbered official OAS-Caricom observers at polling places around much of the capital Sunday, continue to tell a quite different story. According to the AP, discontent and confusion which defined the first half of voting Sunday “boiled over” by the early afternoon. Many report polling places being ransacked while electoral officials and UN Minustah forces stood by idly. Photos from the New York Times show ballot boxes overturned and strewn about. Reuters’ photographers capture voters removing their ballots from ballot boxes in protest. I have yet to see any official estimates on turnout but initial accounts would suggest very few actually cast ballots Sunday.
As for the procedures for tallying the vote, ballots are allegedly being counted by the CEP at an unspecified warehouse in the capital. Election officials say no word about those results will come until at least Dec. 7. And if none of the candidates is declared to have won a majority, Haitians may be repeating Sunday’s electoral mayhem in a January runoff.
To other stories:
· On the Wikileaks diplomatic cable drop and its Latin American implications: a late July 2009 cable from the US Ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, strongly condemns the ouster of Manuel Zelaya and declares it illegal. RAJ at Honduras Culture and Politics comments, asking why the US was “so timid” in its actions against the coup regime if it saw the coup as so clearly illegal? On Brazil, the AP says diplomatic cables from December 2009 claim the Brazilian government was downplaying the threat of “terrorists and terrorism” in Brazil. Others are talking about Hillary Clinton asking about Cristina Kirchner’s stress levels and the division of administrative tasks between the current Argentine president and her late husband, Nestor. Beyond the cables, the AP says, the Ecuadorean government is now offering Wikileaks founder Julian Assange residency in Ecuador.
· The New York Times Sunday reports on the seizure of the Rio favela of Alemao by Brazilian security forces – this after a weeklong battle against drug gangs in the shantytown. The Times: “Residents congregated around televisions in bars and restaurants, cheering on the police as they would their favorite soccer teams, even as occasional gunfire peppered the sunny skies.” More from the AP which reports from Vila Cruzeiro, the other Rio favela where security forces have been facing off against drug traffickers. The AP says approx. 50 people are believed to have been killed in the raids. Meanwhile, police continue their search for about 200 gang members still holed up in Alemao.
· At UNASUR meetings in Guyana, Bloomberg reports that the regional organization made commitments to improve the coordination of anti-drug and anti-organized crime efforts while also pledging to isolate governments which emerge from coups. According to Rafael Correa, the latter includes adding a list of “concrete sanctions” against coup regimes to Unasur’s democratic charter, among them the closing of borders. On the former, Bloomberg says Unasur created a “security council” to coordinate cross-border operations against organized crime. Also at the summit, Ecuador and Colombia re-established full diplomatic relations, which have been frozen says the 2008 cross-border raid of a FARC camp in Ecuador. Unresolved at the summit was the selection of a new secretary general to replace Nestor Kirchner. According to Hugo Chavez that could occur at another meeting in Argentina scheduled for next month. Lula da Silva has made public that he is not interested in the position. Other names still being floating include Uruguay’s Tabaré Vazquez and former Argentine foreign minister, Jorge Taina.
· A new economic team has been named by Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Economist and Central Bank official Alexandre Antonio Tombini will be nominated to replace Henrique Meirelles as the head of the Central Bank while Guido Mantega will stay on as the country’s finance minister, says the New York Times. Regarding Dilma’s foreign affairs team, Mercopress says Marco Aurelio Garcia will stay on as a top foreign policy adviser to Ms. Rousseff as she prepares to name her pick for foreign minister this week. The news agency suggests the move means continuity in terms of Brazil’s “regionalist” foreign policy.
· From EFE, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega said Monday that the 11 imprisoned dissidents who remain from the “Group of 75” will be released by the Cuban government, and be allowed to remain in Cuba after refusing asylum in Spain. No time table as of yet, however. Cardinal Ortega: “Those who remain will be released. I don’t know when. That is really not in my hands, but I have a clear promise that the rest will be freed and allowed to stay in Cuba.”
· The next round of global climate change talks have begun in Cancun, Mexico, although expectations are quite low, according to the New York Times. Nevertheless, the Washington Post reports on how Mexico is attempting to become a global leader on climate change issues – a notable bright spot in a country whose image has been tarnished by ongoing drug violence.
· Bloomberg says ALBA has plans to create a regional defense school.
· And Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald on changes in US-Colombia relations under Juan Manuel Santos. While Santos does appear to be recalibrating his country’s foreign policy toward Latin American regional integration and away from its special bilateral relation with the US, Oppenheimer may be both overstating and politicizing the shift when he says “There is a growing feeling…that Santos is moving closer to Chávez.”