Monday, August 10, 2015

Haiti's long-awaited elections come off with some violence and hitches (August 10, 2015)

Long-awaited elections legislative elections in Haiti were finally carried out yesterday and were considered successful, though voting was suspended at dozens of centers due to irregularities and violence, reports the Miami Herald.
Al Jazeera reports that despite the violence, international observers believe the elections went well. Lengthy delays affected polling in many places in first legislative elections since President Michel Martelly came to power in May 2011, according to AFP. People had to wait for ballots a few hours after voting was supposed to start at 6 a.m and in sections of Port-au-Prince, voters were told they couldn't cast ballots because their names weren't on official voting lists, reports the Associated Press.

Electoral authorities said about 290,000 voters could not cast ballots; it was not immediately clear if make-up balloting would be scheduled.
The head of the Provisional Electoral Council (known as the CEP) has promised to resolve issues of violence, which affected four percent of the voting centers, according to the Herald piece.

Nearly six million voters (out of the Haiti's 10.3 million people) were eligible to take part in the elections, reports Al Jazeera. Voter turnout data is expected today, but AFP says it was low.

Organizational problems plagued the polls, reports the Miami Herald. For example four days before the elections there were electoral lists without voter names. While at a voting station somebody grabbed a ballot box and ran with it, while being pelted with rocks by people on the street.

The Associated Press reports that at least three voting centers in Port-au-Prince were shut down by authorities after fistfights broke out as partisans attempted to stuff ballot boxes and engage in other visible irregularities. And at one voting center in the capital groups of young men ripped up paper ballots as heavily armed police shot into the air to re-establish order.

Over 1,855 candidates from 128 parties competed to fill 20 Senate and 119 Chamber of Deputy seats -- a vital exercise in a country where congress has been suspended since the beginning of the year. The legislative elections had been postponed for nearly four years due to a political showdown between Haiti's executive and the political opposition reports the Associated Press.  
(According to theChristian Science Monitor many have run just to gain the immunity granted legislators as a way to avoid prosecution for past crimes!)

Most reports agree that the importance of the election goes well beyond the immediate political results, and is a test of Haiti's political stability. Last month U.N. officials emphasized that the elections are a milestone and that there have been significant challenges in in meeting requirements for a fair process.
The U.N. has been on a decade-long project to promote democracy in Haiti, explains a Christian Science Monitor editorial, which called Sunday's election a test of the country's ability to self-govern.

"Haiti's history is full of dictatorships, coups, poverty, and environmental disasters. To counter this narrative and break a cycle of dependency, the first step is to plant the idea that elections can reflect the people’s desire for responsive, law-abiding institutions. The UN failed to achieve that when it rushed an election in 2011 so soon after the earthquake. By contrast, these elections are run more by Haitians themselves. They involve better-trained police and more organized balloting, such as the use of public schools for voting. No party is boycotting the election this time. Such steps are necessary to lower the cynicism toward democracy and raise the turnout at the ballot box."

There has been fear of violence in the lead-up to the elections (see July 16th's post). But the CSM piece notes that violence yesterday was less than in previous elections and that leaders were more outspoken in their opposition to it.
According to Haiti's electoral system, one-third of the senate is supposed to be renewed every two years, but following the cancellation of elections in 2012, two thirds of the seats were up for grabs.

This is just the first of three rounds of voting for this year (see July 16th's post regarding the significant funding gap faced by the government). Candidates who make it through yesterday's round of voting will face the second round on October 25, which will also be the first round of presidential elections. A potential run-off for the presidential race would be in December.
The issue of observers was critical, reports the Miami Herald. Accreditation for political party observers was difficult and many complained they were not permitted inside voting centers.

AFP reports on the difficulties of monitoring the election. "After voters, poll officials and international observers were crammed into polling stations, little room was left for candidates' representatives, who were promised a space in hopes of stemming ballot fraud. The electoral board has asked the numerous representatives to draw lots so that only five are simultaneously present, creating a source of friction."

A BBC piece looks at the ongoing question of aid and Haiti, noting that since the earthquake international donors have pledged more than $10 billion of aid to Haiti, over half of which has already been spent. U.S. government funds through 2020 tally up to $13.4 billion. The money keeps thousands of foreign NGO's active in Haiti, but critics of aid programmes argue that a culture of aid dependency has developed in Haiti and that government systems in the country are weak in part because international aid staff are performing functions that should be carried out by local officials, reports the BBC.

(See June 4th's briefs on a scathing investigation by ProPublica and NPR that found that the American Red Cross has achieved almost nothing on the ground with the nearly $500 million for post earthquake aid in Haiti.)

History buffs might be interested in PRI's look at the 19-year U.S. occupation of Haiti which began 100 years ago. The reasons were strategic -- to counter German economic and political influence on the island -- and financial -- Haiti owed money to American creditors and a sugar company was interested in owning land there -- explains Christopher Woolf.

News Briefs

  • Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli was ahead in Argentina's presidential primary yesterday with 37.8 percent, reports La Nación. The election will gauge Argentine's desire for change after 12 years of the current president's governing party, according to the New York Times. Reuters reports that the early results showed voters favoring the Buenos Aires governor's policy of gradual change after eight years of leftist government. Many voters here support the governing party because they believe the country is better off today than it was in 2003 after a severe crisis plunged millions into poverty, explains the NYTimes piece. Scioli is in outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's Frente para la Victoria party and has promised to slowly modify her policies, which include heavy state control of the economy. Yesterday's polls were primaries to select political parties' candidates for the upcoming October 25 presidential elections, but are considered an early indicator of voter intention as voters are free to vote for any party. To win outright in October, a candidate needs 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a 10-point margin over whoever places second. Mauricio Macri, the business-friendly mayor of the capital city came in second with 24.7 percent of the primary vote in preliminary results, though his coalition obtained 30.7 percent of the total vote. He aims to do well enough in October to force a November run-off. The AFP has a piece on the primaries which "are a peculiarly Argentine institution that are less about parties choosing their candidates than about taking the electorate's temperature." But over at Página 12, Mario Wainfeld provides a better analysis, noting that the results predict a win for Scioli, as the leader in the primaries generally conserves or grows the initial result.
  • Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, the leader of a civilian group that has spent the last 10 months searching for bodies of 43 missing students and others in the hills of Mexico's Guerrero state was killed with a gunshot wound to his head in his taxi, reports the Los Angeles Times. "A car had been following [Jiménez Blanco] since last Thursday," another member of the community police Unión de Pueblos Organizados del Estado de Guerrero (UPOEG) who worked with Jiménez Blanco told the LATimes in a telephone interview. Jiménez had been threatened with death after the self-defense groups in the area had split, reports Animal Político based on a Reforma piece. Jiménez Blanco led family brigades that excavated dozens of pits in the Iguala area, searching for bodies. (See The Intercept's May investigation on the missing 43.)
  • Although both Mexican and U.S. authorities are offering significant rewards for assistance in re-capturing Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, critics doubt that Mexican officials are truly committed to finding the escaped drug lord, reports El Daily Post.
  • Acapulco is at the center of a new surge of violence in Guerrero State in Mexico, reportsAlejandro Hope at the Daily Post. Four potential drivers include accelerating gang fragmentation, growing U.S. demand for heroin, massification of petty extortion, and the virtual collapse of the state government since the Iguala crisis. Though the political equation will change with the arrival of a new governor, the other factors will not change in the near future, he argues.
  • Dilma Rousseff's approval rating is at eight percent, making her Brazil's most unpopular democratically elected president since a military dictatorship ended in 1985, according to a Datafolha poll from last week. Her numbers are worse than those of Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in 1992 over corruption allegations. Right before he stepped down he had an approval rating of nine percent and disapproval of 68 percent, reports AFP. The low comes as her administration struggles to cut spending and slash government debt to avoid a downgrade of its investment-grade credit rating and amid economic deterioration and a corruption scandal threatening her government, according to the Wall Street Journal. At the same time Rousseff's administration is battling a Congress that has derailed a number of austerity measures deemed critical for Brazilian finances and the speaker of the house, Eduardo Cunha, has publicly split with her. Opposition parties are threatening impeachment proceedings against Rousseff over alleged irregularities in the government's accounts.
  • As Rousseff faces this rebellion VP Michel Temer is now emerging from the shadows reports theNew York Times. As a result of administration's political difficulties he is seeing his influence grow, taking on a more active role in day-to-day governing while reaching out to both the administration’s supporters and opponents.
  • What went wrong in Brazil, asks Mark Weisbrot at Al Jazeera. The world economic slowdown is only part of the problem, he argues. The problem is that on top of the worsening external conditions, the government piled a series of policy decisions that weakened the economy, and in the meantime inflation continues to grow. "The government is going to have to create the climate for increased private investment and consumption the way it did before 2011, by increasing its spending, especially on public investment in badly needed infrastructure," he says.
  • Brazilian journalist Gleydson Carvalho, known for crusading against political corruption, was killed last Thursday by two gunmen who burst into his studio while his radio program was on the air. The murder sent shock waves through Ceará, in northeastern Brazil, while raising alarm among human rights groups as part of a spike in execution-style killings of journalists outside major urban centers around the country, reports the New York Times. At least three other journalists have been killed in Brazil this year in retaliation for their work, bringing the number of such cases before this most recent killing to 16 since 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a news media advocacy group in New York. The circumstances surrounding six other cases remain unclear. Manuel Contreras, a military officer who was chief of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's feared secret police, died late Friday at age 86 at the Military Hospital of Santiago, the hospital said, without giving an exact cause of his death, reports the Wall Street Journal. Contreras was serving 526 years of multiple prison terms for human rights violations. He spent the past 20 years in two special military detention centers, one of which more resembled a resort, as judges piled on almost 60 prison sentences for crimes committed by the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, the secret intelligence agency he directed from 1973 to 1977. Appeals were pending in dozens of other cases, reports the New York Times. The death was celebrated by people gathered outside the hospital and in downtown Santiago reports the Times, some opened bottles of Champagne while another held a sign saying, "Happy trip to hell, assassin." General Contreras never admitted to any of his crimes. In his last televised interview in 2013 by CNN Chile, he was defiant and completely unrepentant, denying that any prisoner had ever disappeared, saying that "they are all in the General Cemetery," according to the Times.
  • The 78-foot Still Water docked last week in Cuba, becoming the first yacht to legally carry paying American travelers to Cuba in decades. Promoters hope the trip is the beginning of a surge in seaborne travelers to the Communist island, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Washington Post has a feature on the Houston based Minería Texas Colombia's the only foreign mining company operating in Colombia's emerald market. The Americans are trying to reverse declining gemstone production, and also intend to revamp a feudal system of peasants and patrons by paying salaries and benefits and using modern machinery, reports the piece. But some residents and rivals have revolted and armed villagers have seized the company's mine shafts twice already. Four people have died in the disturbances.

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