Thursday, November 19, 2015

Electoral crisis in Haiti - accusations of fraud and decreased voter trust (Nov. 19, 2015)

The electoral crisis in Haiti -- with accusations of massive fraud, including ballot stuffing and political party monitors voting multiple times -- is worsening and has set off a crisis of confidence in Haiti's electoral process. It's unclear what will happen ahead of the scheduled Dec. 27 run-off vote and protests threaten to paralyze Haiti in coming weeks, according to the Miami Herald.

Two Haitian presidential candidates say they were hit by rubber bullets fired by police at protesters demonstrating against alleged electoral fraud yesterday. And another candidate says he and his supporters were threatened with arrest, reports the Miami Herald.

Reuters has footage of protesters showing wounds.

The candidates, Senator Steven Benoit and former Senator Moise Jean-Charles say they were shot point blank yesterday, as police attempted to disperse the largest protest since the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the results of October 25th's election two weeks ago. (See last Friday's post.)

The protests came after a Monday night meeting between the CEP and eight presidential candidates after which they rejected requests to form an independent commission to verify the preliminary presidential election results, saying the law doesn't grant them the authority to do so, reports the Miami Herald in a piece from yesterday.

But attorney Samuel Madistin, a presidential candidate who serves as spokesman for the group, says Haitian law doesn't prevent such an independent commission, and noted that independent verifications have been formed in past electoral disputes, including in the 2010 elections that brought President Michel Martelly to power.

The group of presidential candidates rejecting the results include second-place finisher Jude Célestin, who received 25.2 percent of the vote in the October election. President Michel Martelly's handpicked successor, Jovenel Moise, received 32.8 percent and rejects the allegations of fraud.

While international observers noted only a few irregularities, a coalition of local electoral observers said the CEP's failure to implement several recommendations to address the crisis only adds to a general mistrust of the electoral process. 

Opportunities for fraud were created with the distribution of 915,675 accreditation cards to political party monitors and observers; poor security measures and a lack of training of workers, said the observers in a report released last week. They too are calling for the appointment of an independent commission.

The "massive fraud  recorded in the election could not be achieved without the active participation of the CEP," said the report which accuses the electoral council of favoring political parties close to the government, reports Haiti Libre.

And new study released by Igarapé Institute today found that the allegations of fraud by politicians and observers are mirrored by deep public suspicion of the first round of the presidential election in Haiti. An Igarapé Institute research team administered household surveys in 135 polling stations before and after the election to assess attitudes about the electoral process and found that public confidence in the process had plummeted between the two dates, reports the Associated Press. While voters on election day said they felt the process was fair, the same citizens disagreed with a statement saying the processes wasn't fraudulent after the results were announced.

The report says the "findings suggest an incompatibility between the declared result and the voting patterns of Haitian citizens. They also indicate the corrosive effects of electoral corruption on citizen attitudes and faith in the democratic process."

Beyond the immediate electoral impact, the report points to a larger issue of trust in Haiti's democratic process.

"In order to increase the confidence of citizens in the electoral process, it is essential to reduce irregularities and fraud. Experience with corruption fuels widespread perceptions that an individual’s vote does not impact election outcomes. In a culture where rumors rapidly spread rapidly and can magnify tensions, future elections must be as transparent and integrate neutral monitoring processes. ... Ultimately, the voter is the true judge of electoral efficacy and improving voter confidence in the electoral process is a positive step for Haitian democracy."

News Briefs

  • The U.S. National Security Agency spied on internal communication of top officials Venezuela's state-oil company PDVSA. The Intercept reports, based on an NSA internal document leaked by whistleblower Eduard Snowden, that the agency's access the electronic communications networks of key PDVSA officials could potentially indicate that NSA spying has secretly aided criminal investigations into corruption and other government actions targeting the company. The piece details how an NSA analyst discovered the information on the agency's servers, raising questions regarding the vast amount of surveillance material captured by the NSA. The piece notes that the NSA has also targeted Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras. In the lead-up to next month’s legislative elections, U.S. actions against the Venezuelan government have amounted to a "full-court press," Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Intercept. "In recent months, Washington has been campaigning to de-legitimize the Venezuelan election, with leaks and even indictments from the Justice Department and DEA," he said. (See yesterday's post.) Following the report, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he'll file a formal protest and review relations with Washington, reports the Associated Press. The U.S. and Venezuela have not had ambassadors in each others capitals since 2010, though gestures of rapprochement were made earlier this year. (See June 15th's briefs.)
  • The New York Times reports on the Venezuela-Guyana territorial spat. Nearly two-thirds of Guyana is being claimed by Venezuela -- a hundred year old dispute that heated up significantly this year after Exxon Mobil, working for the Guyanese government, announced the discovery of a large reserve of oil in ocean waters off the disputed territory.
  • After a year of mostly bad news, Brazil's "embattled" President Dilma Rousseff received backing from Congress, which ratified her vetoes on bills that would worsen Brazil's already large budget gap, reports the Wall Street Journal. The measures have been waiting for ratification for months.
  • Argentina's run-off election this weekend between government candidate Daniel Scioli and conservative Mauricio Macri boils down to a choice between continuity with a little change, or a lot of change, reports the Associated Press. The past twelve years of Kirchner governments have been all about big government -- including programs for the poor, nationalization of a major oil company and airline, import substitution policies and laws aimed at protecting the elderly, handicapped, gay and other vulnerable groups. Scioli says he'll maintain the helm, but make necessary corrections. While Macri says he will focus on reducing the 30 percent inflation and bring a breath of fresh air to a political scene he accuses of being rife with corruption and poor practices. With a devaluation on the horizon, Argentines, for whom the memory of the 2001-2002 economic crisis is still fresh, are struggling with the choice. Several polls have Macri ahead by several points, but after their massive predictive failure in October's elections, the race is considered up for grabs.
  • Argentine Pope Francis tossed said citizens should "vote according to their conscience," which of course has been taken by both candidates as support for each of their causes, reports Página 12. The pontiff has been careful to stay on the sidelines of the race, and has avoided meeting with either of the candidates and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner ahead of the run-off.
  • Police raided the trading desk of Argentina's central bank on Tuesday after a prosecutor accused the monetary regulator's president of directing the bank to sell U.S. dollar reserves at a rate below that on the international futures market, reports Reuters. The central bank denied any wrongdoing and said the accusations are part of a politically motivated witch hunt against the bank chief, Alejandro Vanoli, ahead of this weekend's elections. The accusations are somewhat complicated, the Wall Street Journal goes more into depth on the case.
  • Regional trend? Five judges in the Dominican Republic have been suspended amid accusations that they released violent criminals from prison in exchange for bribes, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this month a similar case was reported in Argentina, and a few years then-Peruvian President Alan Garcia was embroiled in a so-called "narco pardons" scandal. (See Nov. 10th's briefs.) 
  • The Cuban migrant crisis in Central America continues to escalate. (See Monday's post.) Some 2,000 undocumented Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica, thwarted on their way north towards the U.S. by Nicaraguan authorities who did not grant them permission to pass through, reports the Miami Herald. The Cuban foreign ministry said they were victims of a politicized U.S. immigration policy. The Costa Rican Foreign Ministry is proposing a humanitarian corridor from Ecuador to Mexico, to help the migrants avoid falling prey to human smugglers.
  • Cuba and the U.S. signed an agreement yesterday to jointly protect the fish and corals in the shared waters separating the two countries. The first environmental accord between the two since the diplomatic thaw announced last year directs scientists in four sanctuaries and reserves in the two countries to collaborate with each other, reports the Associated Press.
  • And American travelers to Cuba will finally be able to use a debit card -- offered by Stonegate Bank of Florida to travelers who fall under one of 12 categories approved by the U.S. government, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A Mennonite farming community in Mexico's Chihuahua state is at the center of a national debate over water rights and how to preserve groundwater from depletion, reports the New York Times.
  • Think you've spotted fugitive Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán? You're not alone. Check out InSight Crime's map of reported sightings around the world -- though the piece notes he's likely in his traditional stronghold in Mexico's "Golden Triangle."

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