Friday, November 13, 2015

Haitian election results questioned, opposition leads protests (Nov. 13, 2015)

One member of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council says he refused to sign the preliminary presidential and legislative results released last week because he doubts the credibility of the results.

Jaccéus Joseph told the Miami Herald that he expected more to be done to address allegations of electoral fraud -- but that the director of the Vote Tabulation Center said there wasn't enough time to thoroughly verify the voter registration lists against the ballots effectively cast on October 25.

(Last week the Miami Herald described the center as a secure warehouse in Port-au-Prince, staffed with technicians who meticulously reviewing votes and sequestering suspicious or fraudulent votes from the 13,275 polling stations across the country.)

The revelation comes as eight of the candidates and independent observers are demanding verification and the creation of an independent commission to review the election results. Yesterday protesters took to the streets for the second day -- accompanied by opposition presidential candidates, including the second place finisher, Jude Célestin. 

Al Jazeera is reporting a climate of fear and intimidation in the capital, with demonstrators carrying machetes and handguns. Early yesterday a charred and mutilated body was found on a busy street in one of the city's wealthier neighborhoods, the victim of a group of armed men according to area residents. 

The mess just seems to keep getting bigger. An elected legislator has accused an international staffer of the United Nations Office for Project Services of replacing ballot sheets during their transportation to the counting center. The UNOPS rejects the allegations, saying it represented a misunderstanding of the agency's role in the elections, reports the Miami Herald.

The issues are unfortunately not new, and represent an ongoing problem with this electoral year for Haiti, writes Elena Tiralongo for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She notes that Haitians were often paid to participate in rallied or to vote, and that local civil society groups reported in August that the elections and pre-election period been plagued by killings, intimidation, and violence -- factors preventing a legitimate electoral outcome.

She argues that "overall, Haitians have seen that even though the international community has provided money and deployed troops in order to support Haiti’s economic, political stability, and development, these efforts have not always translated into positive results. This has resulted in a lack of trust in Haitian leaders and the international community, which has consequentially discouraged Haitians from engaging in the democratic process." The piece has a lot of background information on the country's economic and social situation and relationship with the international community and the U.S.

A piece in NACLA notes the irony of the current protests: Five years ago, Haiti's current president, Michel Martelly, was leading street protests, alleging massive fraud on the part of the government after preliminary election results left him out of a second round. Célestin, the candidate backed by then president René Préval, had come in second, and withdrew under pressure from the U.S.

Now protesters, including Célestin, are pressuring Martelly's candidate, Jovenel Moïse of the ruling PHTK party who came in first place with 32.8 percent of the vote. The piece notes the general apathy of Haitian voters: while presidential elections in 2000 and 2006 had participation rates of nearly 60 percent, this years had less than 30 percent.

The piece is critical of the international community, which author Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research accuses of standing by the current government despite years of denunciations of undemocratic practices by the opposition -- " seemingly giving its tacit approval."

Though international observers and the U.S. State Department signaled satisfaction with the voting process itself -- which was free of the violence that marred August's legislative elections -- "the low voter turnout and mounting claims of fraud shows that the election was hardly a victory for democracy," argues an op-ed on The Hill.

On a broader level, the U.S. political intervention in Haiti has caused instability and aid efforts have largely failed, argues Mark Weisbrot, also of the CEPR, in the Huffington Post.

News Briefs

  • Colombian officials say the government will legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. The surprise change will come as an executive decree from President Juan Manuel Santos, and will regulate everything from licensing for growers to the eventual export of marijuana based products, reports the Associated Press. While there is a certain regional trend towards softening policies on marijuana, Colombia is generally associated with U.S. backed "war on drugs" policies, notes the piece. The decision comes shortly after the government suspended a long-running U.S. backed program of aerial eradication of illicit coca fields using a controversial herbicide with potentially harmful side effects for human health and the environment. The Minister of Health emphasized that the project is intended for medicinal purposes, not legalization of recreational use, reports El Tiempo. Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez spoke against the measure, saying it's a public policy that weakens the fight against drugs.
  • Santos announced yesterday that the country will vote on a pending peace deal with the FARC in May or June of next year, though the form of the vote is still uncertain, according to Colombia Reports. The FARC and the conservative opposition want a constituent assembly while the coalition and government are considering either a referendum or a plebiscite.
  • A hundred and fifty students from a rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa -- the one attended by the 43 students who were disappeared in a landmark human rights case last year -- were attacked by scores of state and federal police officers. More than a dozen students were hospitalized. About 150 students were traveling in eight buses on the highway from the state capital of Chilpancingo toward Ayotzinapa just after 4 p.m. Wednesday when state police pickups began pursuing them, reports the Los Angeles Times, based on accounts by human rights group Tlachinollan and witnesses. Authorities said the students were stopped after taking a gas truck and trying to drive it to the school.
  • Two nephews of the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's wife by U.S. authorities were detained in Haiti and flown to the U.S., where they were charged with conspiring to transport 800 kg of cocaine and ordered to be held without bail, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) The case could complicate matters for the government as it approaches critical parliamentary elections in less than a month, reports the New York Times. The case revives long-standing allegations against Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores, who as president of the National Assembly between 2006 and 2011 was accused of placing 40 relatives in government jobs. Flores is a candidate for the National Assembly in the upcoming Dec. 6 elections. The case also joins a growing list of U.S. investigations into high ranking Venezuelan officials regarding alleged drug dealing. However, at home many Venezuelans haven't even heard of the arrests, reports Reuters. The story only made the front page of one leading national newspaper, El Nacional. El Universal published a story online but did not mention that the two are related to Maduro.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced preliminary fines of $66.2 million against owners of a mine in Minas Gerais where two dams burst, killing at least seven people, destroying towns and flooding two states with mud and mine waste. And a top government lawyer is working with the country's environmental regulator to sue the mine owners for up to $1 billion in environmental damages in civil court, reports Reuters. Brazilians are angered over what they perceive as a slow and weak government response to the massive accident, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The federal judge presiding over the trial of businessman Eike Batista was ordered to retire by an appeals court yesterday. Judge Flávio Roberto de Souzaremoved from all his cases last March after he was caught driving a Porsche that was among the assets he ordered seized from Batista, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Two women in Costa Rica took advantage of a clerical error listing one of them as a man to become -- albeit briefly -- the first gay marriage in the country. Government officials moved quickly to annul the nuptials and file criminal charges against the women and the lawyer who performed the marriage. But the case is attracting attention to the issue of same-sex unions. Congress is considering several bills that would recognize same-sex unions, sparking fierce opposition from conservative parties. And the Constitutional Court is considering the case of another gay couple, whose relationship was recognized as a "de facto union" by a family judge in July, reports the Associated Press.
  • The monarch butterfly population, which winters in central Mexico, seems to be rebounding, according to Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano. But efforts to protect the butterflies in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada still face hurdles including illegal logging in their Mexico habitat, reports the Associated Press.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales demanded yesterday that Chile make an official proposal in writing regarding his landlocked country's effort to recover at least a portion of the Pacific coastline that it lost to Santiago in a 19th-century war, reports EFE.

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