Monday, January 25, 2016

Haitian election postponed indefinitely, faces constitutional power vacuum (Jan. 25, 2016)

Widespread protests and election related violence in Haiti -- in which demonstrators blocked roads and burned voting centers -- led to a last minute cancelation of the runoff election that had been scheduled for this Sunday.

The head of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said on Friday that the election would be postponed indefinitely due to violence that left it unable to guarantee the security of election workers and the 5.8 million registered voters, reports the Miami Herald.

Examples include masked gunmen firing upon electoral officials, arsonists burning down two electoral offices in Port-au-Prince and attempts to burn a school in the south used as a polling center, reports the New York Times. Workers transporting election materials were also robbed and threats were phoned in. 

The electoral council did not announce a date for the new election or explain what steps would be taken after Feb. 7, when the current president's mandate ends. The political opposition refuse to extend the term, while the government refuses to consider alternatives, according to the NYTimes. 

Some form of interim government is likely to be formed to oversee the election process, according to Reuters. The latest proposal calls for a consensus prime minister to govern under a transition government that will last no longer than 120 days, reports the Miami Herald. (Haiti Libre has the full proposal of the opposition presidential candidates who called for a boycotting of the election, the so-called G-8)

Allegations of fraud led important sectors of Haitian society -- including human rights groups, local election observers, the political opposition and the newly sworn in Senate -- to urge the delay. Jude Célestin, who came in second in October's contested presidential election, was refusing to participate in the runoff election due to allegations of widespread fraud. Politicians are attempting to negotiate a transitional government.

(See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.)

On the other hand, international observers of October's election said the first round results were accurate, despite irregularities in the process. The international community, including the U.S. which has given $33 million to supporting the Haitian electoral process, was pushing for the runoff to move forward in order to avoid a constitutional power vacuum, notes the New York Times

President Michel Martelly's mandate ends in the first week of February.
On Saturday protesters demanded Martelly's ouster, while counter protests on Sunday vowed to keep him in office. Experts feared the competing rallies could lead to violence, reports the New York Times in a later piece.

Ruling party candidate Jovenel Moise said he was mystified that electoral authorities would again postpone the runoff without immediately providing a new date. The vote was originally supposed to be held Dec. 27, reports the Associated Press.

A Senate candidate and former coup leader wanted by the U.S. for cocaine smuggling has called on his supporters to resist the "anarchists" who forced a presidential election to be canceled. The example points to the polarization of the political crisis, according to Reuters, and the difficulty in negotiating an exit.

In a statement yesterday, the U.S. State Department called for accountability for any violence related to the delayed election, saying electoral intimidation and destruction of property were "unacceptable." The U.N Secretary General and the observer missions of the E.U. and the O.A.S. also called on Haiti to move forward with elections as soon as possible and condemned the acts of violence that led to the postponement, reports the Miami Herald.

The crisis will likely reconfigure Haitian politics, according to an expert cited by the Miami Herald.

The NYTimes reviews the main players in the drama: Jovenel Moïse, the banana exporter who came in first in October's elections with 33 percent of the vote, is Martelly's handpicked successor. He was virtually unknown before the election, and many opposition leaders say the vote was rigged. Célestin, a former government construction official who came in second, was ousted from the 2010 race after election fraud.

The allegations of fraud in October's election center on the 900,000 election observers from all parties, who were permitted to vote outside of their home precincts and supposedly used the accreditations to cast multiple ballots.
Some of the wider causes of frustration in Haiti, include the cholera health crisis and misused aid funds after the 2010 earthquake, suggests Georgianne Nienaber in a photo slide show at the Huffington Post.

News Briefs

  • Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly rejected an economic emergency decree proposed by President Nicolás Maduro to confront the deepest recession in the country’s history. (See January 18th's post.) It's the first time the body has moved against the government in 17 years, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lynchings are on the rise in Mexico, a frustrated reaction to government corruption and indifference, reports the New York Times. One expert says there were 78 lynchings last year more than double that of 2014. They take place in a setting of widespread impunity, where 98 percent of all murders go unresolved and where some estimate only 12 percent of crimes are even reported.
  • The World Health Organization says the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is suspected of causing brain damage to babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, reports Reuters. The disease's rapid spread, to 21 countries and territories of the region since May 2015, is due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of the mosquito species that carries the virus, the WHO said in a statement. In Latin America, governments are urging women not to get pregnant in an attempt to limit birth defects believed to be linked to the mosquito-borne illness, reports the Washington Post. (See Friday's briefs.) El Salvador is the most extreme -- it's recommending women wait two years. Any link to the fact that it has the most draconian abortion laws in a region already known for limited access? (See Dec. 21st's post.
  • Humberto Moreira, the former Mexican state governor who was arrested last week in Spain on suspicion of laundering money, was released from jail on Friday but must remain in the country, reports the New York Times.
  • The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve a draft resolution today that calls for establishing a U.N. mission to oversee disarmament should Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels reach a final peace deal, reports Reuters.
  • One of six ormer Guantanamo Bay prisoners living in Uruguay was detained on charges of domestic violence on Friday, but released after a judge found insufficient evidence, reportsReuters.
  • U.S. banks are increasingly cutting off Mexican customers, a trend "consistent with a broader shift across the industry, in which banks around the world are retreating from emerging markets as regulators ramp up their scrutiny and punishment of possible money laundering," explains the Wall Street Journal.
  • Human Rights Watch called on the Ecuadorean government to drop terrorism charges against activists who oppose a hydroelectric project in Bolivar province. Manuela Pacheco and Manuel Trujillo are accused of participating in violent incidents during a protest in August 2012. If convicted, they face up to 8 years in prison.
  • Hollywood is looking at Cuba as a new shooting location -- but difficulties, such as Cuban government script approval and lack of commercial flights (for now) could counter the allure, reports the Miami Herald.
  • British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has told Argentinian diplomats he wants a Northern Ireland-style power-sharing deal for the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, reports the Guardian.
  • In Bolivia at the annual Alacitas festival, people buy elaborate miniatures of their wishes for the next year: toy cars, tiny crates of plastic beer, little sacks of household goods (all elaborately copied from existing brands), model plots of land and pocket-sized suitcases filled with paper laptops, passports and credit cards, reports the Guardian. The yearly event was more colorful and creative than ever, thanks to a decade-long boom in the economy and the incorporation of once-shunned Aymara superstitions into the mainstream.
  • On Friday celebrations for Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, "the country's first indigenous leader and longest-serving president saw thousands of formerly marginalized Aymara and Quechua people gather outside the national congress building in Plaza Murillo in La Paz, alongside representatives from indigenous groups from neighboring Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru," reports the Guardian.
  • Why is "Colombia" so frequently misspelled as "Columbia" in the U.S.? The Miami Herald looks at the reasons and the gripes of Colombians who are fighting back for the correct spelling. One interesting explanatory factor could be the various spellings of the Genoa-born explorer Cristoforo Colombo: who became Cristóbal Colón in Spanish and Christopher Columbus in English. (Mea culpa, it's a mistake that I've made more than once.)

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