Hillary Clinton urges adopting OAS report for Haitian elections
By JACQUELINE CHARLES
PORT-AU-PRINCE – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood firm behind a controversial report on Haiti’s fraud-ridden presidential elections Sunday, telling political actors and others that the United States wants the process to move forward.
But even as Clinton urged adoption of the Organization of the American States report on Haiti’s chaotic Nov. 28 presidential elections, she also sought advice on how a quake-battered Haiti could dig itself out of the political crisis stemming from the vote.
Clinton arrived after 1 p.m. Sunday and spent the day in private back-to-back meetings with each of the three presidential candidates jockeying to replace President Rene Preval, who could be forced to leave office on Feb. 7 even though his successor has yet to be elected. She also met separately with the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Haiti, a member of the private sector and Preval before flying back to Washington.
Prior to arriving in Haiti, Clinton told reporters that the issue of Feb. 7 has to be discussed with Preval, but that the United States has “made it very clear” that it supports the OAS report. The report, which detailed fraud in every presidential camp, states the elections are salvageable with improvements in a second round. It also suggests that the placing of the second- and third-placed presidential candidates in preliminary elections results be switched.
Clinton’s visit comes amid increasing concerns that Haiti, which has remain relatively calm despite the political impasse, could plunge deeper into political instability as elections officials prepare to announce on Wednesday the final results of the presidential and legislative elections. In recent days, there has been a growing sense of nationalism and anti-international community sentiment as the opposition continues its call for the cancellation of the ballot, and government-backed candidate Jude Celestin rejects request by Preval’s to withdraw his candidacy due to intense pressure by the United States and other nations over adoption of the report.
The United States’ top diplomat to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently suggested that Haiti could lose valuable international aid if it did not accept the OAS recommendations. Recently, several individuals close to Preval, including one of his ministers, had their U.S. visas revoked.
On Sunday, Clinton re-emphasized the United States’ commitment to the people of Haiti, saying she does not envision “at this time” suspension of aid. During a visit to a cholera treatment plant operated by Partners In Health, a U.S.-supported non-governmental organization, she chatted with patients about the waterborne-disease and asked questions about the illness, which has killed more than 4,000 Haitians since October.
“She was very pleased by the response from the Ministry of Health and she pledged continuing support both in terms of financial and technical assistance,” said Nancy Dorsinville, a medical anthropologist with Partners In Health, who gave Clinton a tour of the center.
Still Haiti remains a country on the brink. After preliminary results were announced in December showing that Celestin had edged out singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, supporters of Martelly shut down the capital and two other major cities with three days of violent protests. Concerns are growing that protests planned for as early as Monday could once again lead to violence with no one able to control protesters.
On Sunday about 20 protesters greeted Clinton, waving signs calling the elections “a sham” and that she not endorse them. They also called for Preval’s departure on Feb. 7, even though a law voted on last year by the Haitian Senate allows him to remain in office until May 14 as long as his successor has not been elected.
“There are no good solutions anymore. Whatever we choose will bring some kind of problems with it,” said Reginald Boulos, the head of a private sector forum who met with Clinton on behalf of the business community. “There will be some kind of manifestations, riots maybe and [the United Nations] and police have to be ready as early as tomorrow or the next day to show they are in control of the people. The last thing you want is this for this to derail.”
Earlier in the day Boulos and seven other prominent business people met with Preval and urged him to adopt the OAS’ recommendations. Preval has been pushing for cancellation of the presidential elections, a move opposed by the United States, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Brazil and others.
Ultimately the decision on the elections remains with Preval and Haitian elections officials. On Saturday, lawyers for Celestin and Martelly defended their clients’ right to be in the runoff before a tribunal of elections officials. Martelly’s attorneys urged adoption of the OAS report while Celestin’s lawyers questioned its legality under Haitian law. They also argued that the report draws its calculations after looking at just 234 tally sheets out of more than 900.
Among the choices facing Haitian elections: adoption of the OAS’ recommendations and declaring a runoff between Martelly and Manigat; confirm the preliminary results with a Manigat and Celestin second round, or recommend cancellation of the elections. They could also declare a three-way second round.
Clinton said before landing she planned “to do my own assessment about the way forward.”
“There are many complications that are legitimate concerns raised by various figures in Haiti, not just President Preval, but others about what is the best compromise,” Clinton said before arriving in Haiti.