By Dan Katz
Haitian authorities have rescheduled the first round of presidential
and parliamentary elections for 7 February. The polls, originally set
for last November, have been postponed four times because of
so-called "security and organisational issues".
Thirty five presidential candidates and some 1,300 legislative
candidates are set to run in elections which will be the first since
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was pushed into exile nearly two
The Haiti en Marche newspaper suggests political reasons are factors
behind the postponement: "informal opinion polls confirm the
irresistible advance of Rene Préval, the presidential candidate of
the Hope platform that is dominated by electoral heavyweights of the
Lavalas movement [Aristide's party]. There is a real panic reigning
in certain sectors which overturned the Lavalas regime in February
2004, and sent president Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile."
Every step of the process of election organisation has been completed
late. Voter registration stretched past the August 2005 deadline into
October, because registration facilities were not installed in poor
urban and rural areas. Eventually about 3.5 million people
registered, out of an estimated 4.2 million eligible to vote.
A number of important political figures are, however, in jail.
One of the most popular potential presidential candidates, and
government critic, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, is four months into his
second stay in prison. Haiti's last constitutional Prime Minister,
Yvon Neptune, has spent seventeen months in prison. The US ambassador
has called Neptune's detention a "violation of human rights, an
injustice, and abuse of power."
Dozens of grassroots activists are being held illegally.
In November, Louis Joinet, the UN Human Rights Commission's
Independent Expert on Haiti, called a press conference to denounce
the government's illegal jailing of political opponents. And
according to Amnesty International, "politically motivated arbitrary
detentions, extra-judicial executions, deliberate and arbitrary
killings of civilians, rape, death threats and intimidation are
routine and are perpetrated with impunity".
Journalists face constant danger. Many have been threatened,
attacked, kidnapped or murdered.
Ex-soldiers and right-wing militia members have become the de facto
authorities in many areas of the countryside, while in the cities,
political violence is compounded by organised crime, fuelled by the
Violence has claimed almost 800 lives since September 2004.
Former UN Human Rights Observer in Haiti, Brian Concannon, comments,
"Over and over again over the last six months, Haitian police, and
even troops from MINUSTAH, the UN mission in Haiti, have gone into
neighbourhoods known as strongholds of government opponents, killing,
maiming, and arresting people and destroying houses. In October,
MINUSTAH's top human rights official called the human rights
situation in Haiti "catastrophic", citing summary executions,
torture, and illegal arrests."
These same (pro-Lavalas) areas are also home to lumpen gangs who
terrorise and extort the local population, carry out criminal
activities including kidnapping, and also shoot at UN troops.
The UN currently has a 7,000-strong force in Haiti. Some parts of the
capital remain no-go areas for the UN troops
Patrick Elie, who served as Haiti's Minister of Defense during
Aristide's first presidency, comments: "What we are seeing now is an
attempt by the economic elite - after the Lavalas movement, and after
the emergence of the masses on the political scene - to try and win
back the monopoly not only on economic power but also on political
"I've seen the police behaving like the old army [the army was
abolished in 1994]. The corruption seeped in slowly and now,
especially after February 29 2004, what we see is the militarization
of the policeŠ Charles Baker, who is one of the leaders of the 184
[Group 184: the coalition led by Haiti's business bosses that served
as the domestic political force behind the February 2004 removal of
Aristide] is running for president. He wants to increase the police
size to 40,000 members and create an army of 20,000."
Various former death-squad, ex-army and right-wing thugs are also
running in the elections.
There are no labour movement candidates standing in this election
which could give voice to the working-class. The militant
labour-federation Batay Ouvriye has issued statements denouncing the
violence of the UN, police and the gangs, but considers itself a
union organisation, rather than a political party.