Today is election day in Haiti and the most important day for our trip as we seek to answer the crucial question: Is Haiti ready for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power so that it may begin to lift itself out of its political and economic devastation?
Unfortunately, we have not seen evidence of this in the polling stations we have visited. Election day began this morning around 8am and by noon there have already been requests for its annulment.
Despite our extensive research and awareness of Haiti’s instability, corruption, and overall troubling political climate, little could prepare us for our first-hand experience while monitoring the polling station in the notoriously gang-infested city, Cite Soleil. Given Cite Soleil’s reputation as one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere, our visit required absolutely perfect security and subtlety as we ventured into the area.
Thankfully, we had the help of one of Cite Soleil’s most respected leaders, who was able to guide us through the city and vouch for us to the locals. In a country like Haiti, we learned firsthand that it is truly all about who you know, as our friendship with the Cite du Soleil leader provided more protection than our Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP)-issued Presse International ID badges. As we entered the city, we could see the violent glares and questioning looks of the city’s inhabitants who clearly would have protested our reporting, taken our video footage and/or requested that we leave, if it weren’t for our well respected friend letting everyone know that “we were with him.”
As we began to glance around the area, we noticed that the polling station conveyed not only a dangerous but very aggressive environment. Most significantly, we noted that we were the only international press present in Cite Soleil. Given that Cite Soleil is known to bring in the highest percentage of voters and will be one of the biggest determinates of the presidential winner, the fact that Yale students on an election monitoring trip were the only reporters there to cover the story was a bit troubling. Did the international community give up on Cite Soleil or were foreigners too scared of potential violence to accurately cover the polling process?
Either way, as soon as we started filming, Haitian residents of Cite Soleil swarmed the camera eager to tell their story. During our news coverage in Cite Soleil we heard accounts of mulitiple and various degrees of election fraud. Some witnesses reported that government-backed candidate Jude Celestin bought all of the votes in the city a couple hours before we arrived. Others stated that when they attempted to vote, their name was not on the list of voters, while names of dead citizens were on the list. Witnesses state that Jude Celestin supporters are voting under the names of the dead citizens in order to ensure that he wins the election.
Given the blatant corruption favoring Celestin, it seemed that many voters feared stating their preference for candidates, Mirlande Manigat or Michel Martelly. In fact, one man talked negatively about Jude Celestin to a member of our group and it was later stated by an observer that we should disassociate ourselves immediately with the witness since he was going to be “in trouble.”
After our experience in Cite Soleil, it is clear that corruption and election fraud are playing significant roles in Haiti’s election process. Thanks to our inside man in Cite Soleil and sound security, we were able to cover the polling station that no other international media was capable of covering. I only hope that the government and international press will stand up and address the corruption before severe country-wide political violence takes place.