E-Day: Fraud, Riots and Calls for Annulment

Trip Leader Dave Fils-Aimé films the riots in lower Port-au-Prince, led by Wyclef Jean and Michel Martelly. Wyclef is a was former band member of The Fuguees, and an aspirant to the Presidency of Haiti until the Conseil Electoral Provisionnel rejected his candidacy.  Michel Martelly is also a musician and a current presidential candidate.  Martelly is among 12 presidental candidates (out of 18) who have claimed that yesterday’s elections were a fraud and should be cancelled.  You will have to wait until we screen our documentary to see this amazing piece of footage, but check out “Election Time,” Wyclef’s music video here.

Trip Leader Alexandra van Nievelt writes another article about the group’s experiences on E-Day, in Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. Check it out if you can read in Spanish!

Translated excerpt:

Others fear for their physical integrity.  “I am here in front of the camera so that they won’t shoot me in the streets later,” says a man.  “They told me that either I voted for Célestin or I didn’t vote at all.”  Someone murmurs that the supporters of the pro-government candidate “have guns” and that our interviewee is going to “get in trouble.”  Even so, dozens of people surround the cameramen to repeat to the world the same thing over and over again: there are no elections in Haiti.”

By Alexandra van Nievelt (alexandra.vannievelt@yale.edu)

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Haitians Face Elections Dissatisfied with their Government and Uncomfortable with Foreign Presence

The elections today… civic rebuilding or political earthquake?  Find out in Trip Leader Alexandra van Nievelt’s article in Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio.  And expect another about the actual E-Day  on Monday!

A translated excerpt:

Many see the elections as another catastrophe in the sequence of cosmic vindictiveness against the nation: the January 12 earthquake, the cholera break, and hurricane Tomas

By Alexandra van Nievelt  (alexandra.vannievelt@yale.edu)

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Alleged Election Fraud in Cite Soleil

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.

By Ashley

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Trip Mentioned in Chilean News

Our trip was mentioned in El Mercurio, one of the most important Chilean newspapers.  Chilean trip leader Alexandra van Nievelt is quoted on the anti-UN sentiment in Haiti.  Click here to read the full article.

Pero las denuncias por el origen del cólera han dejado entrever una realidad mucho mas inquietante: una nación incómoda con lo que algunos consideran “una fuerza de ocupación”.

Alexandra van Nievelt, una chilena que está en Haití liderando a un grupo de alumnos de la Universidad de Yale que prepara un documental sobre la reconstrucción política del país, comentó a “El Mercurio” que en las calles de Puerto Príncipe ha sido testigo de varias opiniones contra la Minustah.

“Lo que he escuchado más a menudo es que lo único que ha hecho con algún grado de eficiencia es mantener a René Préval en el poder, lo que tiene sentido porque las Naciones Unidas están aquí invitadas por el gobierno, y por ende su deber principal es reforzar al gobernante”, señaló la chilena, que el domingo acompañará a un grupo de observadores de la OEA.

Alexandra recuerda que, en el pasado, situaciones como ésta en Haití han llevado a una movilización de las Fuerzas Armadas y una consecuente transición del poder.

Sin embargo, el gran obstáculo para esto es que el país ni siquiera tiene fuerzas armadas propias desde 1995.”

Catalina Saiz de la Llana, “Polémica antes de las elecciones: ¿Cuándo deberían salir las tropas extranjeras de Haití?” in El Mercurio.

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Yale Students at l’Université Notre Dame d’Haïti

Yesterday we met with Haitian college students from Quisqueya, CEDI, and the University of Notre Dame, at the latter’s campus.  The event was set up by the Cultural Affairs officers from the United States Embassy.  We had the opportunity to tell the students about the goal of our trip and the interviews we had thus far.  Because many of the students were in medical school we discussed the differences between the Haitian and American college and medical school systems.

We also heard students talk about the complex issues caused by foreign medical aid workers.  The students noted that there still people without medical care, but that the free care offered by aid organizations makes it difficult for Haitian doctors to find jobs.  We also discussed the presidential election and the differences between Haitian and American elections.

Students had a wide variety of opinions on the election, some supporting Martley, others Baker, and others Celestin.  However, the majority of students supported Manigat, citing her extensive education as an important political asset, in comparison to other candidates.

Many students expressed disappointment with the candidates and the election processes.  They argued none of the candidates had a solid detailed plan for rebuilding the Haitian economy.  Instead, they felt that the candidates spent their resources into putting up posters and staging rallies, while failing to explain how they plan to help Haiti.  Others also feared that politicians would fail to keep even the rather ambiguous promises that they made.

We then explained the party system in the United States, as our two party system is rather different than Haiti’s system with over sixty parties.  After the structured discussion we broke into small groups and engaged in dialogue about a wide variety of topics.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to Haitian students around my age about their opinions toward politics, education, and life.  It seemed that in general we shared similar attitudes toward things: frustration toward politics, gratefulness toward our educational opportunities, and anxiety toward life after school.  I hope that the meeting will lead to future contact and connections.

By Cameron Rotblat (cameron.rotblat@yale.edu)

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Haitians helping Haitians: sustainable change

In Haiti there is a lot of talk about NGOs, big organizations and “white people” helping Haiti, but today we visited a project set up and run entirely by Haitians, without any NGO money to help the country forwards. After the earthquake Tanya Lemere saw people fighting over crackers and many were jealous of the little she had. Together with Carel Pedre she starterd the Sunday project, which brings food every Sunday to specifically children in Cite Soleil, one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of Port-au-Prince. We are not allowed to go there. They have plans to expand to giving education.

They were critical about other NGO’s “it’s a vacation for them”, “they get to do in Haiti what Haitians don’t get to do; go to the beach, stay in expensive hotels etc.” On the other hand their help is needed, as Haiti cannot survive by itself. There is no way they will accept donations, only small contributions from friends; “I don’t want people to think that I used NGO money to buy my Iphone”. In short, money and power corrupts in Haiti, they do not want that to happen, even if they can do more good with it.

We decided on a couple of keys to sustainable change:

1. Fall in love with Haiti – and you will – with the people and the countryside
2. Build trust: Haitians have been betrayed by outsiders as well as their own people
3. Involve Haitians – they do not obey, give them chances
4. Stay small
5. If you want to help, help the government first

The more I talk to people here, it becomes clear that for sustainable large-scale development, it cannot be done without a strong government. If the candidates in this elections can create that; for now it remains unlikely.

Want to help them?! A small donation is appreciated and will help in a good way:


Or join them on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=106188372756056

By Anne van Bruggen (anne.vanbruggen@yale.edu)

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Searching for truth in Haiti

We take it for granted that journalists tell the truth. It is a reporter’s job to go out into the world, dig into stories that other people do not know of, and share the finding with the rest of the society. But this scenario assumes the possibility of a key factor: the freedom of expression. This freedom, such an ubiquitous and indelible right in the United States, is something very hard to find in Haiti.

Today, we had the opportunity to meet with Carel Pedre, a prominent radio journalist based in Port-au-Prince. He was the first person to post pictures of the earthquake on Facebook and Twitter, and he became a prominent figure in the international media in the later weeks as the rest of the world zeroed in on what was going on in Haiti. It was interesting to hear Pedre’s take on social media, which he described as a democratizing force, especially in a place like Haiti where timely and accurate information about current events is not readily available. Though most Haitians do not own computers or have access to the Internet, most people frequent cybercafes, which dot the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince. These Internet hotspots have become portals through which average Haitians can receive updates on pressing issues such as the current cholera situation and upcoming presidential elections.

But social media has also become a refuge for Haitian journalists, who feel immense political pressures everyday. One issue that came up in our discussion was the murder of Jean Dominique, a prominent Haitian journalist who was famous for speaking out against Duvalier dictatorship. Despite threats on his life, Dominique continued to broadcast his views on his radio until he was killed in 2000, a crime for which no one has yet been prosecuted. Through this example, Pedre illustrated the fears Haitian journalists feel everyday when they try to tell stories that politicians do not want to be told. It was sobering to hear him say so frankly that he feels the need to censor himself for the safety of his family. Because he cannot broadcast his views on his show, Pedre and other journalists have instead taken to the Internet, where they can post articles and editorials anonymously. And if Pedre’s Facebook and Twitter followers are any indication, the Haitian people are listening to what he is saying.

By Eileen Shim (eileen.shim@yale.edu)

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A country of contrasts – Meeting the peacekeepers

From the crowded, dirty, chaotic streets of Port-au-Prince we drive into the clean, organized and safe UN base to meet with the senior country directors of UNDP (UN Development Program). They told us about the general current efforts of the UNDP, their aid for the elections and other obstacles the UN is facing. In response to the recent anti-UN sentiment going around the country, they told us that their own tests showed no indication that the Nepalese soldiers are responsible for the cholera outbreak, while the international evidence is piling up in favor. The UN downplayed it as a political manipulation in light of the upcoming elections. It became clear development is a slow, frustrating, immensely difficult and long process. At the base there were 500 people working 7 days a week to help Haiti a step forward, but considering the criticism, is it really effective? “We have to remain optimistic”, the director responded.

After the talk we went to “The Deck” for some lunch. One of the most interesting and somehow shocking experiences: all the white people, we saw nowhere in Haiti, gathered there, eating some really good food. Everything was readily available from Steak to Calamari to Burrito’s while just across the street people are eating mudpies to stay alive… It’s a country of huge contrasts.

By Anne van Bruggen (anne.vanbruggen@yale.edu)

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All in one: Voodoo, Politics & Art

Today we visited the The Oloffson, a historic Haitian hotel, and spoke with its owner Richard Morse.  The hotel has been described as a type of tropical Gothic gingerbread mansion.  The hotel felt as if it came right out of a Graham Greene novel, with journalist and foreigners populating the airy bar.  Only through later research did I learn that it was in fact the inspiration for Graham Greene’s “The Comedians.”  Walking from the hotel into the garden, where the interview took place, I was struck by the hundreds of pieces of Voodoo art that decorate the property.  Many of the pieces were rather strange, with shrunken skulls, ghosts, and skelton-like figures, but were all very intricate and artistic.

Mr. Morse discussed his childhood in the United States, and the difficulties he faced being a half-hatiain in a country full of racial tensions and the way in which the rhythms of voodoo drew him to Haiti.  He talked about the corruption rampant in Haitian politics and the way in which many Haitian politicians have said one thing to get elected and done very different things while in office.  He argued that the Martelly is the best candidate for Haiti, as he does not have connections to Preval unlike Manigat and Celestine, and can inspire the public.

The interview was particularly interesting as he discussed the way in which secret deals and backstabbing have played a very important role in recent Haitian politics.  Additionally, he provided an interesting explanation of Voodoo and its importance in Haitian religious life, as he compared the extended pantheon of spirits to the saints in Catholicism.  He also made an interesting comparison between Voodooism and Judaism, one involving the escape of slaves and one involving the revolt of slaves.  Finally, he adamantly argued that the television media actively works to misinform the public about Haiti, as the small number of networks means that they can dictate the story and chose to ignore things that fail to fit into their story-line.  I felt that the interview was provided a interesting peak into Voodooism and a better understanding of the intricacies of Haitian politics.

By Cameron Rotblat (cameron.rotblat@yale.edu)

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Out of tents, into houses

Today was our first day of actually getting to meet and interview people and start gathering the base for our documentary.  Our first stop was at the over-air conditioned, gorgeously-constructed American embassy in Port-au-Prince, where we spoke with Pierre Antoine Louis, the head political officer, Emily Godfrey with American Citizen Services and Regine Rene with Bureau of Public Affairs.   They gave us a security briefing and an overview of the State Department’s assessments of the dangers facing Americans in Haiti and through answering our questions, a general idea of the official American stance on the situation in Haiti and the elections. Some of the main things I took away were that they see no reason why the election wouldn’t be carried out as planned, that a main obstacle is that the better educated middle class will be underrepresented in the polls because of fears over violence and cholera and simply not having time to take off work to stand in line for hours, and that there are lots of things that American Foreign Service officers are “not authorized to comment on.”

After that we drove up through the hills into Petionville to talk with JP Bak and his wife, Ula, who are the founders of the Dania Foundation, an NGO that works on the postearthquake rebuilding effort mainly through providing mortgages to middle class Haitians who could not otherwise afford to rebuild their houses.  They are also building their houses according to a new construction material that is lighter and better able to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes than concrete and working to establish an engineering school in Port-au-Price.

After speaking with JP and Ula we interviewed Smoye Noisy, a well-known Haitian movie actor and host of the TV show “Avant Voter” (meaning “before voting”) on which he has interviewed each of the 19 presidential candidates.  Some of the things he mentioned to us were: how the Haitian election process is so different from it is in the West because the candidates don’t have to present a political strategy or ideology as the voting is more often based on charisma and familiarity than anything else, how the mulatto elite, as the main funding source for the candidates, have huge political sway that it is hard to avoid, and regarding foreign aid to Haiti that it is “much easier to prevent than to heal”  That was a recurring theme that it is important to remember in any development work: when treating the symptoms don’t lose sight of the big picture need to treat the disease.

By Leslie Bull (leslie.bull@yale.edu)

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