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Haiti Support Group hopes that fears of election-day violence will prove to be unfounded

Haiti Support Group press release

Transmitted to AlterPresse on 6 February 2006

In common with many others concerned with the elections to be held in Haiti on Tuesday, 7th February 2006, the British solidarity organisation, the Haiti Support Group hopes that fears of election-day violence will prove to be unfounded.

We note the words of Helen Spraos, Christian Aid’s country representative, who said: "All it will take is for a few people to start shooting into the air in certain places, and people will not risk coming out to vote."

Yolette Etienne, Oxfam’s Country Programme Manager for Haiti, shares these fears, "Many residents of Port-au-Prince have told us they are too scared to make the journey to vote on Tuesday. Innocent people in Haiti have endured a wave of violence in the last two years. Rape is common in Port-au-Prince and this is directly linked to the proliferation of arms."

Etienne’s comment about the proliferation of small arms and the link to sexual violence and other types of violence in Port-au-Prince over the last two years highlights one of the very great failures of the so-called ’transition’ in Haiti, and that is the miserable failure of the interim government and the UN peacekeeping mission (the MINUSTAH) to implement a disarmament programme.

The Haiti Support Group is staggered to read a recent report revealing that, while similar UN-run disarmament and demobilisation programmes have helped disband guerrilla and other armed factions in Sierra Leone, Mozambique and El Salvador, the UN programme in Haiti has so far has managed to collect just 30 weapons! The MINUSTAH force of some 7,000 troops and nearly 2,000 police has been in Haiti since June 2004.

Once the elections are over and international attention rapidly fades, the issues of the widespread availability of small arms and armed violence will remain.

While realising that what happens in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has a big impact on attitudes outside the city, the Haiti Support Group is keen to stress that the rest of the country, where three-quarters of the population lives, is relatively calm and free of violence. Cite Soleil is not Port-au-Prince, and Port-au-Prince is not Haiti.

We should also add that elections are not the be-all and end-all of democracy.

Hervens Jeanty, the coordinator of KORAL, a small projects fund, supported by Christian Aid, commented, "The candidates are more interested in sloganeering than attacking the real social problems. Nonetheless, most Haitians are fed up with suffering from disunity, poverty and insecurity. That’s why many people think that the elections are a necessary step towards building a nation and fighting against poverty."

Haitian organisations involved in the long-term and very necessary work of re-buliding a vibrant civil society movement for fundamental change in the country are wary about the expectations raised by the elections.

Batay Ouvriye, the popular organisation working with newly-organised unions, is clear that, as far as it is concerned, "these elections are a way for the ruling class to rearrange their affairs on the backs of the poor majority." The organisation is calling for activists and militants to try and preserve their autonomy because, while controlled by the ruling class and the imperialist powers, "the elections will not provide any solution to the profound crisis afflicting the working people of Haiti."

Joseph Georges, the coordinator of SAKS, a non-governmental organisation working in support of the community radio network, expressed similar scepticism about the elections, questioning their value in a society where impunity for crimes remains unchallenged.

In an article entitled, "Elections in a climate of impunity: what can change?". Georges wrote, "We see the elections taking place in the country with many presidential candidates being people with serious records, people accused of involvement in crimes, in corruption and in drug-trafficking, etc...The state accepts these people as candidates. Society accepts them as candidates. What examples are we giving our children and youth to look up to?"

Charles Arthur
Haiti Support Group