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Haiti Bloodshed Blocks a Ballot

3 minute read
John Greenwald

All night long Port-au-Prince was rocked with the sound of mortar and machine- gun fire. It was not a good preparation for Haiti’s first free presidential election in 30 years, scheduled to take place the next day. The home of at least one election official was hit with mortar shells, and more than 20 people died in Port-au-Prince and other cities during the night.

Nonetheless, at 6 a.m. on Sunday hundreds of people lined up at polls around the country. Tiny paper flags and balloons decorated the voting areas, and some crowds gaily sang religious songs. But soon wandering mobs were attacking voting stations, and an army contingent shot at a group of journalists trying to cover the election. Outside a school in Port-au-Prince a group of 50 people armed with machetes and rocks attacked 100 people waiting to vote and killed at least 15 of them.

The violence seemed to be coming from all sides. At least part of it was reportedly from former Tonton Macoutes, members of the disbanded secret police. But the military, which in some areas was out of control, was also apparently responsible. Finally at 8:50 a.m. Pierre Shavet, an official of the independent electoral council, issued a declaration that “the elections are canceled.”

That stark announcement crushed the last hope that Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, could move easily toward democracy. Since the overthrow of Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier in February 1986, the nation has been ruled by an army-dominated provisional government headed by Lieut. General Henri Namphy. The 22 months of military rule, though, have been a period of unrest, as the country stood on the brink of anarchy. In some areas law and order have virtually broken down, and an estimated 500 people have been killed in random and often gruesome violence. At the same time, the country was struggling with democratic procedures that were unfamiliar to Haitians after three decades of dictatorship by the Duvalier family.

Haiti’s difficult struggle to find its way toward democracy could be seen on the ballots that a few voters got to use on Sunday. In the election for president as well as for 27 senators and 77 representatives, people were given a separate ballot for each candidate. Since some 80% of the country is illiterate, the ballots showed a picture of the candidate and his party symbol. Twenty-two people were running for president alone.

The unrest that has been plaguing the country since Duvalier fled reached a peak as voting day drew near. Two presidential candidates were killed, and scattered violence took place in both the capital and in the countryside. In the week before the voting was to have taken place at least 28 people were killed in election-related incidents. The canceled election is unlikely to end the unrest and violence, as Haiti struggles to find its way into the post- Duvalier era. Said Conserve Dorleans, 21, an unemployed worker who had been eagerly awaiting the election: “We have our brigades, and we know what to do.”

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