As protests swell, international community calls for calm in Haiti



PORT-AU-PRINCE — Even as the international community continues to appeal for calm, Haitians gathered in the streets of Gonaives and elsewhere Monday to protest a decision to move ahead with election results despite allegations of voter fraud.

Thousands took to the streets to rally against what they believed was widespread wrongdoing in the day’s presidential race, including pre-stuffed ballots and thousands missing from voter rolls.

Voting bureaus were trashed and set on fire, international elections monitors withdrew in the middle of the voting, and some precincts closed due to sporadic violence.

At least a dozen of the 19 presidential candidates on the ballot have asked for the results to be voided, and a transitional government be charged with organizing new elections. They are accusing President René Préval and his INITE political party of “massive fraud” to advance his chosen presidential successor, Jude Célestin, former head of the government road building agency.

“It’s a very bad signal to the international community who is willing to help and not just from the opposition, but from the candidates of the ruling party,” Albert Ramdin, the assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States, said of Haiti’s current crisis.

Ramdin, who is in Port-au-Prince, said Haiti cannot afford a violent meltdown.

“Violence will not solve Haiti’s problems. Divisions will not solve Haiti’s problems. What Haiti needs is an understanding from all of the minds that they need to work together and the only way to do that is with proper dialogue,” he said.

The OAS and Caribbean Community led an international electoral observer mission. He said the international community knows things went wrong.

“We are not saying that was not the case. I strongly condemn the case of the death. I strongly condemn political leaders who are intimidating their supporters to become violent. Those things should not happen. The preparations should have been much more timely,” Ramdin said.

“It’s a very bad signal to the international community who is willing to help and not just from the opposition, but from the candidates of the ruling party.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Florida Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed her regret regarding the allegations of irregularities the elections and called for “immediate action to correct the situation. ”

“They must be investigated immediately and steps taken to correct this wrong perpetrated against the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people,” she said.

She too also called for calm going forward.

“Violence must be avoided,” she said. “All parties and officials must work together to ensure that all necessary steps are taken so that the Haitian people can be confident in a fair and accurate result which reflects their will.

On Sunday night the president of the Provisional Electoral Council Gaillot Dorsinvil said the day was realized and “successful.”

The CEP said only 3.56 percent or 56 of the 1,500 voting centers had problems and that the results would, for now, be recognized.

Others disagreed.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. called on the elections to be rejected by the international community.

“The international community should reject these elections and affirm support for democratic institutions in Haiti,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of The Center for Economic and Policy Research said. “Otherwise, Haiti could be left with a government that is widely seen as illegitimate.”

Weisbrot called the elections a “farce from start to finish.”

He noted that Fanmi Lavalas, the political party founded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was not allowed to participate and that the CEP had been plagued by credibility issues throughout the process.

In Haiti, as protesters walked through the streets, some snatched tires and set them aflame at major intersections. Young men threw rocks – a few hurling them over the base for the United Nations.

Meanwhile, there were reports that 1,500 protesters gathered in Saint Marc, a seaport between Gonaives and Port-au-Prince.

Herald Staff Writer Trenton Daniel contributed to this report.