Memo: Haiti leader sought to ‘orchestrate’ vote

— A leaked memo by a U.S. ambassador to Haiti said President Rene Preval’s primary concern ahead of last weekend’s election for his successor was to ensure the winner would not force him into exile.

The June 2009 memo sent under the name of then U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson was released Wednesday by Wikileaks along with an earlier cable about Preval.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it could not comment on the documents’ authenticity.

The memo, which shows an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Preval administration and Haiti in general, has surfaced at an awkward moment. Votes in the disputed election are now being counted.

It says that Preval’s “overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Preval.”

The document could feed opposition-stoked rumors that Preval rigged the election to elect his preferred successor, state-run construction company chief Jude Celestin. That perception has fueled violent clashes between opposition-candidate supporters and U.N. peacekeepers.

Preval’s Unity party denied it perpetrated fraud and accused Celestin’s rival candidates of trying to foment a coup d’etat.

The memo, dated seven months before an earthquake destroyed most of Haiti’s capital, paints the now 67-year-old president as isolated, independent, “wary of change and suspicious of outsiders.” It calls his political decisionmaking “erratic,” says he neglected his health after a bout with protstate cancer and had returned to drinking.

But it also characterizes Preval as “Haiti’s indespensible man” and sole influential politican.

“Managing Preval will remain challenging during the remainder of his term yet doing so is key to our success and that of Haiti,” the memo said.

It said his main concern was life after the presidency, a natural worry in a country where six presidents have fled or been driven into exile since 1986 – in Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s case, twice – and another was imprisoned.

It noted Preval “angrily denied charges that he manipulated the electoral process” for the delayed 2009 legislative elections while rejecting that he was responsibile for the electoral commission’s exclusion of the still exiled Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party. That exclusion carried over to the current election.

On Sunday, nearly every opposition candidate joined together while polls were open to accuse Preval of stealing the election for Celestin and called for the vote to be thrown out. Hundreds attending their mid-day news conference chanted “Arrest Preval!”

The two leading contenders reversed their position Monday. But one, musician Michel Martelly, played on Preval’s fears by telling him through a news conference: “Haiti does not want you anymore.” Martelly dodged Haitian reporters’ questions if he was calling for Preval to be exiled.

A joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission say the election appeared to be valid, though it confirmed instances of fraud, voter intimidation and the inability of untold thousands to cast ballots because of confusion on the voter rolls.

A delegation of U.S. Congress members in Haiti for the vote asked the U.S. government to withhold its endorsement of the elections until the fraud claims can be investigated.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Preval on Wednesday for the electoral problems, saying he had ignored urged reforms.

“As a result, the elections have been fraught with numerous reports of irregularities and fraud,” Lugar said.

The Associated Press