The Haiti Democracy Project fielded fifteen international observers accredited by the Provisional Electoral Commission to witness Haiti’s historic February 7, 2006 elections. We achieved coverage in three departments: Ouest, Nord, and Nord-Est.
The Blockage by the Dominican Authorities
Although two of our Dominican observers made it across, seven others arrived at the border at Dajabon only on Monday, February 6 and were prevented from crossing by Dominican border authorities, citing ever-shifting technicalities. All seven were duly accredited by the CEP and had the same Dominican identification cards used routinely by thousands of Dominicans to cross every month. The proof of this was that three of them who remained were allowed to cross Wednesday, February 8 with exactly those documents. Unfortunately, these three observers, who swelled our total ultimately to eighteen, arrived too late to observe the process as post-electoral issues were minor.
The fundamental reason for blocking the Dominicans’ participation was the thinly-disguised contempt with which Dominican officialdom views all things Haitian. Given that both nations share the same island, it is difficult to say which nation this attitude hurts most, Haiti or the Dominican Republic.
As director of the Haiti Democracy Project, I crossed the river on Monday, February 6 to remonstrate with Dominican border authorities. Members of the Haiti Democracy Project had previously met with Dominican ambassador to the United States Flavio Espinal and Dominican director of the Haiti desk at the foreign ministry in Santo Domingo Ambassador Garcia in an effort to win the support of the Dominican government for the participation of their nationals in this historic process. Despite fulsome expressions of support at these meetings, I was prevented at the border from speaking by phone to the Dominican director of immigration to appeal the blockage.
Although Dominicans express resentment of Haitian protests against Dominican mistreatment of the Haitians, such as occurred during the visit of President Lionel Fernandez and later in an incident at Ouanaminthe, the Dominican official attitudes encountered by the Haiti Democracy Project indicate that these protests are fully justified. The Dominican official attitudes toward Haiti can only be characterized as primitive.
The self-defeating Dominican approach to Haiti should form an important part of the U.S. diplomatic dialogue with the Dominican Republic because major international objectives for Haiti cannot be achieved with the continuation of this attitude.
The Haiti Democracy Project is glad to report that the two Dominican nationals, Jaime Blondin Martinez and Uclenia Pena Pena, who did participate performed excellently as observers, ranged widely over the Nord-Est Department, and met no hostility of any kind by any Haitian throughout their entire stay.
The Haiti Democracy Project’s mission:
Dr. Gerald Gracia, Washington, D.C.
Paul A. Pumphrey, Brothers and Sisters International, Washington, D.C.
Gerald Gourdain, Beltsville, Md.
Jaime Blondin Martinez, Cabarete, Dominican Republic
James R. Morrell, Haiti Democracy Project, Washington, D.C.
Uclenia PeZa PeZa, Santo Domingo
Kathie Scarrah, Washington, D.C.
Accredited but prevented from crossing the border by Dominican authorities:
Ysrael Reyes Duarte
Tedis Rosario Hernandez*
Arely Enanacion Montero*
*Crossed on February 8.
Chief of Port-au-Prince mission: Vicki Carney
Voting centers covered in Cité Soleil, Delmas, Petionville, and Carrefour
Jean Charlet, Boston
Peterson LaPlante, Boston
Elmide Méléance, Hyattsville, Md.
John Merrill, Alexandria, Va.
Molton Michel, New York
Ulrick Ricot, New York
Rev. Garry Theodate, Boston
Shawnta R. Walcott, Bethesda, Md.
Haitian support staff:
Also providing essential assistance:
Lionel Delatour, founding member, Haiti Democracy Project
Overview of the voting
The overwhelming impression was of a population determined not to be counted out, a population coming long distances and waiting in long, slow-moving lines, all pushed up against each other, in order to cast their vote for an improving Haiti. The occasional person who broke in line or shouted was outnumbered a hundred to one by those waiting silently and patiently, some starting at 5:00 a.m. and others staying beyond nightfall, in the infinitely slow-moving lines. The overall orderliness and earnestness of the voters and polling officials can now confer on the resulting government the precious gift of legitimacy, on which all else depends: security, development, job-creation, environment.
For those who had observed the same sort of dignified voting day on May 21, 2000, the differences were two, both owing to the greater foreign presence:
1. The polling stations were needlessly clustered in “Voting Centers” rather than spread out in the communities close to where the voters live, as in 2000 and all previous elections. That the turnout this time nevertheless appears to have equaled the 2000 level is further testament to the Haitian masses? patience. Not a single voter interviewed by this observer in the Nord-Est department expressed fears over security of polling places and the province was completely calm.
2. The almost-complete lack of controversy immediately after the vote contrasted strongly with the incessant disputes over stolen ballots and ballot-box stuffing by Aristide?s party that marred the May 2000 election and led in a direct line to the erasing of a million votes for opposition candidates by the central counting office. In that case, security of the ballots was entrusted to chaotic departmental electoral bureaus and poorly-secured police stations. In this case, the sealed sacks of votes were taken to MINUSTAH bases where they were in perfect security before being delivered to the Provisional Electoral Commission in Port-au-Prince.
Given the high sums the foreign community invested in this election, and the participation of high-level, capable U.N. staff in the election preparation, it?s hard to understand why foreign U.N. personnel were not present in a supportive administrative role at the voting centers on voting day. All the voting stations visited by this observer opened late. Long lines were forming outside while the officials were still inside counting their ballots. To be sure, the ballots were delivered on time early in the morning of the voting day at the precincts visited by this observer and for this the United Nations and CEP must be given credit. But some crucial detail always seemed to be overlooked. For example, the package included candles, but not matches, and the election workers didn?t have matches either. So the two hours between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. when the ballots were there were wasted because the candles couldn?t be lit, and the ballot-counting didn?t begin until dawn. The polling station then wouldn?t open until 7:30 a.m. and by then long lines had formed. By opening on time these polling stations could have stayed ahead of some of those lines.
Another obvious detail seemingly overlooked was clear directions to the voters to vote for only one presidential candidate. A large number of ballots, more than 10 percent of those observed in one precinct, were spoiled by voters voting for more than one. There was no clear direction on the ballot to vote for only one. It can of course be argued that they implicitly should have known. But a good third of those voting in the Nord-Est department were illiterate and could not even sign their names. A major reason for the slow lines was the time that these voters took to puzzle out the ballot. That some voters thought they could express several preferences is to be expected, and it is the electoral authorities, not the voters, who are to blame for the high numbers of spoiled ballots. As a result, all over the country tens of thousands of voters stood in line all day to vote only to have their presidential ballots thrown out, although their legislative ballots may have been valid..
In the Nord-Est province, foreign security was present in the MINUSTAH troops outside the big voting stations and spot-checking the ones up-country. During the day, a CIVPOL French policeman was observed warning the party pollwatchers against helping people vote, since that was a form of interference. But given the enormous sums invested in these elections, and the relatively low numbers of voting centers needed to be covered, there should have been a foreign election worker acting as a fixer and organizer at each voting center. If the Haiti Democracy Project could mobilize twenty-two foreign observers with no funding, the United Nations could have mobilized advisers to rotate among and cover all of the seven hundred voting centers with its $60 million of foreign funding.
Yet all this fumbling was overcome by the Haitian masses? infinite patience and seeming acceptance of such incompetence as the natural order of things. Truly then, as the 2000 election commissioner Léon Manus said in similar circumstances, “Glory to the Haitian people!”