Haitians Ambivalent About Elections
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
On Tuesday, Haitians will go to the polls to elect a new president and parliament. It will be the first vote since the overthrow of Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago. As election workers make final preparations, Haitians are asking themselves what this vote means for a nation in the grips of gang violence and abject poverty. We have a report from Amelia Shaw.
AMELIA SHAW reporting:
Gema George(ph) is a 29-year-old computer technician in Port-au-Prince. She says she's taking time off from her job so that she can travel three hours to her home village to vote.
Ms. GEMA GEORGE (Haitian Computer Technician): [Through Translator] I think it is our obligation to go out and vote and participate in this election. If we choose someone who is serious and competent, if we all take part in this, then we can see a positive change in this country.
SHAW: Gema was born in Verettte a small village in Haiti's breadbasket, the Artibonite. She's always volunteered during election time. In the last elections, in 2000, she was in charge of Verette's voting center. She remembers the situation where she was pressured to swing the vote towards Lavalas, the party founded by Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Ms. GEORGE: (Through Translator) So, I was in charge of counting the ballots, and the senator comes in with two armed guards and says I have to add more votes to Lavalas. I said no, one vote, one ballot. I stood up to them, but I know that in other voting centers, people abandoned them to the armed men who stuffed the ballots.
SHAW: Lavalas swept the senate in what observers later called flawed elections, but Gema says she believes that this round of polling will be much different.
Ms. GEORGE: (Through Translator) But I think this time, with international aid this time, they won't be able to stuff the boxes.
SHAW: The international community has played a big role in preparing for Haiti's elections. The UN peacekeeping forces are transporting the ballots and providing security at the polling stations. Thousands of election monitors will be watching. But not everyone shares Gema's enthusiasm for the elections. Fifty-year-old Silbrun Oziaz(ph) is a voodoo priest who also works as a chauffeur for an office in the capitol.
Mr. SILBRUN OZIAZ (Haitian Voodoo Priest and Chauffeur): (Through Translator) You could take the entire electoral council or the election observers in every voting center and put them in my house and I still won't vote.
SHAW: He says solving Haiti's problems will require more than simply setting up a new government.
Mr. OZIAZ: (Through Translator) I don't believe that Haiti has a problem with its president or with its election. Haiti has a problem with its people.
SHAW: The first problem, he says, is that Haiti is deeply divided by class. While a tiny minority of elites have mansions in the mountains, 80 percent of people are unemployed, 90 percent are living on less than $2 a day, and nearly half the population is illiterate.
Mr. OZIAZ: (Through Translator) If you don't know how to write your name, you serve the bourgeoisie. You are not part of society.
SHAW: The second problem, he says, is lack of leadership.
Mr. OZIAZ: (Through Translator) Just 18 kilometers from Port-au-Prince people die of (French spoken) that's extreme malnutrition. If there were real leadership, this wouldn't happen, and no election is going to fix that.
SHAW: But even if there were a real leader, he says, who Haitians vote for doesn't matter. Like many people here, he believes Haitian politics are decided not by Haitians but by foreign powers, namely the United States. As a teenager, he joined a protest group to oust former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Duvalier fled Haiti after a popular uprising in 1986. Looking back on it, Silbrun thinks the Haitian people didn't force Duvalier out, the Americans did.
Mr. OZIAZ: (Through Translator) We shouldn't have gotten rid of Jean-Claude Duvalier like that or Aristide either. It's not good. There are laws. Why they re-arrest him, try him and put him in prison? I mean, who is Aristide really working for? The same people who sent a plane to come get him.
SHAW: Aristide fled Haiti in February 2004 on a U.S. military plane. Silbrun says Haiti is just a pawn in global politics, so let the whites from the international community come set up the government they want. Even now, he's not entirely sure the elections will happen at all after being postponed four times already. But if they do, he says, this vote isn't gonna change anything. More than likely, things are just going to get worse. For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.
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