Specter of Violence Hangs over Haitian Election
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Tomorrow, after many delays, Haitians will go to the polls to choose a president and a legislature. It's a process that many there want to believe in after years of instability and growing lawlessness. NPR's Corey Flintoff visited the Haitian port city of San Marc, a city some believe could see violence on election day.
COREY FLINTOFF, reporting:
San Marc is about two hours north of Port-au-Prince on a dusty road that's riddled with axel-snapping potholes. The city figured prominently in the rebellion that lead to the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide because it was where Aristide's police failed to stop rebels who were approaching the capital. It's also notorious as a place where two years ago scores of people, some say as many as 100, were murdered. Aristide supporters were accused of hunting down and killing their political opponents. Because of that, San Marc has the reputation of being a fiercely divided city, and a potential flashpoint for election violence.
On this morning though, the town was calm and quiet. People in their Sunday clothes climbed the stairs to the voting center to pick up their identity cards. Jean Richard Artiste Jacque(ph) has a slight mistake on his card. One of his names is spelled wrong, but the woman behind the table assures him that he'll be able to vote and that he can bring the card back to have it redone after the election.
Marie Jacque Piquot(ph) works at the voting center. She says most of the cards have been distributed, about 85 percent. But she says people are still coming and the deadline for picking them up has been extended another day. Piquot also says San Marc is peaceful now and she's not seeing the animosities that used to divide the town among the people who come to receive their voting cards.
Ms. MARIE JACQUE PIQUOT (Employee, St. Marc Voting Center): (Through Translator) Things were like that before, divided. But now everyone is working to go forward. Nobody would want to stay in the situation we were in, in this primitive situation where dog eats dog.
FLINTOFF: Some of the remaining anger has been translated into hostility against former president Rene Preval, the front-runner in tomorrow's election. Preval was widely seen as a protégé of Aristide and there was trouble a few weeks ago when he attempted to speak in San Marc. City officials say Preval supporters built a speaker stand that blocked an important street. When they refused to move it to a nearby space, police pulled it down. The situation escalated and someone set fire to a big banner with the candidate's picture on the front of Preval headquarters. Nobody was hurt and Preval was able to speak later.
LeFalles(ph) Walter is a local judge and a candidate for the House of Representatives. He says the rival groups that once split the city have less influence today. The pro-Aristide group is no longer organized and its opponents are no longer active.
Mr. LEFALLES WALTER (Candidate, Haitian House of Representatives): (Through Translator) I see some people saying that if they don't do well in these elections the city of San Marc will be turned to ashes. But they are not the only ones to live in San Marc. We live here, too.
FLINTOFF: One issue remains hanging over San Marc. The people who are allegedly responsible for the political killings still haven't been tried. Yvon Neptune, Aristide's former prime minister, is in jail on charges relating to the murders along with some other top officials. Neptune was held without charges until just a few months ago and his cause won the support of several members of Congress. He's denied the allegations and sought to draw attention to his case with a prolonged hunger strike. LeFalles Walters says justice has been too slow.
Mr. WALTERS: (Through Translator) Does that indicate that a head and hand wants to prevent them from being tried? They should have been tried already. If they're innocent they should be set free and if they're guilty they should be sentenced.
FLINTOFF: But Walter and others say they don't think the court case will affect tomorrow's vote. United Nations officials who are working on the elections in San Marc, say they don't care who wins. But they say they do want to see happy losers, or at least losers who believe the results were fair. LeFalles Walters says he believes the election will be credible and if he loses he'll help whoever wins. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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