Clinton urges adopting OAS report for Haitian elections
JACQUELINE CHARLES, The Miami Herald, January 31, 2011
PORT-AU-PRINCE - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood firm behind a controversial report on Haiti's fraud-ridden presidential elections Sunday, telling political actors and others that the United States wants the process to move forward. But even as Clinton urged adoption of the Organization of the American States report on Haiti's chaotic Nov. 28 presidential elections, she also sought advice on how a quake-battered Haiti could dig itself out of the political crisis stemming from the vote.
Clinton arrived after 1 p.m. Sunday and spent the day in private back-to-back meetings with each of the three presidential candidates jockeying to replace President Rene Preval, who could be forced to leave office on Feb. 7 even though his successor has yet to be elected. She also met separately with the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Haiti, a member of the private sector and Preval before flying back to Washington.
Prior to arriving in Haiti, Clinton told reporters that the issue of Feb. 7 has to be discussed with Preval, but that the United States has "made it very clear" that it supports the OAS report. The report, which detailed fraud in every presidential camp, states the elections are salvageable with improvements in a second round. It also suggests that the placing of the second- and third-placed presidential candidates in preliminary elections results be switched.
Clinton's visit comes amid increasing concerns that Haiti, which has remain relatively calm despite the political impasse, could plunge deeper into political instability as elections officials prepare to announce on Wednesday the final results of the presidential and legislative elections. In recent days, there has been a growing sense of nationalism and anti-international community sentiment as the opposition continues its call for the cancellation of the ballot, and government-backed candidate Jude Celestin rejects request by Preval's to withdraw his candidacy due to intense pressure by the United States and other nations over adoption of the report.
The United States' top diplomat to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently suggested that Haiti could lose valuable international aid if it did not accept the OAS recommendations. Recently, several individuals close to Preval, including one of his ministers, had their U.S. visas revoked.
On Sunday, Clinton re-emphasized the United States' commitment to the people of Haiti, saying she does not envision "at this time" suspension of aid. During a visit to a cholera treatment plant operated by Partners In Health, a U.S.-supported non-governmental organization, she chatted with patients about the waterborne-disease and asked questions about the illness, which has killed more than 4,000 Haitians since October.
"She was very pleased by the response from the Ministry of Health and she pledged continuing support both in terms of financial and technical assistance," said Nancy Dorsinville, a medical anthropologist with Partners In Health, who gave Clinton a tour of the center.
Still, Haiti remains a country on the brink. After preliminary results were announced in December showing that Celestin had edged out singer Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly, supporters of Martelly shut down the capital and two other major cities with three days of violent protests. Concerns are growing that protests planned for as early as Monday could once again lead to violence with no one able to control protesters.
On Sunday about 20 protesters greeted Clinton, waving signs calling the elections "a sham" and that she not endorse them. They also called for Preval's departure on Feb. 7, even though a law voted on last year by the Haitian Senate allows him to remain in office until May 14 as long as his successor has not been elected.
"There are no good solutions anymore. Whatever we choose will bring some kind of problems with it," said Reginald Boulos, the head of a private sector forum who met with Clinton on behalf of the business community. "There will be some kind of manifestations, riots maybe and [the United Nations] and police have to be ready as early as tomorrow or the next day to show they are in control of the people. The last thing you want is this for this to derail."
Earlier in the day, Boulos and seven other prominent business people met with Preval and urged him to adopt the OAS' recommendations. Preval has been pushing for cancellation of the presidential elections, a move opposed by the United States, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Brazil and others.
Ultimately, the decision on the elections remains with Preval and Haitian elections officials. On Saturday, lawyers for Celestin and Martelly defended their clients' right to be in the runoff before a tribunal of elections officials. Martelly's attorneys urged adoption of the OAS report while Celestin's lawyers questioned its legality under Haitian law. They also argued that the report draws its calculations after looking at 919 out of 11,000 tally sheets and 234 were excluded for being fraudulent or irregular.
Among the choices facing Haitian elections: adoption of the OAS' recommendations and declaring a runoff between Martelly and Manigat; confirm the preliminary results with a Manigat and Celestin second round, or recommend cancellation of the elections. They could also declare a three-way second round.
Clinton said before landing she planned "to do my own assessment about the way forward." "There are many complications that are legitimate concerns raised by various figures in Haiti, not just President Preval, but others about what is the best compromise," Clinton said before arriving in Haiti.
Clinton presses Haiti on elections
The Washington Post - Mary Beth Sheridan - January 31, 2011
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turned her attention Sunday from Egypt to a crisis closer to home - a disputed presidential election in Haiti that threatens to stall its recovery from a massive earthquake.
Clinton's visit to Haiti came as the U.S. government is pressing President Rene Preval to accept election monitors' conclusion that his handpicked candidate did not qualify for a runoff. "We've made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations and we would like to see those those acted on," Clinton told reporters, referring to the election monitors from the Organization of American States.
U.S. officials fear the extended dispute over the fraud-riddled Nov. 28 elections will discourage the flow of investments and aid to the country as it struggles to recover from an earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people a year ago. About 800,000 people still live in squalid camps.
Clinton's schedule Sunday included meetings with Preval and the candidates that the OAS deemed the top vote-getters in the November balloting - former first lady Mirlande Manigat and singer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly.
She also was meeting with Jude Celestin, Preval's candidate. The Haitian electoral commission said in December when it announced preliminary results that Celestin, not Martelly, had qualified for the final round of elections, prompting rioting that left five people dead. After the OAS report, the ruling party said Celestin would drop out of the race, but he has not done so.
The State Department recently yanked visas from several ruling-party members allegedly involved in fraud or violence in the elections, in what analysts saw as an effort to pressure the government to accept the OAS results.
The electoral board, dominated by Preval's allies, is scheduled to release final results this week. The second round of the presidential election is set for March 20.
Clinton considered canceling the trip because of the uprising in Egypt. Instead, she dealt with that crisis by phone, calling from her plane to a meeting in Washington and ringing British Foreign Minister William Hague, officials said.
Clinton's one-day trip captured the multiple woes afflicting Haiti. Her motorcade wound past pancaked buildings and mounds of gray rubble.
She visited a clinic run by Boston-based Partners in Health to treat victims of a cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 3,500 lives since fall. After stepping into a shallow basin of bleach to disinfect her shoes and washing her hands in chlorine-scented water, Clinton entered a tent where several middle-aged men and women lay on wooden cots, intravenous tubes hanging from their arms. They stared dully at Clinton while a baby wailed in the background.
Clinton noted that the number of newly reported cholera cases has dropped. But "we have a long way to go," she said, vowing that U.S. support will continue.
Clinton has deep connections to Haiti, beginning with a trip she and her husband made to the nation as newlyweds. At the State Department, she has made its economic development a priority and helped secure nearly $1 billion in congressional funds for rebuilding after the quake.
She acknowledged Sunday that the reconstruction had not moved quickly enough. "It's been steady but not adequate to the task we are confronting," she said.
Clinton's trip took place as Haiti's politics are in turmoil. Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned this month after 24 years abroad and has been arrested on charges of corruption and crimes against humanity.
Preval's term was supposed to end Feb. 7, but parliament passed emergency legislation that would allow him to remain in office for three more months. Violent protests broke out last year when the law passed, and Clinton said the timing of Preval's departure was "one of the problems" she was raising with him.
Hillary Clinton: Haiti aid will not be suspended
BBC - January 31, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12320764
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told reporters the US would not be suspending aid to Haiti. She rejected suggestions that the US would cut off aid to pressure Haiti into accepting the recommendations made by the Organisation of American States (OAS) to settle the electoral crisis.
Mrs Clinton was speaking after meeting the three leading candidates and the outgoing President Rene Preval. Final results of the first round of the election are expected on Wednesday.
Mrs Clinton stressed she wanted to see the recommendations made by the OAS enacted. "We want to see the voices and votes of the Haitian people acknowledged and recognised," she said shortly after landing at Port-au-Prince airport.
The OAS has called for the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, to pull out of the race after monitors accused his supporters of rigging the first round of the election in his favour. His party has withdrawn its backing, but Mr Celestin has refused to confirm that he is pulling out.
Asked if the Obama Administration was considering an embargo or a suspension of aid, Mrs Clinton answered that they were "not talking about any of that". "We have a deep commitment to the Haitian people," she added.
Last month, US Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who oversees foreign aid for Haiti, called for a halt to funds until the crisis was resolved. At the time, Mrs Clinton said that Haitian officials should heed Senator Leahy's warning and ensure a fair outcome to the election.
Preliminary results of the first round put former first lady Mirlande Manigat in first place and Jude Celestin in second, edging out the third-placed candidate, Michel Martelly. Mr Martelly's supporters said the poll had been rigged in Mr Celestin's favour, an allegation which was later backed up by international monitors.
Under pressure from the United Nations, the OAS and the US, Mr Celestin's party withdrew its backing, but Mr Celestin has not yet confirmed whether he will bow out. On Friday, the electoral commission said it would announce the results of the disputed first round on Wednesday, and set the date for the second and final round for 20 March 2011.
Clinton: Major concerns surround Haiti presidential elections
CNN - January 31, 2011
(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned early Monday from a one-day visit to Haiti with major concerns about the Caribbean nation's presidential elections. Still, she said that any political differences would not affect U.S. support for Haiti, an already impoverished country devastated by an earthquake last year and a deadly cholera outbreak in recent months.
"We are not talking about any of that," Clinton told reporters. "We have a deep commitment to the Haitian people. And that (applies) to humanitarian aid, it goes to governance and democracy programs."
During the cholera outbreak, more than 200,000 people have been sickened and 4,030 have died as of January 24, according to the latest report posted by the public health ministry.
Clinton said Sunday she planned to keep up pressure on the Port-au-Prince government, headed by President Rene Preval, to honor recommendations from the Organization of American States related to who is on the ballot for its pivotal upcoming presidential runoff.
Shortly after the November 28 presidential elections, Haiti's electoral council announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat had won but lacked a majority of votes for an outright victory. Initial results put her in a runoff with Jude Celestin, a protege of the president. The third-place candidate, popular musician Michel Martelly, claimed he had won more votes than Celestin and a review of results by an Organization of American States team supported that contention. That review suggested that Martelly earned a spot in the runoff.
"The international community has been very clear," said Clinton, alluding to the U.S. support for allowing Martelly on the runoff ballot.
She met with all three potential candidates -- Manigat, Celestin and Martelly -- during her trip, as well as with President Rene Preval, whose term is scheduled to expire. "As I understand the situation, there is a constitutional requirement for the date of February 7," Clinton said in an interview with Radio Caraibes FM. "How that is interpreted and what the president and the people of Haiti decide is up to them, but it is important that the election go forward so there can be a new president."
On Sunday, Clinton acknowledged "many complications" and "legitimate concerns," including a tight timeline. But she added that the United States was in sync with the prevailing view of diplomats from North and South America, as well as the United Nations and European Union.
It's unclear whether Preval's ruling Inite (Unity) party plans to withdraw its support of Celestin in light of the election review. Discontent with Preval and his government manifested itself on the streets of Haiti after the preliminary results were announced. Haitians charged vote fraud and burned cars, tires and Celestin's campaign headquarters in Port-au-Prince.
The electoral council said it will announce the final results of the first round on Wednesday. The runoff is scheduled for March 20, and final results will not be known until April 16.