Haiti: bands compete in election campaign

A total of 33 candidates met the Aug. 7 deadline for filing to run for president in Haiti’s general elections, scheduled for Nov. 28. The candidacies must still be approved by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP); the decisions are to be made by Aug. 17. Among the more prominent candidates were: Jude Célestin, running for the Unity party of President René Préval; Jacques Edouard Alexis, a former prime minister in the Préval government who is now the candidate of the Movement for the Progress of Haiti (MPH); Coalition of National Progressive Democrats (RDNP) candidate Myrlande Hyppolite Manigat, a former senator and the wife of ex-president Leslie Manigat (February-June 1988); economist Leslie Voltaire of the Together We Are Strong coalition; and pastor Chavannes Jeune of the Alliance of Christians and Citizens for the Reconstruction of Haiti (ACCRHA).

Former prime minister Alexis—who was removed from office when high food prices sparked militant protests in April 2008—was expected to be Préval’s choice, but the Unity party replaced him at the last minute with Célestin, who heads the National Equipment Center (CNE), the well-funded road construction department of the Public Works, Transport and Communications Ministry (MTPTC). (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Aug. 6, Aug. 7; AlterPresse, Haiti, Aug. 6) The CNE is credited with much of the work of removing tens of thousands of corpses from Port-au-Prince after a major earthquake hit the city on Jan. 12; this was one of the few visible actions of the Préval government in the days after the quake. (AOL News, July 13)

Although the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) has been barred from the ballot, several politicians associated with Aristide or the party filed to run. Yvon Neptune, the prime minister during Aristide’s second administration, is running for the Haitians for Haiti Party; he was imprisoned for two years after Aristide’s ouster in February 2004. Social Affairs Minister Yves Christalin, one of FL’s founders, is the candidate of Organization Future. (In Haiti cabinet ministers are not required to resign before filing to run for office.) Aristide’s former lawyer, Jean Henry Céant, is running for the Love Haiti party. (Radio Kiskeya, Aug. 6; Radio Métropole, Haiti, Aug. 6)

In the US, media attention was focused almost exclusively on the candidacy of Wyclef Jean, a Haitian-born US hip-hop star who hasn’t lived in Haiti for 30 years. Jean filed in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 5 accompanied by hundreds of supporters, by disk jockeys on sound trucks and by musicians on foot playing traditional rara music. A reporter compared the scene to Haiti’s carnaval celebrations before the start of Lent. Another musical celebrity, Joseph Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”), filed on the same day, but in contrast to his sometimes controversial performances on stage, the candidate was described as “sober and elegant” on this occasion. (AlterPresse, Aug. 6)

Haitian journalist Michèle Montas, who now advises the United Nations in Haiti, noted that Jean doesn’t speak French and has problems in Haitian Creole. “Everything is done in French and Creole in government,” she said. “There is no English.” She questioned his appearances on US television. “His announcing on ‘Larry King’ is very peculiar. I don’t think the US public is voting.” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 6 from correspondent)

Many Haitian leftists question the validity of the entire election, which will be held in a devastated country occupied by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military force; reconstruction spending will be under the control of a commission co-chaired by former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001). “Wyclef has arrived at a time when sovereignty is an empty word in Haiti,” Panel Lindor, apparently a Haitian graduate student in Paris, wrote on the AlterPresse website about Jean’s candidacy. “Wyclef has arrived at a time when nearly 2 million are homeless, at a time when Bill Clinton reigns as lord and master over Haiti.” Lindor noted that Jean’s “first visits were to the White House” in Washington. (AlterPresse Aug. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 8.

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