By Sokari Ekine*
Mdm Youseline Augustin Bell is an educator, psychologist, and attorney. In 1995 together with her husband Bell Angelot they opened the College Bell Angelot in Cap-Haïtien which presently has 1,000 K-12 students. A well known human rights activist and a member of Fanmi Lavalas, Mdm Bell successfully ran for Senator of Haiti Nord in the 2000 elections.
For the past 11 years, Fanmi Lavalas has been prevented from participating in Haiti’s elections, so it was with great hope that Augustin Bell chose once again to run for Senator of Haiti Nord. However as she explains, the legislative elections of 9 August, 2015 were marred by excessive levels of fraud and violence committed in the main by three parties: President Martelly’s PHTK (Party Haitian Tet Kale); presidential candidate Steeve Khawly’s Bou-clier party with close links to Martelly; and Vérité which is backed by former President René Préval In her words, there was a ‘political coup’.
The kinds of fraud which took place were: the physical prevention of party representatives, Mandataires, from doing their job or by handing out their papers too late; the opening of voting stations for shorter than the designated time, opening late and closing early; armed men entering voting stations [in some cases accompanied by the police] leading to voters fleeing; destroying voting equipment including ballots and boxes, removing them and returning later with full boxes; physical violence including the death and injury of civilians and police. All of the above occurred across the country and in some towns only minimal, or no voting was able to take place.
Specifically the following towns in Haiti Nord all witnessed voting fraud and vandalism: Plesance, Limbe, Borgne, Port Margot, Cap-Haïtien, Dondon, Grande Riviere, L’Acul, Plaine du Nord, Saint-Raphael, Bahon, Limonade, Pigeon. MINUSTAH, the UN occupying force in Haiti, who supposedly are in Haiti to protect the population against violence and to act as an additional police force, were conspicuously absent in Cap-Haïtien on Sun-day 9 August. Augustine Bell asks why were they not pa-trolling the streets and/or stationed outside polling booths in the same way they accompany the Haitian police during evictions, protests and even traffic duty?
Despite their absence the UN along with the OAS (Organisation of American States),which presented a weak and clearly partisan statement, determined the election process not only a success but “was a step forward in strengthening Haitian democracy”. The CEP [Provisional Elec-toral Council] response was equally dismissive with its Chief, Pierre Opont, claiming there was only 4% irregu-larity and describing the violence and fraud as merely “a feature of elections” and “realities of the vote” in Haiti.
The truth is, this is not Haiti, and this is not what the Haitian people desire. The west including the UN have chosen to side with bandits and political gangsters. They have chosen to ignore the will of the people and their aspirations in favour of a few local elite and corporate interests and in maintaining an occupation force in Haiti.
SOKARI EKINE [SE]: Fanmi Lavalas was prevented from participating in the 2006 and 2010 elections, why now?
YOUSELINE AUGUSTIN BELL [YAB]: There could be many reasons why we were prevented from participating. Jean-Bertrand Aristide [JBA] was in exile in South Africa. Now he is here with us so maybe this is why they let us participate. However anytime Lavalas participate in the elections we win. This time, although they let us participate, they knew we would win, and I believe this is why they have tried to prevent us by employing gangs to commit fraud with the ballot boxes.
SE: What was the position of the US and the Haitian government on JBA returning to Haiti in April 2011
YAB: I cannot say specifically but there was a general reluctance on the part of the Haitian administration and international community on his returning to Haiti. Right up to the last minute we were not sure his plane would be able to land in Port-au-Prince.
SE: There have been extensive reports of fraud and violence by political parties and candidates. What was your personal experience with the 9 August election?
YAB: It is the political parties of the government like PHTK, Bouclier and Vérité that formed armed commandos who went into voting stations, stole the ballot sheets, returned them later and placed them in the ballot boxes. The armed gangs caused people to flee, and they also prevented all our Mandataire from doing their jobs. They think this is the way they will win the election. They killed people, beat them. In several parts of the north they carried out a lot of violence and though we cannot say what will happen, we can say there was no election in these places and really the whole country.
SE: You mentioned three parties, PHTK, Bouclier and Vérité. Do you think the three parties are working togeth-er?
YAB: I think they are working together. Vérité are Martelly’s friends; PHTK is his party and both him and his wife, Mdm Martelly, have close connections to Bouclier so they are the same people. They joined forces to steal the election.
SE: What will be the consequences of this fraudulent election?
YAB: Our request is to cancel the election of 9 August but the OAS have just made a statement that the election was a success. We know they are lying because there was no election. It was fraud all the way. And in some parts of the country the CEP cancelled the election so they should do the same thing for the whole country. I know because of the financial implications they may want to keep the elections, but it is a shame for us to keep this election. It is a selection, not an election.
SE: There are two possibilities in cancelling the elections. First to hold new elections despite the financial implications and the CEP and OAS statements; and secondly, Martelly stays in power for a longer period which could be another year or even more, as a de facto dictator.
YAB: Some people, some citizens, have asked for an interim government that can organise a new election. Be-cause if Martelly organises the presidential elections in October we will be in the same situation that we are now facing. We will not accept the result of this election. Several parties have already asked for the total annulment of the election. There is a group of 10 parties who have come together to denounce the election including Fanmi Lavalas, Renmen Ayiti and Fusion. Pitit Dessalin has also called for the cancellation of the election, but they are not part of the group with Fanmi Lavalas. It is going to be very difficult for the government to give a result for this election.
SE: What will be the next step for Fanmi Lavalas and other parties if the elections are not cancelled?
YAB: We will sue them, Fanmi Lavalas will sue CEP be-cause I spent a lot of money and time and was the front candidate for the Nord region. I don’t know what the other parties will do but they may also sue. There will be demonstrations on the street by the different supporters. We also know this government has the support of foreign governments like the US, France, Canada and the UN. The UN did nothing on the election day to protect people on the streets. I did not see them anywhere, so they let the gangsters enter the voting stations. The Haitian law does not permit citizens to carry arms, but we saw people with guns in the polling station and some came with the police who stood around like observers.
Altogether there are 1,362 Bureau Vote [polling stations] in Nord region. I cannot say how many were affected by the fraud, but many did not open or opened late and closed early. This was the responsibility of the CEP and the fraud was not even hidden as you can see from the photos. You can see the boxes were ripped open and stuffed with fraudulent ballots.
We were ourselves stopped on our way to Limbe by civilians with guns and rocks from Vérité and the police were with them. They did not want us to pass but after I showed my identity card and with the help of the police we were able to continue our journey to Limbe. This is the first time I have seen anything like this, the whole election is a terrible experience.
SE: Why do you think the government wants to prevent Lavalas from winning?
YAB: Because if Lavalas was to win there would be a change in the power dynamics in the country with policies more supportive of the masses and also the mining contracts would not be so easily given to foreigners. We are poor and we work in the favor of the poor and they do not like or want the emergence of the poor and masses.
SE: Can you comment on the UN occupation force MINUSTAH and their purpose in Haiti?
YAB: I have evaluated the presence of the UN; they don’t do any work of value. They don’t keep the peace. In their presence, anything can happen. They hurt people, kill people, bring cholera. Maybe they came here to protect the bourgeois. I don’t know what their purpose is.
I don’t know if I am naive, but I thought with their presence the election would be better, but it was a mistake to think like that.
SE: What are your thoughts on the situation with Haitians working in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans of Haitian descent? Many have already been forced to leave due to persecution and violence by both civilians and the Dominican police and are now living in refugee camps near the border.
YAB: Yes they are being persecuted, the poor people especially. And the Haitian government does not help. The UN and CARICOM (Carib-bean Community) did try to help but nothing happened. In fact many of those who the Dominican Republic claim are illegal gave money to the Haitian government to provide them with birth certificates and travel documents but they never received the papers.
The government took the money and did nothing for the people.
The fact is that people are being persecuted and deported illegally. It is racism, and it is discrimination. There is another problem: they do not deport Haitians with money, only poor people. It is an attack on the poor and an attack against Black people. They send poor Black Dominicans to Haiti; so they simply want to get rid of all the Black people in their country.
* * Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian journalist and social justice activist who blogs at Black Looks.