Riots, Recounts, Respite…Riots?

photo by Frank Thorp (you can view more of his photography by clicking on the photo)

Friday we went to the grocery store.  That statement doesn’t hold much meaning for you if you weren’t in Haiti the preceding Wednesday and Thursday.  The day after the announcement that Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin would be going to the second round of elections, with Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) just missing the bar by 6,000 votes, all bedlam broke loose. At first, one could describe it as quasi-political activism with streaks of violent opportunism (that would be my take on it, and of course, I’m an optimist).  Eventually, though, it became clear that even if there were political elements involved, the violence and chaos overwhelmed any sense of organized dissent.

MINUSTAH troops faced off against protestors, in one instance shooting tear gas after a group pelted rocks towards them.  The tear gas eventually spilled over into a nearby tent city, sending innocent civilians running, along with the rioters; a skirmish victory for MINUSTAH, along with a PR nightmare.

Scenes such as those dotted through Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country, in  varying degrees of severity. Some people were killed in Cap Haitien, in the north.  In some areas, you couldn’t really tell there was widespread chaos, other than perhaps a roadblock here and there.  Nonetheless, the overarching theme was there: this is not what we voted for and we won’t stop until there is respite.

It seemed the international community somewhat agreed.  The day after the election results were announced, the U.S. Embassy released a statement calling them into question, followed by U.S. Department of State spokesperson, P.J. Crowley stating

“We are also sending a very clear message to the existing government that that this election has to be done properly, in accord with the wishes of the Haitian people.”

Both statements seemed to strike a chord with Haitians on the ground who found the elections less than agreeable.  However, Prime Minister Preval didn’t seem to concur, and more or less rebutted that “the CEP decides the outcome, not the U.S. Embassy.”  While true the United States or other international actors do not decide the election outcome, between Wednesday and Friday it was painfully clear to everyone on the ground that the average Haitian would be deciding what happened next, not the CEP.

Meanwhile, embassy workers were told to stay indoors, or just couldn’t get anywhere due to roadblocks.  Aid workers faced similar challenges, preventing them from delivering supplies to cholera clinics and other locations.  Grocery stores were closed, major routes blocked off, and the city was more or less at a standstill for two days, despite the rain on Thursday that brought a modicum of calm.

And then it happened.  The CEP announced Friday morning it would recount the vote in the presence of monitors.  The riots, which had stalled on Thursday, officially de-escalated.  The same impassable roadblock I had witnessed on my route to work on Wednesday was reduced to a few scattered stones in the street, with hardly a passerby monitoring the area.  Elderly women dotted the streets once more, selling fruit and sugar cane.  Young men continued to go about their business.  And, thankfully, the grocery stores opened.

And oh the lines!!  Long long lines of customers filling their shopping baskets with all types of provisions…excessive provisions.  It soon became clear that the respite from post-elections violence would only be temporary, that shoppers weren’t merely catching up on two days of missed groceries, but were preparing for what might happen after the recount, assuming a non-favorable outcome.  Michel Martelly has already dismissed the recount as “a trap,” an attitude that his multitude of followers will likely pick up on, especially if the recount results are a carbon copy of the preliminary results.

In the meantime, all one can do is be thankful for the lull in violence/riots/activism (?), purchase some groceries, listen to some kompa, and enjoy the beautiful country of Haiti.

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2 Responses to Riots, Recounts, Respite…Riots?

  1. BJ Soto says:

    All I can say is: Wow. Thanks for being a witness to all this, Ajani.

  2. frenchie says:

    Sigh…democracy, being a new concept in Haiti, brings about such joy and pain. considering that under the centuries of dictatorships and military rule, any form of political activism was not allowed, the fact that people can take to the streets now stil surprises me. However, I wonder when this current streak of impassioned/violent dissent will veer towards peaceful protesting. A paradigm shift needs to happen but, as history goes, it will happen at its own pace as people feel their grievances are acknowledged and addressed

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