By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But profits are down. Five of the Baker family factories have been burned in the last two years, and the one that remains employs less than half the people it once did. Foreign companies do not want to take the risk of doing business in Haiti, and the focus of Baker’s candidacy has been to lure them back. His campaign slogan, plastered on walls all over town, consists of three austere words: order, discipline and work. The security situation, Baker told me, would be his first priority. The only solution, he said, was “overwhelming force.”
On the wall behind Baker’s desk hung two crossed sabers and a Haitian flag tacked upside down to symbolize the nation’s disarray. It was the day before the election, and I asked Baker how, if elected, he planned to bridge Haiti’s staggering class divide. He answered with another question: “Is there really a class divide in Haiti, or is that a figment of the imagination of the international community?”
I tried again. Did he fear, I asked, that as a wealthy, light-skinned man he would have difficulty convincing the masses of Haiti’s poor, whom he did not resemble in the slightest, that he had their best interests in mind?
Baker turned first to Gerard and then to Marc. He addressed them in Creole, and asked whom they planned to vote for. Discomfited at being spoken to, both answered with shy defiance, telling him in turn that they were revolutionaries and did not plan to vote for anyone. Perhaps Baker had expected them to defer to his authority with a humble “You, Mr. Baker,” but if he had, his face registered no disappointment. Instead he muttered something in Creole about how Americans should arrive in cars, and not with dust on their shoes. Then he turned to me and, in English again, at last returned to my question about his perceived inability to win the trust of the masses. “I don’t have that problem,” he said.
Outside, as soon as the gate clanked shut behind us, Marc and Gerard doubled over, laughing. “Baker is shit,” Marc sighed between guffaws. They high-fived each other, and high-fived me, and then led me back down the dusty road to the corner, to flag another tap-tap.
Three days after the election, I spoke to a U.N. official involved in monitoring the vote. He was furious. “The CEP is partisan, completely partisan.” More than 60 percent of the ballots he had seen, he said, were for Préval, but the CEP had “tried every possible dirty trick” to stall and skew the process. “We’re not going to let them fuck this up,” he insisted.
At the Montana that night, the CEP released more figures. They had tabulated about half the votes. Préval had fallen to just above the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff. By a strange quirk of Haitian electoral law, blank ballots would be counted as part of the total, which set the bar still higher for Préval. At that point, more ballots had been left blank than had been cast for all but four of the 34 candidates.
“You know how Haiti is,” one council member explained. “There are a lot of people who really don’t have the capacity to vote.”
René Préval had been silent all week. Just before the election, his campaign duties accomplished, he retreated to his home in the small northern town of Marmelade, a six-hour drive from the capital. He would not return to Port-au-Prince, his advisers said, until the final results had been announced.
I caught a ride to Préval’s hometown with two journalist friends working for a Venezuelan television network. Nestled high in the mountains, Marmelade is a lovely place. Just one ridge over, the hills are brown and barren, but around Marmelade, the peaks are almost lush. After Préval’s first presidency, from 1996 to 2001, he did something almost unheard-of: He left politics. Préval returned to Marmelade and concentrated his energy on developing his hometown. He persuaded the Cubans to send doctors and teachers for a clinic and a music school, and the Taiwanese to sponsor an agricultural cooperative that grows citrus, coffee and bamboo. The surrounding villages are muddy clusters of crumbling huts, but Marmelade’s streets are cobbled. There’s even a solar-powered computer center and a park with a gazebo and electric lamps that come on at night.
We waited for several hours at the edge of that park and watched the bats skip and dive in the lamplight until Bob Manuel, Préval’s campaign manager, invited us into the candidate’s modest white stucco house. The news from Port-au-Prince was bad. The CEP had released the latest figures. Préval had slipped below 50 percent. Thousands of protesters had filled the streets around the National Palace. Even if the CEP’s tally was clean, their method of releasing information — drop by drop and with Préval’s lead leaking steadily away — could not have been better calculated to breed suspicion. But inside, Préval seemed relaxed, almost amused. He sat in a rocking chair beneath a bare fluorescent bulb. He scratched his beard and smiled. “Forty-nine percent,” he said, “did you hear?”