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
By morning, Préval’s mood had shifted. The bodyguards and hangers-on outside Préval’s home passed a sheet of paper between them. It was a printout from the CEP Web site listing two conflicting figures: the 49 percent announced the night before and a pie graph that gave him a 52 percent slice of the vote. Préval appeared on the porch every half-hour or so. He listened to the men argue about the significance of the discrepancy, and went inside without a word. He re-appeared, shaking his head. “It’s not that they don’t know how to do the numbers,” he said. “They’re cheating badly.”
When he next appeared, he was dancing, but there was no smile on his face. “Yo vole vol nou,” he sang (“They’re stealing our votes”), circled the patio and pranced back inside his home.
Late that morning, Préval gave an impromptu press conference on a park bench across the street. A good portion of the village gathered around the few journalists in town. Préval was tense and impatient, and after about 20 minutes, he stood and ended the interview as suddenly as he’d begun it, with a terse “Okay, thank you very much.” But until that moment, he spoke in two distinct registers. The first was abstract and political. It was reasonably polished, calculated to offend no one. It appeared to bore him. In that key, he spoke of the importance of “creating an atmosphere for private investment,” of decentralizing the Haitian government as mandated by the largely unimplemented constitutional reform of 1987, of developing a functioning educational system, investing in health care and agriculture, and eliminating corruption. He said nothing that might cause a World Bank official’s gray heart to flutter.
It was when Préval spoke in metaphor that his voice came alive. I asked him the question I had asked Baker, what he planned to do about the gulf between the classes. He answered very differently. His response was allegorical and anything but concrete, but it nonetheless communicated more than anything else he’d said, and it clearly gave him pleasure to speak without recourse to technocratic vagaries. Préval had someone fetch a Coke bottle. “Look,” he said, pointing first to the wide base of the bottle and then to its narrow mouth, “this is larger than this. This is tiny.” He balanced the bottle by the narrow end. It wobbled in his palm. “If you put it like that, instability.” He turned the bottle over. “If you put it like that, stability. Because the economic power is here,” he said, indicating the base again, “but,” he pointed to the mouth once more, “the political power is here.”
Préval balanced the bottle wrong side up once more. “The country is upside down now.” He let the bottle topple, caught it and, with a gap-toothed smile, stood it on its base again. “You understand.”
In the end, though he had said he wouldn’t, Préval spoke about the election. “My job was to go and campaign,” he said. “Now it’s up to the CEP to give the results. They just gave two results, a graph with 52 percent, and the figure 49 percent. There is a problem now. If I see the 52 percent, I will claim victory. If the people see the 52 percent, they will claim victory.”
The danger, he implied, was not just incompetence or fraud. It was the peril of letting the people in the streets believe they had triumphed, and then trying to yank their victory away.
By evening it was already too late. The word was out that Préval had won. Carnival was still two weeks away, but it started early in Marmelade. Rara bands marched around the plaza, drumming and blowing long, hand-tooled horns. The villagers filled the streets, drinking and dancing. Préval was the only one not celebrating. Flanked by bodyguards, he paced in the rain outside his house, anxious and slightly stooped, conferring with Bob Manuel.
In Port-au-Prince, thousands marched up the hill to the Hotel Montana. They stopped at the gates that day, and went no farther. But the ritual CEP announcement of Préval’s dwindling count did not occur that night. The council members couldn’t get past the crowds.
My friends and I left Marmelade at 3 the next morning, hoping to get back to the capital before it all blew up. We didn’t get far. The car broke down at the edge of Gonaives, a desolate city a few hours north of Port-au-Prince. The deforestation is so severe in the surrounding countryside that Gonaives feels less like the Caribbean than a strange outpost in a post-apocalyptic Arizona. Hot, sandy winds blew through the rutted streets. We flagged down scooter taxis for a ride to the bus depot and bought tickets to the capital. But after waiting for 20 minutes in the back of an old converted American school bus, it became clear that we wouldn’t be going anywhere. The radio had reported shooting in Port-au-Prince, and none of the drivers was willing to risk the trip.