By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Later that day, I saw more recovered ballots fluttering among the angry faces of the thousands who had gathered in the Champ de Mars, across from the National Palace. They had become a symbol of the word that had been on Haitians’ lips all week: magouy, fraud. Whatever the motivations of whoever dumped the ballots — and the possibilities are legion — their discovery made two things clear. First, even a final, complete count would resolve nothing: Too many ballots had been lost, and no one trusted the people counting them. The solution would have to be political. And second, the peace could not last much longer.
At about 11 o’clock, Préval met with the CEP and several ministers from the interim government. He reportedly made the case to them that if the blank votes were discounted, he had clearly won a majority. Then the CEP talked it over for the next 15 hours. Early the next morning, they announced their solution. It was tidy enough: Electoral law required that the blank ballots be counted. They would be, but they would be divided proportionately between the candidates according to the percentage of marked ballots they had won. Baker finished with about 8 percent, Leslie Manigat with 12. Most of the others had less than 1 percent. Préval had 51. You could feel the relief in the streets the next morning. People were smiling. They seemed to move with more ease and fluidity than they had the day before, as if they had shrugged off a few layers of old and calloused skin. It was over.
It was also just beginning. Haiti was no richer than it had been the day before. Eighty percent of its population was still living on less than $2 a day. That, of course, means hunger, constant and gnawing, but also no money for electricity or even water, no medical care and no chance at education. It means a life without options. Half the population was still malnourished, half still illiterate, and more than one in 20 infected with HIV. Too many had quicker access to guns than to newspapers. But for the first time in a decade, many Haitians could taste hope.
Life went on. Préval fell silent again. Leslie Manigat held a press conference behind the walls of his lushly landscaped compound. In wildly over-enunciated French, he called the CEP’s decision an “electoral coup,” a “Machiavellian comedy” and a “tragedy for the Haitian people.” Within a few breaths, the aging professor compared those same Haitian people to a dog that returns to its vomit. Baker huffed and puffed as well and, like Manigat, accused Préval of profiting from the threat of violence in the streets. They seemed genuinely disturbed that the demands of the majority had been allowed to influence the democratic process. But it was all just noise. No one was listening anymore.
A U.N. spokesman confided to me that there was absolutely no possibility that the runoff election for parliamentary seats would occur on schedule. (“Delays in this country tend to aggravate people,” he said, laughing nervously.) American Airlines, which had canceled flights to Port-au-Prince for more than a week, resumed flying. Jacques Bernard read the writing on the walls (literally: His name was graffitied all over town, usually preceded by aba, Creole for “down with”) and fled to the United States.
He returned 15 days later and demanded that his enemies be purged from the CEP, which spent weeks floating dates for the runoff. They eventually agreed on April 21. Préval’s inauguration receded into the distant future.
Traffic clogged the streets again. The schools reopened. Marc and Gerard returned to their studies. Despite their ages, they have two years left before they finish the equivalent of high school. Neither would admit to any newfound faith in the political system, but they seemed to smile a little more freely. Education, Marc told me, education and love were the only answers. He was crashing on a friend’s sofa, and I would see him there every night, falling asleep sitting up, his books spread open on the couch around him.
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