In 2008, Haitians were ecstatic over Barack Obama’s victory. I remember a group of mature, normally realistic men happily insisting to each other that Obama’s win a few weeks earlier explained why the price of cooking gas had just dropped.
No longer. Over the past week, tens of thousands of angry demonstrators regularly chanted “Down with Obama” and carried “Obama Terrorist” banners as they marched through the streets, protesting American complicity in the Haitian government’s blatant effort to rig the presidential election.
The pro-democracy movement just won a major victory, forcing the election commission to postpone the second round of presidential voting, which had been scheduled for January 24. (The demonstrators then increased their demand, and are now calling on President Michel Martelly to resign even before his term is up on February 7.) The government backed down after days of intense street protests, a promised boycott, and repudiation by broad sectors of Haitian society, including the opposition candidate who was supposed to participate in the runoff. The cancellation is a huge setback for the United States, which spent $33 million on the election and had been pressing Haitians to go out and vote.
Some mainstream press accounts have described the situation here as “chaos,” an interpretation that is completely wrong. In fact, the Martelly government had put together a well-organized conspiracy to steal the election. Martelly, who is prevented by term limits from running again, was trying to impose his successor, and the US State Department abetted him by ignoring the overwhelming evidence of massive vote fraud.
One international newspaper described the tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters as a “mob,” which is also mistaken, and insulting. The demonstrators planned carefully, ratcheting up the pressure in the streets step by step. After the first round of voting, on October 25, the election commission announced with a straight face that the government’s candidate, Jovenel Moïse, had come in first with 32.81 percent of the vote. Moïse almost certainly got less than 10 percent, and widespread ballot stuffing was verified by the respected National Human Rights Defense Network and other local groups.
The first protests were peaceful, but no one paid attention. Martelly pushed ahead toward the runoff round. American ambassador Peter Mulrean said he had seen “no evidence of massive electoral fraud,” and he implicitly urged Haitians to swallow the results. The international media totally ignored the rising pro-democracy movement, even though it included supporters from nearly all the opposition parties and from Haiti’s leading human-rights organizations.