Protesters in Haiti Say Moise Victory Amounts to ‘Electoral Coup’
Some parties maintain their supporters were denied the right to vote and many are taking to the streets despite campaign of intimidation, says journalist Margaret Prescod
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
Demonstrators in Port-au-Prince and across other areas in Haiti were tear-gassed by police as they protested the results of the presidential election. The declared winner, Jovenel Moïse, who is a newcomer backed by the previous administration of Michel Martelly, the results are being contested by some of the other candidates. And to give us an update on exactly what’s going on on the Haitian front, we are joined with Margaret Prescod, she is the host of the Sojourner Truth radio show available on the Pacifica Radio Network and its affiliates. She’s joining us today from Los Angeles. Margaret, welcome.
MARGARET PRESCOD: Good to be with you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: Well, Margaret, The Washington Post is reporting that Haiti’s provisional election council says that Jovenel Moïse captured over 55% of the vote on the November 20th election, thus avoiding a run-off. But, obviously, this vote is being contested as Haitians are taking to the streets to protest this outcome. So, what have you been hearing from your sources on the island?
MARGARET PRESCOD: Well, first, to be clear, not all members of the council, the CEP, which is the electoral council, signed off on this result. Indeed, three members of nine, a nine-member council, refused to sign on it. And, apparently, there was quite a debate that went on for most of the night, from what I understand, likely longer, before they announced this preliminary result. And one has to wonder why three members of the nine-member council refused to sign. The result of this particular election, that’s been called an electoral fraud by the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Lavalas, they put out a letter to the CEP the day following the election expressing concerns because so many of their voters were denied even the right to vote, and I could go through what some of those reasons were. But there are two other candidates that included Jude Célestin, who, according to the electoral council came in a distant second. Maurice Jean Charles, who is a senator, who came in a third and Maryse Narcisse, they’re claiming she came in fourth with 9% of the vote. Now, a lot of people are scratching their heads and wondering how is it possible that in strongholds of Lavalas and Lavalas, the party of Dr. Maryse Narcisse, the first time they ran a candidate since the Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed in a US-backed coup, how is it that in Lavalas strongholds, Jovenel Moïse, who is highly unpopular in those neighborhoods, managed to win even in those neighborhoods. So, there are a lot of questions being asked. Lavalas, they have issued a document where they list a number of problems with the election. But also Jude Célestin and Maurice Jean Charles, they’re also saying that they are not accepting this election result. That it is indeed an electoral coup with the candidate of the outgoing president Martelly, who, by the way, is supported very much by the United States, yet again, allegedly winning. People are not accepting it. They’ve taken to the streets starting the day after the election. Even today people were, again, on the streets in the thousands. The police are being very heavy. Three children were killed, including a three-month-old baby, because the police, they’re lobbing teargas right close to the entrance of the houses of people and these poor children choked to death. In Lavalas neighborhoods, people returning from protests are being beaten and brutalized, arrested by police for no other reason. So there clearly is a campaign of intimidation going on. Nevertheless, people keep taking to the streets and they seem to be very, very determined, Kim.
KIM BROWN: There’s a lot to unpack here, Margaret. So, let’s actually start with the person who has been declared the winner of this election, Jovenel Moïse. Give us some background about who he is. And you said that he was backed by the administration of Michel Martelly. So, give us an idea about who he represents and what his policies are, because he’s a relative political newcomer, is that correct?
MARGARET PRESCOD: Yeah, and, in fact, people didn’t know anything about Moïse until he was thrown into the ring, basically, by Michel Martelly. He is a banana magnate, he’s known as “The Banana Man”. Very wealthy. One would consider him to be part of the 1% in Haiti. And what he represents or what he puts forward is a certain class within Haiti. Haiti is very divided. The vast majority of Haitians are impoverished, as you know. It’s the poorest most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere. And there are parts of Port-au-Prince like Cité Soleil that likely is the most impoverished place in the Western hemisphere. Jovenel Moïse represents more of the business class, the business interests, good relations with the United States’ State Department and what impoverished people are saying, “He has nothing to do with us.” In fact, they call him “The Poisoned Banana”.
KIM BROWN: That’s a very interesting name for him. Does he have any sort of political background beyond…
MARGARET PRESCOD: No.
KIM BROWN: …beyond his affiliation with the party of which put him up?
MARGARET PRESCOD: Yeah. And the party called “The Bald Heads,” by the way. And Martelly is bald-headed and they also refer to them as “pink heads”. And Martelly does have a very pink bald head. No, he didn’t. And that was what was shocking to so many people who thought, “Well, how is it possible that this man could win?” There was even a popular song that I heard all over the place in Haiti sort of poking fun at The Banana Man. And you could imagine, people can have all kinds of fun, you know, with bananas, but, clearly stating that this is not somebody that they want. So, again, it’s not surprising that people are then, by the thousands, on the street protesting. Just today people gathered at St. Jean Bosco Church. I want to mention that church because that church was attacked on September the 11th, 1988, when a young Jean-Bertrand Aristide was still a priest in that church. It was burned down, scores of people were killed and the Catholic Church never rebuilt it. But this has been a gathering spot. When the protests start out, the daily protests start out, a lot of the time, they gather at that particular church which has symbolism. And that community of La Saline has been very much under attack by police, just general intimidation. The tear gas that was lobbed happened at one o’clock in the morning. People were not out on the streets at one o’clock in the morning, but the police were throwing tear gas at one o’clock in the morning, which caused the death of these three children. And, Kim, when I was there, the final day that I was there, I was at a demonstration where we were kettled in by, I don’t mean just police in riot gear, I mean by tanks, okay, where you think you are literally at a battlefield. And police with very, very large weapons. And, in fact, some people had to get me out of there to safety. I literally had to flee on a motorcycle. And after I left — mind you I’d never ridden a motorcycle in my life — so I was hanging on for dear life. After that, some people had to be taken to hospital from gas canisters that were lobbed at them by the police. So, this is really what’s going on. And to have the three candidates who allegedly lost to Jovenel Moïse say they are not accepting this result, that they know there was a lot of fraud that happened, you have to give some credence to it. And, Kim, when I was there I visited, likely, somewhere between 10 and 15 polling places, and each polling place I went to, except for the one in Pétionville, which is a wealthier area and a lot of support for Jovenel Moïse and Martelly there, every other polling place I went to, there were scores of people upset because they could not vote. This was their polling place, but their names were not on the list. And Lavalas is saying they think that as many as 30% of their supporters didn’t even get to vote. So, when one looks at the voter turnout, and it gives a very, very low number, that percentage doesn’t really include those people who wanted to vote but who didn’t get a chance to vote.
KIM BROWN: I think it’s really important that you raise that issue because, in some of the Western media reports, you know the American media, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, they talked about a 20% voter turnout in Haiti. And I was immediately reminded of the last time we spoke when you were in Haiti and you referenced that exact issue with people being denied the ability to cast a vote at their designated polling areas. So, you read that 20% voter turnout number, you think, “Oh, people just didn’t show up.” That wasn’t actually the case.
MARGARET PRESCOD: Yeah, people were very enthusiastic about voting. Indeed, I was really surprised that some people went to three or four polling places in order to vote. There was one man that I might have mentioned the last time I spoke to you, who was sent all the way to Petit-Goâve(?) which is about three to four hours away, in order to vote. The update on this man is that he got the resources together with the help of his friends, he travelled those three to four hours, he left in the morning and he voted.
KIM BROWN: So, do we expect more demonstrations and more people in the streets who are upset about the, at least the reported outcome of this election, are there any plans on behalf of the Lavalas party supporters to continue to, not only dispute the election result, but to continue to protest it?
MARGARET PRESCOD: Well, absolutely. And Dr. Maryse Narcisse issued a statement not accepting the election result and saying that people will be mobilizing. There will be mass mobilizations going on. So, that began the day following the election when results mysteriously, an hour and a half after the polls closed, were leaked giving a similar result to the one that the electoral council announced in their preliminary announcements. So, you can bet that demonstrations are going to continue. What worries me and a number of people on the ground, but also people of good will in the United States and Europe and other places, the level of repression that’s coming down. You know, a market was burned, a market run by impoverished women burned to the ground. They lost everything. There are young men that drive something called taxi-motos, they’re sort of motorcycle taxis, a number of their motorcycles have been burned. So, there’s also an economic attack on the sector of people that, I suppose the powers that be feel are the ones who didn’t support the candidate that the EU, the United States and others really wanted in place. So, yes, I expect that protests are going to continue. This story is not over. I don’t know what the end result of it is, but I do recall an older Haitian man coming to me with tears in his eyes and saying, “We Haitians have been fighting since our revolution in 1804. We’ve never given up and we’re not giving up now.”
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Margaret Prescod. She is host of the Sojourner Truth radio show, available on the Pacifica Radio Network and its affiliates. Margaret has been reporting to us about the Haitian elections — the outcome has determined a winner, Jovenel Moïse. However, the winner is not being accepted by a good majority of Haitians? Is that an accurate statement, would you say, Margaret?
MARGARET PRESCOD: I would say so, given the vast majority of Haitians are impoverished. And one quick thing, Kim, I should mention is that on election day Digicel, the phone company on the ground in Haiti but in other parts of the Caribbean region, they were said to be outside a number of polling stations giving people phone cards, the value of which was 250 gourdes to 500 gourdes and the phone card had the photo of Jovenel Moïse on it. Now, the District Attorney in Port-au-Prince, have called in officials from this phone company because, of course, that was totally illegal. In Haiti, campaigning ends the Friday — the voting is on Sunday, campaigning ends on Friday. So, it was totally illegal to be giving out phone cards to impoverished people, worth money, with a photo of Jovenel Moïse on that card.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. I’m sure we’re going to hear about more types of irregularities and not acceptable methods of campaigning as the story continues to unfold. Margaret, we certainly appreciate your reporting today. Thank you.
MARGARET PRESCOD: Thank you. Thank you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.