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Haitians Protest Election and So Do I

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Anxiety set in for many people in Haiti long before Dec. 7, when the country's electoral board announced which two presidential candidates would likely participate in a January run-off election.

Apprehension began on Election Day, Nov. 28, as voting fraud was evident. Many election centers closed prematurely because of unrest; registered voters were often unable to find their names on electoral rolls; and in some cases, ballots were stolen and burned amid disruption and violence. Thus, 12 of the 18 presidential candidates called for the election to be annulled even before polls closed.

This week, immediately after election results were announced, protests ensued throughout the country. Reports from international media began describing and showing the situation, often focusing on violent protests rather than the fraudulent election results.

But the protests are only an expression of the Haitian people who feel their voice has been stolen, along with an election. And so I protest too. Our U.S. government -- which gave $14 million in election support -- must assist in reviewing the fraud and pressure the Haitian government to release legitimate final election results.

Haiti's electoral council has since invited an audit of the vote tally sheets. But according to the New York Times,

"the three candidates, each of whom had questioned the results, were not quick to embrace the invitation. Michel Martelly, a singer whose partisans have dominated the street protests, said through a spokesman that he did not want to participate in an audit or file a legal challenge unless the election board's leaders stepped down.

'You don't report a theft to the thief,' said the spokesman, Damien Merlo."

I planned to share Haitians' voices during a week-long trip starting Dec. 11, but the trip was postponed due to the Port-au-Prince airport closing and turbulence in the streets. For now, here are words from two people I anticipate meeting in my rescheduled trip in early February.

On Dec. 9, Alexis Erkert Depp, Mennonite Central Committee's advocacy coordinator in Haiti, wrote:

"Not only do U.N. troops continue to rain teargas and rubber bullets on protesters ... it's also literally raining. An off-season morning rain is unusual on both counts. I can't help but wonder if the rain is intentional -- Creator and Creation trying to keep things calm. The sound of the rain mostly masks the noise of a protest taking place in the Petionville market, about 500 feet from where I sit, also protesting. I may not be out in the streets, but as a foreigner that cares about this country and whose job it is to advocate for structural justice, I protest too. From my couch and on my laptop, I protest election results that maintain the status quo in direct opposition of the will of the Haitian people.

I protest the morning's headlines that read, "Haiti protests blocking relief efforts" and "Demonstrations in Haiti Crimp Northwest Aid Efforts," as if this story is about us, unable to fix Haiti because the Haitians that we're here to save won't stop burning tires. I protest the headline that reads "Supporters of losing Haiti candidate take to the streets," as if Michel Martelly is a sore loser; whereas from my perspective, this isn't about Martelly at all. It's about the right to vote. I protest the narrative that insinuates that it's somehow Haitians' fault that they have no voice. To be fair, I also protest the narrative that insinuates that the situation in Haiti is entirely the fault of NGOs and donor countries and multilateral institutions (not that we don't have a lot to do with it). I protest the perception that all of the demonstrations taking place are violent. I also protest that many of them are -- and not just when provoked by UN soldiers -- and this makes me sad."

Also Dec. 9, Frank Thorp, a freelance journalist and friend of Erkert Depp, wrote:

"We traveled further downtown to the presidential palace, which had a peaceful march of a couple thousand Haitians. 'Celestin bought his votes, he bought this election,' explained one of the protesters as he passed by the palace, 'But we don't need money, we need a president that can lead our country.' The question now is whether the protests will continue with this intensity. President Rene Preval spoke on the radio this afternoon asking for protesters to stop the violence and accept the results. Michel Martelly came out with a statement of his own saying that the people have the right to fight for their vote, but also asking that the violence end. The city will remain on lock-down until this dies down, but that could take days, if not weeks. . . . There are less gunshots tonight than last night, which is a good sign, but only time will tell if that means that order is being restored, or if the people are just resting for yet another day of chaos in Port-au-Prince."