Two presidential candidates are accusing Haitian police of firing on them during a Wednesday protest against alleged fraud in Haiti’s recent presidential election while a third says he and his supporters were threatened with arrest.
Sen. Steven Benoit and former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles say they were injured when police fired tear gas and shots to disperse protesters during what was the largest protest since the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results of the Oct. 25 presidential elections.
“The police shot at us point blank,” Benoit said. “There were lots of people and when we got in front of the CEP, they targeted us. It was not an accident.”
Martelly thought we could not put 10,000 people out into the streets and now they see, we are for real and they are panicking
Sen. Steven Benoit, presidential candidate
Benoit says he was hit in his head, and three other places by rubber bullets. He alleges, however, that real bullets were also fired by cops.
“It’s like its 2003 all over again,” he said referring to the era when anti-government protests eventually forced the departure of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “[President Michel] Martelly thought we could not put 10,000 people out into the streets and now they see, we are for real and they are panicking.”
Opposition presidential candidates have organized supporters to demand the cancellation of the election or removal of government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise, who is set to face Jude Célestin in a Dec. 27 runoff .
Haiti National Police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said police were “obligated to break up the protest” because they approached “a sterile zone,” the CEP’s Petionville headquarters. He could not confirm if real bullets were fired, but usually blanks are used, he said.
We were obligated to break up the protest
Haitian National Police Spokesman Frantz Lerebours
“The police can’t use real bullets on a protest if no one is armed and firing at them,” he said.
Presidential candidate Jean-Henry Ceant accused police of using intimidation to tone down the protests over demands for an independent verification of the Oct. 25 presidential vote. He said he and his followers were sequestered by police and threatened with arrest after the protest outside of his offices.
Lerebours said he didn’t have the details around Ceant’s encounter but police did arrest several armed men aboard a gray pickup.
Jean-Charles, who placed third in the elections, said it will take more than intimidation and bullets for the growing protests to cease. “The only thing that will stop this fight is for them to give the Haitian people the real elections results,” he said.
Jean-Charles was riding on the back of a horse that panicked and threw him to the ground after police began firing. He sustained minor injuries to his head. The horse, which appeared to have been shot, survived.
The protest took place on a major holiday, the 212th anniversary of the Battle of Vertières. It was the last major battle of the Haitian war of independence, the day enslaved Africans successfully defeated Napolean’s army. For months later, Haiti became the world’s first black republic.
But the scene that emerged Wednesday served as a reminder of Haiti’s chaotic history since.
While foreign observers have praised the Oct. 25 first round presidential vote, local observers and candidates say it was marred by fraud. On Tuesday, the CEP rejected a request for an independent verification commission.
“Instead of calming us down, they are giving us a reason to keep fighting more,” Benoit said. “Now instead of asking for results, we may just be asking for the end of Martelly’s term. We are leaning toward that.”