The United Nations Security Council wrapped up a three-day mission Sunday urging Haiti’s warring politicians to work together to stage elections as quickly as possible while remaining mum on whether it will move ahead with plans to reduce the presence of its 7,100-strong peacekeeping mission beginning in March.
“We are trying to maintain the support to the government of Haiti for the main goal, which is to have elections,” said Chile’s U.N. Ambassador Cristián Barros Melet, the Security Council president. “But it’s too early to say if it’s necessary to continue with the same configuration or not. We have time to do that. It is a very complex process we are living here in the political area.”
During a visit by Barros and the other representatives of the 15-member council to the Haiti National Police (HNP) training academy earlier in the day, Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir reiterated President Michel Martelly’s request that a planned reduction of the 4,957 military troops be delayed until after elections for president, 20 Senate seats, the entire 99-member chamber of deputies and more than 4,000 local posts are completed this year.
“It’s a question of logistics,” Casimir told the Miami Herald. “There are a lot of departments where they will need to transport ballots. If they leave, that will increase the pressure on the HNP.”
The high-level UN delegation arrived Friday amid anti-government protests, and just hours before the country installed a new nine-member provisional electoral board to oversee the balloting. Days earlier, Martelly installed a new prime minister and government on the recommendation of a presidential commission seeking to calm the rising political tensions and anti-government protests. Parliament also dissolved after the terms of a second-tier of the 30-member Senate ended, and the entire lower house because of delayed elections.
During their visit, members met with Martelly and his government, opposition leaders, civil society and the electoral board. They also took several site visits to better understand the recovery and resettlement of persons affected by the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, including laying a wreath in Titanyen where many of the more than 300,000 dead are buried in mass graves.
On Saturday, members toured the Nerette neighborhood in the capital where the government and the U.N. have rehabbed homes and mitigated disaster risks to encourage camp residents to return to the neighborhood. Later, they flew to Cap-Haitien via helicopter where they toured the only hospital in the northern region for handicapped persons, the Haitian Hospital Appeal in Quartier Morin. They also visited with members of the Haitian Coast Guard, who spoke of the challenges of patrolling the open coast line with only two 40-foot boats, and met with tourism students.
But it was Haiti’s ongoing political impasse and elections delay that preoccupied council members.
“We saw on one hand, great signs of progress, whether with regard to health, or education or the removal of rubble or the resettlement of individuals displaced in the earthquake,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who co-led the delegation with Barros. “But the vast majority of the individuals with whom we met also stressed alongside this progress, the delicacy and fragility of an election year.”
While Power began the trip by stressing strong support for Martelly, she said at the end, council members are even more convinced of the importance of compromise.
“The council stressed in all of our meetings both with the president and his ministers and the senators and opposition parties, our strong support for the strengthening of checks and balances at a time when parliament is not performing its traditional role,” she said.
In a meeting between the council members and eight of the 10 remaining senators, Sen. Steven Benoit called for the first round of elections to be held by May or June, an idea Martelly supports, and runoffs and presidential balloting by September or October.
Benoit said the international community shared in the blame for the political chaos, which began with the contested 2010 presidential elections in which the U.S. and U.N. representatives in Haiti “handpicked Mr. Martelly as president although he was not qualified to move to the second round of the election, thus moving us further from the spirit of the constitution.”
Benoit said that despite Martelly’s recent concessions to the opposition, “things are not improving.”
Power didn’t cite Benoit’s name in her closing remarks but said, “people who have grievances or who have complaints about the past, can invest their energies constructively in the election process.
“We urge those who have complaints and concerns about recent events or about how Haiti got to this moment, to channel their energies into ensuring fair, transparent and inclusive elections.”
The council, she said, came to Haiti to gain a better understanding of how the international community could help and “to support the Haitian people, not to pick sides.”
“It will have to be Haitian leaders, Haitian opposition politicians and Haitian citizens who come together to ensure that the elections happen in as timely a fashion as is feasible,” she said. “And when that political will is shown across a range of communities, the United Nations and the broader international community will be right there to support Haiti as it takes these next steps.”