Kerry’s warning to Haiti: Patience is wearing thin on delayed elections


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has a warning for Haiti’s interim leaders and politicians as the country faces a desperate hunger crisis and this month’s often-postponed presidential runoff is headed to yet another delay: Patience is wearing thin.

“Let me be crystal clear,” Kerry told WPLG-ABC 10 senior political reporter Michael Putney in an interview. “The Haitian players, the so-called leaders, need to understand there’s a clear limit to the patience, the willingness of the international community to condone this process of delay.

“The people of Haiti deserve an elected government,” he added. “They deserve it now.”

Kerry’s hardline came during a visit to Miami on Thursday. As he touched on hemispheric hot spots during a speech at Miami Dade Honors College, representatives of Haiti’s political parties and civic organizations were finalizing the terms of an independent commission to verify the results of the disputed Aug. 9 and Oct. 25 elections. The balloting triggered allegations of ballot tampering and fraud, including multiple voting by those assigned accreditation passes, and demands for a review.

The commission’s mandate and scope of work have been sent to Provisional President Jocelerme Privert. He is moving ahead with the commission despite the objections of the international community, which is also hinting at cutting off aid and election assistance. Privert said last week that verification is needed to get the country’s 5.8 million registered voters to participate in the elections.

Washington, however, remains opposed to any kind of recount, noting that international observers “found no evidence of massive fraud in these.” It has contributed $33 million to the elections, which were Haiti’s first in four years after being repeatedly delayed by former President Michel Martelly.

Martelly’s PHTK party supporters have taken to the streets in renewed protests demanding the elections be held. The party opposes any verification, and says it is a smokescreen to kick out its presidential candidate, Jovenel Moïse, who qualified for the runoff against opposition candidate Jude Célestin.

Critical of the U.S. hardline, Haiti’s opposition and civil organizations say that the interrupted electoral process can’t continue until light is shed on the previous results. They note that Martelly’s own electoral commission found the vote was tainted by “grave irregularities,” and have found support among some in the international community.

Kerry isn’t the only one concerned about the stalled elections in Haiti, which this week received three high-level visits.

On Wednesday, Juan Gabriel Valdés, Chile’s ambassador to the United States, flew back to Washington after flying to Port-au-Prince at the request of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Valdés, who served as head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) from 2004-06, said the reason for his trip was to get an assessment on the role of the mission ahead of a vote in Chile’s Senate on whether to keep its 2,500 peacekeepers in Haiti.

“I saw three former presidents, and I saw Privert,” said Valdés, who also used the visit to assess the electoral crisis. “Everybody said we had to support the electoral process, and it was critical for Haiti’s future that MINUSTAH stayed during this difficult period.”

Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro also visited Port-au-Prince overnight on Wednesday to discuss elections. Also in town: World Food Program Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

“The situation is desperate,” Cousin told the Miami Herald, adding that food prices are comparable to the high prices of 2008 when Haiti experienced food riots after four storms in 30 days. The country is facing its worst food crisis since 2001.

Thecrisis has been triggered by the El Niño weather pattern, which is affecting 8.5 million people in Ethiopia; 3.6 million in Haiti; more than 1 million in Malawi; and 900,000 in Guatemala.

“This is an issue that is not receiving international attention, that is affecting poor people in some of the toughest places in the world right now,” Cousin said.

Of those who are food insecure in Haiti, 1.5 million are in jeopardy of going hungry, Cousin said. So far, the United Nations agency has only raised enough money to feed 200,000 people. The political situation isn’t helping.

“Politics always complicates responses in Haiti,” Cousin said.

Jacqueline Charles: @Jacquiecharles