Postpone elections in storm-hit Haiti

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Haiti’s trials, sometimes, seem terrifyingly biblical. The fury and destruction of Hurricane Matthew, which slammed into the country’s southern coast underscored the point. The ferocious storm, which killed at least two, triggered raging floods, ripped off roofs and devastated farmland right at planting season only added to the deep and abiding challenges that Haiti faces.

The Category 4 hurricane made landfall at about 7 a.m. Tuesday. By the evening, it was hitting Cuba and, according to projections, would chug toward Florida’s eastern coast.

Of course, beleaguered Haitians need our help, and there several reputable charities that are worthy of our donations of food, water, clothing and emergency supplies.

What Haiti doesn’t need right now are the national presidential elections, long-awaited, often chaotic and, in the wake of Matthew’s destruction, totally senseless to attempt five days after the storm. The Provisional Electoral Council should call them off — for now. As of this writing, that had not happened.

Recovery has to be Haitian leaders’ sole focus. But given that Haiti still is suffering human-scale aftershocks almost seven years after the horrific earthquake of 2010, that’s going to be difficult to pull off, unfortunately.

The elections have always been working against high hurdles, and Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath is one more. Haiti still is in the grip of a cholera epidemic. The disease has killed more than 9,000 people since 2010. The United Nations was irresponsibly reluctant to acknowledge that U.S. peacekeepers from Nepal, many themselves sick, introduced the disease to Haiti on a grand scale. The U.N. must step up its professed commitment to an eradication program. Hurricane Matthew, no doubt, will enable the water-borne disease to spread.

And last month, the United States announced that it will deport Haitians trying to enter the country along the dangerous route up through South and Central America to the Mexican border. Citing improved conditions in Haiti — that clearly wasn’t the case even before Matthew hit — the U.S. policy shift is an attempt to discourage others from coming and being detained.

Post-hurricane, the landscape, political and otherwise, has changed for the worse, and deportations won’t help.

Haiti’s temporary government, in place since ex-President Michel Martelly — elected as a man of the people, but leaving office as an autocrat — stepped down.

First-round voting in October 2015 was deemed a fraud-ridden disaster by Haiti’s Independent Commission of Evaluation and Verification.

Ever since, there’s been little confidence among Haitian voters that anything will be different.

And there have been hurdles erected from outside the island’s shores. In July, the United States, which had contributed $33.4 million of the $100 million it took to hold last year’s elections, withdrew financial and political support for the Oct. 9 polling.

It also sought a refund of $1.9 million left in an elections trust fund. This has led many Haitians to ask if the United States is trying to undermine the wish of the Haitian people. Still, U.S. leaders have a right to wonder what they bought for the $33 million.

Haitians need a democratic government in which they can have confidence to work solidly on their behalf. Difficult to achieve under the best circumstances, and impossible in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.