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In Haiti, Political Uproar But Hope for Election Compromise

December 9, 2010 at 5:51 PM EDT
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Margaret Warner speaks with Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of TheRoot.com and a native of Haiti, for more on the political disputes there.
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MARGARET WARNER: And, for more, we go to Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of TheRoot.com, a news website that covers issues related to black culture and politics. He was born in Haiti and is now an American citizen.

And, Mr. Dreyfuss, welcome back.

JOEL DREYFUSS, managing editor, TheRoot.com: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have been talking and listening to what is being said down in Haiti. What has been the reaction to this news that the election commission is going to review…

JOEL DREYFUSS: Well, there is a lot of skepticism. I was listening to some Haitian radio talk shows this afternoon. And people are saying, well, how you can expect the election commission to fix things when they were the cause of the problem to begin with?

There’s also the sense that the President Preval engineered this — this runoff to make sure that one his own party members ends up running and — you know, running and possibly winning the election.

MARGARET WARNER: Have you been able to determine, because there are conflicting reports on this, whether they are really going to recount every vote or whether they are simply reviewing the tally sheets from the precincts?

JOEL DREYFUSS: Well, what they have said now is that they are going to invite the three top vote-getters — so, that would be Mrs. Manigat, Jude Celestin, and Martelly, who is the one who is the most — who is challenging the outcome — to observe the recount of the tally sheets.

So, these are sheets where they have taken votes in various precincts around the country and added them up and written down the total.

So, I’m not sure that’s really going to satisfy anybody, you know, very much, except that, you know, there’s always the possibility that the recount could give a different result, because the difference between the second and third candidate was less than half-of-a-percent.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the commission, or the electoral council, in its statement today, fully acknowledged that the protests had something to do with it. So, take us back to Tuesday night, when they announced these results. Why was there such an immediate outcry in the streets?

JOEL DREYFUSS: I think that there was a — there were rumors and stories going around for days. You know, the election was a week ago Sunday, so this was like a nine-day period for the vote count.

There were rumors and a lot of news reports that predicted that Martelly, this musician, and Mrs. Manigat would be the two…

MARGARET WARNER: The former first lady.

JOEL DREYFUSS: The former first lady — would be the final candidates in the runoff. So there was actually surprise, because Preval has really disappointed Haitians in his…

MARGARET WARNER: The president.

JOEL DREYFUSS: … failure to really manage the crisis after the earthquake.

And the feeling was that his — they didn’t want to have anything to do with his man, you know, and his party.

MARGARET WARNER: The one who was — Celestin, who was said to come in second.

JOEL DREYFUSS: Who was said to come in second.

So, there was surprise that Celestin came in second. And that surprise immediately turned to suspicion. And people took to the streets that night, barricades, protests. And, of course, Martelly himself didn’t help the situation, because he was outraged. And he has — and he told his supporters that he wouldn’t give up and he would challenge the results.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, tell us a little about this rap-singer-turned-politician. He didn’t look like a rap singer there in his suit. What is the source of his appeal?

JOEL DREYFUSS: He’s not actually a rap singer. He is what called a Compas singer. I mean, in other words, he sings the basic Haitian popular music.

He has been around for many, many years. He performs under the name of Sweet Micky. And he is known as kind of an outrageous on-stage character. He has been known to pull his pants down or come on stage wearing a diaper or even cross-dressing, wearing women’s clothes on stage.

And part of it, I think, is challenging the sort of very prudish morality, especially of the upper — the bourgeois class in Haiti. So, he is seen as a kind of a rebel. And I think that what happened with him is, he became the symbol of change. They saw the other candidates as more of the same.

People have been incredibly frustrated by what has happened in Haiti. You have a million people living in tents. And now any hope that people had of change was tied around the election.

MARGARET WARNER: So, it was very much tied up, not just the election results, but just the pent-up frustration, after months and months and months?

JOEL DREYFUSS: Sure. I mean, would we be — in this country, in the United States, would we be as well-behaved if we had, you know, 10 percent of our population, 20 percent of our population living on the streets?

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let me ask about the international community’s role here…

JOEL DREYFUSS: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: … because it has been criticized.

Why did they go ahead with this vote, when many people, even some of the candidates, said, in the chaotic situation, they weren’t ready for it? What role did the international community and donors play in that?

JOEL DREYFUSS: The international community is, of course, worried about accountability for the money that they are promising to spend. As you know, most of it has not reached Haiti yet.

MARGARET WARNER: Right.

JOEL DREYFUSS: The president’s term was expiring. Much of the — a good part of the senate and the lower house and entire lower house in Haiti — there is two-camera — two-chamber parliament, pretty much like U.S. Congress.

Many of them were — their terms were up. So,, the question became, what is the legitimate government? Preval’s term was up. So, I think there was a lot of pressure from donor countries to say, you have got to put in a legitimate government. You have got to have elected officials that we can deal with and we can hold accountable.

A lot of people in Haiti were saying, how can you do this? You have got a million people on the street. Tens of thousands of voters died in the earthquake.

MARGARET WARNER: And yet their names are still on the rolls, and other people’s names were not on the rolls.

Now, was there also a feeling, as Deborah Sontag said, that the international community was a little too quick to say, well, yes, there were problems, but good enough?

JOEL DREYFUSS: Right. Even on the day of the election, as people were observing, there were some incidents of violence. There were stone-throwing, ballots being stolen. There were a lot of news reports that people were — there were stuffed ballot boxes.

The international observers for some reason kept saying, well, yes, it’s not perfect, but we think it’s acceptable, it is a decent outcome. And Haitian human rights groups from the very beginning were saying, this is not going to work. You know, there’s too much disorder, too much chaos taking place.

MARGARET WARNER: So, briefly, before we go, how concerned are you that now we’re going to have another unresolved interim period, however long this retabulation takes, that something could kick off much greater violence?

JOEL DREYFUSS: Well, what you are talking about is, would there be massive violence in Haiti? It has not been part of the history of Haiti. Haiti — violence in Haiti usually comes from the government. We have had dictatorships, like Duvalier, that have killed off hundreds of people.

But there is not a history of civil war, I mean, not for 100 — well, more than 150 years. So, I think that the great hope is that things will calm down and some compromise will be found through the electoral process.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, let’s hope so. Joel Dreyfuss, thank you so much.

JOEL DREYFUSS: Thank you.