Sokari Ekine is in Haiti for the next four weeks and will be sending regular updates to Pambazuka. During her stay she will be meeting with women community organisers and members of youth groups with a view to documenting their work. Much has been written about the situation in the camps and neighbourhoods such as Cité Soleil and Bel Air, as well as those children and parents involved in SOPUDEP.
My intention is to report from observations and interviews the struggle of these women, taking community organiser Rea Dol as my reference point and guide. Why Rea? Because I met her in 2007 during a short visit to Haiti and was immediately impressed by her energy and dedication in movement building, the practical day-to-day struggle of running a free school for some 400 children and as a role model for young women and men.
I arrived Saturday morning and the day was spent meeting the family and resting. The drive from the airport to Pernier district was fairly uneventful and there seemed to be little if any change from three years ago, except I noticed the UN building was now complete.
‘Five years in darkness’ is how one man described the last five years under President René Préval.
Today is election day and I was able to visit three voting centres in Pernier and Route de Frères in Delmas 105, Jacquet, Delmas 95. The three centres were quite different. First my interpreter and I, who is a young student at SOPUDEP school, had no problems entering the voting compounds. My first observation is that the queues were short, with a slow trickle of people entering and existing. In the compound itself there were a fair amount of people, mostly young men milling around. In the hour or so I spent, I saw no more than a handful actually voting. I spoke to groups of between 6 and 10 mostly young men and a few women, none of whom had been able to vote. Some were resigned but most were very very angry as they had been turned away, having been told they were in the wrong centre or their names were not listed. They were told to phone the CEP (Conseil Electoral Provisoir) but said no one answered so they did not know where they were supposed to go.
I spoke with a couple of CEP officials who were responsible for checking voters’ IDs and asked why people were being turned away, some whose names were on the list. They denied this was the case and said it was not their responsibility to tell people where to vote and that the information was on the internet. This seemed a ridiculous response since most people don't have internet access or cannot afford it and in a country where the majority of people are unemployed surely there was a better way of informing people about where they should vote.
The second centre was larger with many more people. Most of the people I spoke with had voted, but again there were many who had been refused and confused as to why. Even those who had voted complained about the process and had little faith that voting would change anything. Of those who had voted, all but two in the three centres had voted for Michel Josef Martelly. The two others voted for Josef Celestin – the Préval candidate. I tried to probe to find out what it was they hoped for, and the general repeated response was change, especially jobs. I was told that the small number of women voting was due to fears of violence, though at least the three centres I visited were peaceful, despite the anger.
We arrived at around noon, and the one thing that was blatantly obvious was that none of the voting boxes was even half-full – and I checked all the boxes in each of the centres. As I write this we have just heard that people are now protesting against the elections, the reasons being that many many people, as I found myself, were unable to vote. The protests were in support of Michel Martelly – nicknamed ‘Tête Kale’ (meaning bald head) or ‘Mickey’ – and against Celestin. Martelly himself was pictured driving through the streets and hailed the hero, just as Préval was hailed in 2006, in what is a mixture of carnival and protests on the streets this night.
I am surrounded by at least a dozen people in Rea’s home, mostly young men and women in support of Martelly but at the same time admitting he really cannot fulfil the dreams of the those hailing him at this moment.
Rea explained the last 12 months as follows. First we had the earthquake; then the rains; then the hurricane; then cholera; today the elections and now from today the protests against the elections. If Celestin wins then there will be more problems and street protests. If Martelly wins there will be dancing on the streets and protests by those who could not vote. I asked Rea her opinion on Michel Martelly, a musician turned politician who apparently now was being appropriated by Wyclef Jean as a force against Celestin. Haitian politics has always been highly complex and I cannot begin to understand it as this point. The vote for Martelly is a vote against everything since the coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide – a vote of anger, a vote of hunger after the Préval years and the past 12 months and a vote against five years in darkness.
Calls for the election to be cancelled were ignored and refused by the US government. These are monies which could have been spent to address the cholera epidemic, which according to people here is more than double the official figures, meaning at least 20,000 infected. Then there are the numbers of dead from the earthquake; 250,000 is just an estimate – the true number may never be known. Rumours abound that many of the dead were listed on the election lists. Whether true or not, the mere fact of rumour can cause anger and reason for further protests.
Its now 8pm and it seems Tête Kale is the man. The protests are being shown on TV and no one wants to brave the streets into downtown, but there is a general anger at everything which has happened or not happened over the past 11 months and this election debacle will only add to an already volatile despair at the knowledge that at least on a political level nothing will change. Will there be more jobs this time next year and if there are will there be fair wages or will they barely meet people’s everyday needs? Will women feel any more secure, will more children receive an education? The struggle is huge. There is much corruption, deception and waste. Over the next few weeks I hope to find out what challenges women in particular face and how they have negotiated their lives and created their own survival strategies.
One behalf of members of SOPUDEP, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to the fundraiser I organised – a total of US$1,270 with which I was able to purchase much-needed medical, hygiene and school supplies – as well as the various donations in kind from friends in Miami.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS