YIRA observes Haiti elections

Yalies saw "shocking" violence, "screaming and shouting," near polling locations in Haiti.
Yalies saw "shocking" violence, "screaming and shouting," near polling locations in Haiti. Photo by YIRA.

Haiti’s presidential palace is in ruins, but the country held elections for the job Sunday nonetheless — and a group of Yalies were on hand to document the process.

Nine members of the Yale International Relations Association went to Haiti last week to blog about the election and collect footage for a documentary on the nation’s political climate, as it struggles to recover from a massive 7.0 earthquake it suffered January. They hope to finish the film about their experience before next fall — but after international outcry over alleged voting fraud and a planned runoff, the election’s results may not be known for months.

Participant Frank Costa ’14 said that he was shocked by the voter fraud he observed while in the Caribbean nation.

“We saw basically the [United Nations] forces sitting outside of the polling stations seeing pretty clear corruption and not doing anything,” Costa said. “We did see them taking down people who were kind of justifiably protesting.”

YIRA has previously traveled to Kenya, Mauritania and Venezuela to monitor elections. While they did not monitor the elections in Haiti, organizer Alexandra van Nievelt ’13 said, this trip was formatted much like prior monitoring trips — members met with important figures, then blogged about it.

Those figures included government officials, NGO workers and a rock star-turned-presidential-candidates: ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean Jean was one of 18 candidates seeking office. Van Nievelt said the large pool of candidates initially caught her attention and inspired her to organize the trip.

YIRA members spent most of their time in the capital city, Port-au-Prince. The nation is only beginning to recover from the damage of Hurricane Tomas, which struck this November, and now faces a fast-spreading cholera epidemic. The group was accompanied by bodyguards — almost one per group member — and stayed in an orphanage outside of the city center.

“We weren’t walking on the streets,” van Nievelt said. “Except for two blocks on Election Day, we were in a van or with bodyguards.”

As the elections neared, Port-au-Prince authorities tried to prevent outbreaks of violence from protesters, said Anne van Bruggen ’13.

“They shut down all the gas stations as a safety measure. You couldn’t sell alcohol,” van Bruggen said. “People were really taking precautions, because the atmosphere was very tense and very aggressive.”

At one polling place, YIRA found that although voters were more than eager to talk to them, their group appeared to be the only international press present.

The fact that Yalies visiting the country to observe elections were the only international reporters to cover the story was “troubling,” YIRA member Ashley Edwards ’12 wrote in a blog post that day.

van Bruggen said that one polling place were chaotic, as voters were “screaming and shouting” when they were turned away from casting a ballot.

Haitian officials say that partial election results will be released Tuesday. Candidates have until December 20 to contest the results.

Haiti’s election commission, the Conseil Electoral Provisoire, is preparing for a runoff election Jan. 16.

Correction: December 2, 2010

An earlier version of this article contained several errors. To begin, it misidentified Frank Costa ’14 as Cameron Rotblat ’13. Comments about the United Nations’ involvement in the elections should have been attributed to Costa. Rotblat was also incorrectly referred to as Cameron Rotman in the article. The same article misquoted Anne van Bruggen ’13. Her comments about election day violence and the presence of international press referred to one polling place and not the country in general. The article also incorrectly stated that Wyclef Jean and Michel Martelly had visited Yale this fall and that the YIRA group met with Martelly in Haiti. In addition, the factbox accompanying the article “YIRA observes Haiti elections” incorrectly stated that the Cité Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince had the highest voter turnout. In fact, voter turnouts are not yet known. The News regrets these errors.

Comments

  • flyersandfloyd

    I was a member on the YIRA trip to Haiti and was interviewed for “YIRA observes Haiti elections” article. Unfortunately, there are a number of glaring errors that need to be corrected. First, my last name is spelled Rotblat not Rotman. I do not know not where the error came from, as a quick look at the Yale Facebook shows that there is no one at Yale with the last name Rotman. Additionally, the brackets that added “[United Nations]” to my first quote are incorrect. I was explicitly talking about Haitian Forces. I recognize that the United Nations mandate for the Stabilisation Mission in Haiti is maintaing public order rather than election monitoring. Additionally I do not recall the second quote. I saw many people justifiably protesting but the only people saw “taken down” (not my words) were those causing major disruptions or threatening violence. I appreciate the effort put into the article and enjoyed being interviewed, but I would like these corrections to be recognized, as I feel that my experience has been misrepresented and incorrectly attributed.

    -Cameron Rotblat ’13

  • annereina

    Hi,

    I was also a member of the trip and I need to correct one of my comments that was taken out of context. One of the polling stations we visited had indeed people “screaming and shouting”. However we were in a very specific neighborhood where there was no other press to be found (read more on our blog: http://yirahaitielections.wordpress.com. In other places polling stations were much calmer, even the polling station where the picture was taken.

    Anne van Bruggen SY ’13

  • ashleye

    I was also a member of the trip and would like to correct an error. The writer states that “…members met with important figures, then blogged about it. Those figures included government officials, NGO workers and two rock stars-turned-presidential-candidates: ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean and Michel Martelly, a popular Haitian musician. Martelly and Jean — who visited Yale in October to express support for Martelly — were two of 18 candidates seeking office.” This is false. Michel Martelly and Wyclef Jean did not visit Yale. Ex-Fugees member, Pras Michel visited Yale and expressed support for Martelly. Also, we never met with Michel Martelly in Haiti. I appreciate the effort put into writing the article, but I want to make sure our experience is accurately represented.

    Ashley Edwards ’12

  • avannievelt

    A few other corrections: Wyclef Jean was disqualified from the presidential race by the Conseil Electoral Povisoire on the basis that he lacked residency requirements, so it is not accurate to say that he is currently a candidate. The confusion about whether we interviewed him or not (we did not) may have come from the fact that I said that as my co-leader Dave Fils-Aimé came back from an interview, he managed to get footage of the riots that he and Michel Martelly led in protest of the alleged electoral fraud. Both Martelly and his contender Mirlande Manigat withdrew their requests for the elections’ annulment.

    The other thing I wanted to point out is that Cité Soleil did not have “the highest vote turnout in the country,” but rather is the commune with the highest constituency of the city as it is the densest. There is no way we are going to get to know what commune had the most votes in the near future.

    I also wanted to make a clarification about the safety measures taken in the trip. My quote here may give the impression that we did not have security on the day of the elections, but we had six bodyguards with us when we walked those two blocks I mentioned–from where we parked our van, to the polling station, and back to the van.

    Finally, this is obviously a matter of subjectivity, but I would not say that we saw “shocking” violence during our time in Port-au-Prince. Corruption, incompetence, disillusionment, impotence, questionable civil liberties, and poverty, most definitely, but not real violence.

    One last thing: the title of this article could lead someone to believe that we performed as official election monitors at the elections. We did not. Because we were filming a documentary, we got accredited as international press.

    Alexandra van Nievelt ’13