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.