Violence derails Haiti elections
Haiti's much-awaited Presidential elections were called off Sunday after a long night of violence. The move was a bitter disappointment to Haitians hoping for their first democratic elections in 30 years. The ouster of Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986 ended three decades of dictatorship in the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.Skip to next paragraph
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Haiti's ugly Duvalierist past of killer thugs was resurrected this weekend as bloody machete and shooting attacks erupted all over the capital city. By 10 a.m. Sunday, the Provisional Election Council (CEP) canceled the polling.
``It's a catastrophe for democracy,'' said Jean-Claude Bajeux, a director of the National Unity Front, a coalition of civic groups.
Mr. Bajeux was a principal architect of last summer's widespread public demonstrations against the interim military government of Gen. Henri Namphy. The provisional National Governing Council had tried to take election control from the CEP but was pressured into giving it back.
In Washington Sunday, United States Secretary of State George Shultz held supporters of the Duvalier dictatorship responsible for the violence which forced postponement of the elections.
Mr. Shultz expressed confidence, however, that the Haitian people's desire for democracy would prevail over renewed violence. The US State Department and Congress have said that if elections were ``derailed,'' the $100 million aid to this country would be cut off. At press time Sunday, there was no word on such a move.
Bajeux has renewed last summer's call for replacing General Namphy's National Governing Council with a provisional civilian government to run the elections.
``Today is proof we cannot count on the Army to make the elections,'' he said.
At least 25 overnight murders had been reported by press time. Dozens of foreign journalists were fired upon, and three were wounded. Though military tanks and trucks patrolled the city, the attacks were widely believed committed by remnants of the Duvalierist security forces, the hated Tonton Macoutes.
Haitian politicians, foreign observers here to witness elections, and diplomats were pessimistic about the situation.
In many regions of the country, voting reportedly had proceeded quietly until the cancellation. But violence in the capital was so bad that to keep the elections going would be to expose citizens to more ``carnage,'' said Ernst Merville, president of the electoral council.
Mr. Merville's announcement came over Radio Metropole, one of the stations that escaped attack Saturday night. (Haiti's radio stations were key to rallying opposition against Mr. Duvalier.)
On Saturday the CEP had postponed the elections in Artibonite region because of road blocks that had prevented ballots from reaching polling stations. The ballots might have been delivered by helicopter, but the government refused to authorize helicopters to fly.
Election eve was a sleepless night for most people in this capital city. Gunfire was nearly non-stop and fires were set in two churches and an electoral bureau. The home of a methodist minister and member of the CEP was bombed.
At about 8:30 a.m., 17 people - among them women and at least one girl - standing in a polling line were believed to be massacred by a mob carrying machetes and guns. Journalists on the scene minutes later were attacked by a mob.
Steven Wilson, a freelance photographer from Wadsworth, Ohio, returned to the CEP's press center with a chilling tale. He was stopped by ``macoutes'' who forced him to his knees at gunpoint and took all his cameras and money. After he was allowed back in his car, the men blasted it with gunfire. Mr. Wilson said he escaped by ducking as he drove off.
The military goverment has never fully cooperated with CEP efforts to bring off the elections. And though governing council member Gen. Williams Regala guaranteed election security for Sunday, it was unclear what the Army was doing to prevent the killings. Some Haitians blame the Army directly for the killings or charge them with complicity.
Namphy's ruling council has already miffed US officials here by saying that the three congressmen in President Reagan's official observer group were not welcome. The congressmen, who were critical of Namphy, did not come with the rest of the group that arrived Saturday.
Poverty, violence mark Haiti history
Haiti covers an area of 10,700 square miles, and is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Ninety-five percent of Haitians are descendants of African slaves brought over to cut sugar cane. It won independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804.
Haiti's history after independence was marked by poverty, violence, and instability.
In 1957, President Fran,cois Duvalier took power, declaring himself president-for-life in 1964. He was succeeded in 1971 by his son, Jean-Claude. The Duvalier family created the Tontons Macoutes, a private militia responsible for 29 years of arbitrary arrests and killings of opponents. Massive unrest in 1986 forced Jean-Claude Duvalier to flee. A military-civilian junta promised to hold elections by February 7, 1988.