Amy Wilentz on the forthcoming Haitian elections

Amy Wilentz, author of the celebrated book on Haiti The Rainy Season, has written a comprehensive article on the forthcoming Haitian elections for the New Yorker [“Running in the Ruins,” The New Yorker, September 6, 2010, p. 26]   You can read the full text of this article in the digital edition if you have a subscription to the magazine. Here is the abstract.

The earthquake that destroyed so much of Haiti last January sent fissures down the side of the building that now houses the electoral council in Port-au-Prince. But the office still managed to function as the site where, by August 5th, thirty-four people had registered to run for President in the upcoming November election. Wyclef Jean, the hip-hop star, was one of those who had registered as a candidate, and he was the focus of much of the fuss twelve days later, as crowds gathered to learn which men the council would officially approve for the ballot. In the days before the council’s decision, he claimed in e-mails that he had been the subject of death threats, and said that he was in hiding somewhere in Haiti. In the end, the electoral council ruled that Jean, born in Croix-des-Bouquets and a current resident of Saddle River, New Jersey, could not be on the ballot, because he had not lived in Haiti for the previous five consecutive years, as is constitutionally required. “Be patient,” Jean advised his supporters. The remaining nineteen candidates are seeking the Presidency of a country even more devastated than the one President René Garcia Préval took over when he was elected, in 2006. Haiti was already the poorest country in the hemisphere, with rampant illiteracy, high infant mortality, and low life expectancy. Now countless ghosts hover over Port-au-Prince and the rest of the western province. The catastrophe is believed to have taken as many as two hundred and thirty thousand lives. A million people are homeless or semi-homeless, most of them in this city, which seems more populous than ever. Another 1.2 million are living in slapdash housing that families have erected on the sidewalks in front of their former homes or in temporary camps. So far, the one visible thing that the decimated Préval government has accomplished since the earthquake is to categorize the damage. The inaction everywhere else in the government is apparent. The interim commission proposed $1.6 billion for recovery projects the week before last, but everything is on hold until the elections. Charles (Samuel) Pierre, who is twenty-six and has malaria, is looking for a new hero—someone like Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was outspoken, fiery, and a friend (so Samuel believes) of the people. There’s one candidate who interests him. That’s forty-nine-year-old Michel (Sweet Micky) Martelly, another musician, and a friend of President Préval’s. Martelly has been living in Haiti for at least the past three years, and he speaks Creole like a Haitian. He is far more acceptable to the political establishment than the arriviste Jean, and his music is more popular in the countryside. He also has the outsized personality that Haitians are used to seeing in their Presidents. If Préval’s party wins the majority in the legislature, the winner of the election could be compelled to appoint him Prime Minister, a post that, according to the Haitian constitution, has the potential to be more powerful than the Presidency.


Photo: Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly

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