US turns up pressure on Haiti leaders

The United States warned Haiti its foreign aid is being imperiled by political stalemate following disputed elections, spelling more trouble for a nation struggling to recover from a huge earthquake and cholera epidemic, reports.

Commerce has resumed in the commercial center of Port-au-Prince after several days of violence caused by results of the presidential election. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Canada, voiced growing American impatience over the handling of the November 28 vote. She said there was “a growing frustration… that as we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that there hasn’t been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that is called for.”

She described a call to freeze US aid as a “very strong signal that we expect more and we’re looking for more.”

The outcome of the contested presidential poll is crucial for a country struggling to recover from an earthquake 11 months ago that killed 250,000 people and forced 1.5 million into increasingly permanent tent cities.

US Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy suggested on Friday that the United States should cut off aid to the Haitian government and deny travel visas to its top officials to force a fair election outcome.

President René Préval, who has served his maximum two terms, is accused of rigging the November 28 polls in favor of a handpicked successor, 48-year-old ruling party candidate Jude Celestin. Official results have him squeaking into a January 16 run-off by fewer than 7,000 votes ahead of Michel Martelly, a popular singer-turned-politician who accuses Préval of orchestrating a massive rigging conspiracy.

Top in the first round was academic and former first lady Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old longtime opposition leader whose husband was briefly president in 1988 before being ousted by a military coup. A US State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, dated June 2009, reads like an eerie forecast of the current turmoil and strongly hinted that Préval, who has served his maximum of two terms, would seek to manage his succession.

Dubbing him a “chameleon-like character,” the stinging assessment did credit the 67-year-old leader with attempting to bridge political divides during his first year in office, but it was highly critical of his subsequent performance. “Stubbornly holding to ideas long past their shelf-life, he rarely welcomes dissenting opinions. Préval clearly believes that he can walk a fine line without losing US or international community support,” it said.

The most interesting snippet relevant to current developments described Préval’s “very real fear that politics will prohibit him from returning to private life in Haiti after his presidency.”

His close friends say “his overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded,” the cable said.

In a bid to counter the rigging allegations, the election commission, the Provisional Electoral Council, has set up a vote verification committee to examine the tally sheets and preside over a proposed recount.

Hopes of breaking the stalemate dimmed on Monday as the verification committee failed to hold a planned meeting and Martelly’s campaign team told AFP the key candidate had no intention of being part of the process.

Without the backing of Manigat and Martelly, 49, it is hard to see how the planned recount would have the credibility needed to end the crisis, which comes during a cholera outbreak that has claimed 2,200 lives.

UN peacekeepers in riot gear had to restore order in major cities last week after at least five people were killed in politically charged riots, but the streets of Port-au-Prince have been calm since Friday. At the weekend, residents of the teeming capital rushed out to reopened banks and supermarkets to stock up in case the unrest resumes.

Clinton’s call represented the strongest indication yet that the international community, which has pledged 10 billion dollars to help Haiti stand on its feet again after the quake, is losing patience. Ambassadors from the US, France, Spain, Brazil, the UN, the Organization of American States and the European Union issued a joint statement on Sunday urging the candidates to prevent violence and follow the rule of law. The Club of Madrid, a forum of 79 former world leaders, has called on the international community to beef up its monitoring presence in Haiti ahead of January’s run-off.

Meanwhile, US ambassador Kenneth Merten declared on Monday that Washington would not give its support to the creation of provisional government, which some have been urging as a way to sidestep the continuing upheaval over last month’s disputed polls. “The international community speaks with one voice,” Merten said here, speaking in French. “We would like to see a solution to the crisis that respects the votes of the Haitian people,” he said.

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