Beyond Wyclef: What Haitians Want From Elections

We asked dozens of Haitians from different social sectors how they felt about the November 28 elections, and what they want or expect from a new government. Here are some of their responses.

Louisiane Nazaire defines herself as a peasant. She is a member of a local peasant farmer group in the Grande-Anse, and is coordinator of the National Commission of Peasant Women.

“We don’t trust these elections, either the power or the electoral council. But we realized that the elections would go forward anyway so we decided we had to participate so we peasants don’t stay in the same situation we’re in now. So now we in [the national peasant movements and agricultural federations of] the National  Commission of Peasant Women [KONAFAP], the National Movement of Peasants of the Papay Congress [MPNKP], and the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security [RENHASSA] are running local candidates in a bunch of places, peasants who will represent our interests and our voices. This can help us get power that represents the peasants and all the people.

“Now society treats us terribly, peasants and poor women. Especially women: as citizens, we need our rights, our voices, and laws respected. We shouldn’t be treated differently than men, regardless of class.

“One thing we want from a new government is for the national budget to reflect the interests of peasants and agriculture. We need credit, too. The country depends on us peasants, but they don’t give us anything. If we farmers didn’t work for a month, the whole nation would perish.  Still, the [percentage of the national] budget for peasants and agriculture was only 3% for years, and after a lot of mobilization it went up to 4%.

“We’re claiming our vote, and we’re using our participation to ensure that our vote has worth. If we see that our votes aren’t counted, we’ll take to the streets and demand that the election is redone or just annulled.”

Suze Jean is a primary school teacher, a university student of electronics, and a self-described revolutionary. An elected member of the management committee of her internally displaced people’s camp on the grounds of an evangelical church, after she and others put out a press release about camp conditions in September, Suze was evicted and her tent and belongings were destroyed by the pastor’s son. She now lives on the streets, and is eight months pregnant.

“I see the elections of November 28 as an injustice to the population who are victims of the earthquake of January 12. This money [from the campaign] could be used to help people who are in difficulty.

“And all these candidates: we’ve been living under tarps for nine months, and we haven’t seen one of these people do anything for us. They’re deaf, they don’t hear anything.  We need forced expulsions to stop. We can’t stand them anymore.

“Ten camps in [the neighborhood of] Carrefour have come together to mobilize against the elections. We will resist. We’re organizing to not participate in elections as long as we’re living under tarps in the rain and the mud, and as long as they’re throwing us out of camps. We’ll do demonstrations, sit-ins, everything we can to not participate and help other camp committees not participate.  We won’t use violence to block people, but we’re trying to mobilize them to boycott.

“We’ll participate in elections once they respond to our demands, once they address the problems of people living in temps and getting evicted from them, once they stop forcing people to work as supposed volunteers in the camp, once they stop forcing women to sleep with men who control [distribution of] humanitarian aid to get any.

“The positive alternative we want is a candidate who’s sensitive to our needs, who has a good vision of how to take care of our problems, who would create a pro-people government.  Who would take our needs to the international community. We need someone who knows our suffering and who has the maturity and conscientiousness to lead. We need someone from the level of the people.”

Wilner Jean-Charles was a marketing student until political upheaval in 2004 forced him to leave school. Wilner now serves as a guide and driver for tourist groups.

“I’m not into politics.  But I believe that if someone had a really good, long-term program for youth, we could have real development. If that candidate had an education program to get all the street children to school, and gave them the opportunity for a good university education, and developed good employment for those kids once they get out, they’d be building a different kind of citizenry.  Just project 50 years out to what kind of people those kids would be.

“What candidate do I support? I haven’t taken the time to read up to see if any of the candidates have a program for Haiti’s education program. But if I found one that did, and if that person had a minimum of credibility, I’d vote for him.”

Jocie Philistin is a human rights advocate. She coordinates a network of women’s organizations for the Bureau of International Lawyers in Port-au-Prince.

“Once we have the candidate we need, someone who can hear and respond to the rights of the people, you’ll see the majority accompanying him or her to the elections.  You saw that in 1990, when all the Haitian people decided they wanted a candidate [Jean-Bertrand Aristide]. They [67% of the electorate] voted him in.  Naturally, the people would have to continue to make sure their demands are applied even if that candidate wins.

“Meanwhile, what I see with the elections is that Parti Unité [President Préval’s party] is just looking to validate a selection that’s already happened. They’ve already stolen the presidency and the parliament.  Selection isn’t election.

“I know the international community always plays a big role in elections. If they just back up a selection, the people will just stay as they are in their camps and in their insecurity. One word: block any selection.”

Josette Pérard is director of Fon Lanbi Haiti, the Haitian counterpart of the Lambi Fund. Trained as a social worker, Josette runs a program to train, build capacity of, and get grants to women’s and small farmer organizations in rural areas.

“It wasn’t long ago that a small group of people used French as a way to isolate everyone. People couldn’t participate in anything because they didn’t speak French. They couldn’t even understand what was being said on the radio. Today, everyone says what they think, they want to participate, to enter into the debate. It’s a movement.

“The people will have to be a part of any change of the state. Otherwise, it won’t work.  But for that, [the president and government] will have to trust the people. I hear candidates open their mouths to speak of ‘the people.’ They talk about what they’ll do for the people, but never what they’ll do with them. Nice vision and nice speech from the president aren’t enough. The only way for us to have a change is if the people are part of the process.”

Ludovic Cherustal is a young database technician working for a humanitarian aid NGO from Canada. He hopes for a more stable job so he can start a family.

“People would be interested in the elections if they saw that the outcome would have an impact on their needs. But the candidates are all gwo manjè, big eaters, from the same group of people who always exploit us.  Most of them have been the system, benefiting from it, for a long time.  They’re not going to do anything for us, the little poor people.”

Alina “Tibebe” Cajuste was a slave as a child, and now is a children’s rights activist and poet.  Her dreams in life are to become literate and to see an end to child slavery.

“I lost my electoral card in the earthquake [when my house was destroyed] and it’s so hard to get a new one.  I have to vote but I don’t know how I’m going to do that.

“But a new president can come to power and Haiti will still be the same, especially if all he sees are his pockets and not the people. If a new president doesn’t give us primary schools, professional schools, and business in the countryside, it’ll be just like washing your hands and drying them in the dirt.

“If we don’t have a change in consciousness, we can have all the elections we want and Haiti will remain as fragile as a crystal.”

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds,, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.