Haiti: Election Violence Escalates

Written by Flora Thomas

As Haitian presidential candidate and legal scholar Mirlande Manigat set out to begin a campaign rally in Mirebalais on Tuesday 15 March, 2011, her convoy was stoned [fr] by alleged supporters of opposing electoral candidate Michel Martelly, leading to a scuffle that resulted in gunshots and wounds.

Madame Manigat, as her fans and legions of former students call her, tweeted the attack shortly thereafter:

@mirlandemanigat: Aujourd'hui, on a encore attaque notre camp au Plateau Central.

@mirlandemanigat: Today in the Central Plateu, our campaign was attacked yet again.

As did Miami Herald’s Jacquie Charles:

@jacquiecharles: #Manigat campaign says her convoy was attacked as she attempted to hold meeting in Mirebalais She was removed from scene. #elections #Haiti

Wounded Barikad Crew technician. Image courtesy Sitwayen Pou Mirlande @Zogrann.

Manigat, a centrist and author of a volume on the history of Haitian women’s rights since 1804, had to be removed from the scene [fr] and the rally disbanded before its start. A technician for popular rap band Barikad Crew was injured (see right).

Barikad Crew is touring the country with Manigat to help her woo younger Haitians who make up the majority of the electorate.

Shortly after the incident, Mirlande Manigat spoke live [fr] to Haitian capital Port-au-Prince based Radio Kiskeya:

Mirlande Manigat a dénoncé les “attaques systématiques” des partisans de son rival dans ses différents déplacements électoraux. Une situation qu’elle qualifie d’inadmissible en soulignant qu’à Mirebalais des hurleurs ont causé un vacarme insupportable pendant trois quarts d’heure. Elle s’est, par ailleurs, plainte de la passivité de la police qui n’aurait rien fait contre les agresseurs. La candidate entend aller jusqu’au bout de sa campagne après avoir effectué une tournée globalement satisfaisante dans le département du Centre qui l’a aussi conduite à Hinche, Cerca Carvajal et Boucan Carré.

Mirlande Manigat denounced the “systematic attacks” of her rival’s partisans during her various campaign stops. She deems the developments unacceptable while highlighting that the Mirebalais assailants caused unbearable noise during 45 minutes. She also complained of the passivity of the police which did nothing against aggressors. The candidate intends to see her campaign through to the end. She is satisfied with her campaign in the Central region overall and visited [several other cities there in addition to Mirebalais].

On Twitter, Manigat [fr] revisited all of the attacks incurred by her supporters since campaigning against second round opponent Michel Martelly, beginning on February 17, 2011: a young man was killed in Cité Soleil shortly before she arrived there for a rally, three people responsible for posting her bills were tortured and killed, stones were thrown on a rally in Bel-Air, and two supporters were hospitalized after being beaten at a large Cap-Haïtien rally last Thursday.

But as if the toll of casualties was not intidimidating enough to potential voters, Haitians woke up this morning to news that politician Michel St-Obin from the OPL platform who had endorsed Manigat was shot and killed last night.

Jean-Junior Joseph, Mirlande Manigat press attaché, confirmed the news on Twitter:

@jeanjuniorj: Michel Saint-Obin, a Mirlande MANIGAT's supporter shot dead in Port-de-Paix yesterday.

Despite this unsettling development, Manigat received an endorsement from former Lavalas Senator Rudy Herivaux, who called on Lavalas supporters to vote for her en masse. (Lavalas is Aristide's party.)

Policemen linked to the violence

In her interview to Radio Kiskeya, Madame Manigat specifically mentioned police inaction in Mirebalais. She may have been trying to highlight the elephant in the room: the role of policemen in the violence so far. Indeed, the seven men arrested and detained for the killing of the three Manigat billposters last week were all police officers, as confirmed by the Miami Herald’s Jacquie Charles:

@jacquiecharles: 7 police officers have been arrested in the deaths of three #Manigatsupporters found dead w/bullet wounds after arrest. #elections #haiti

Last Saturday, pundits on popular radio talk show Ranmase [fr] linked policemen to each incident, noting that the head of Martelly’s campaign in the North East is a member of the national police and that police allegedly instigated the troubles at the Thursday rally in Le Cap where several Manigat supporters were wounded [fr].

Tweeps react

Though not much has been said about police infiltration in the written media and on twitter, Haitian tweepshad plenty to say about Tuesday’s Mirebalais attack.

TwitJako, a popular tweet-comedian with 28,000 followers who has made fun of both candidates so far, eventually broke his neutrality:

@twitjako: m'ta renmen mande Staff Tet Kale an fe yon ti pase men nan tet misye, .. twop vyolans mezanmi, neg yo ap chire foto, kraze meeting..BE COOL!

@twitjako: I would like to ask Martelly’s staff to give him a good massage… Too much violence going on. People ripping pictures, disbanding meetings. Be COOL!

@Sonoude, who dons the signature pink Martelly Twibbon, seemed incredulous:

@Sonoude: Jan Ayisien bon nan tire roch. M kwe si yo te anvi lage madan manigat ate vre yo tap fe li. Tchuip.

@Sonoude: Haitians are very good at throwing stones. I think if they really wanted to throw Mrs. Manigat to the ground, they would have done it. Puh-leeze.

@SeTawTaw, a Manigat supporter, was (kr) not surprised about the virulence of the Mirebalais blockade against Manigat because, said the tweeter, “the area is a Duvalierist stronghold” and “they feel threatened”:

@SeTawTaw: Mibalais se zone makout! Sa pa etonem ke yap sipote #martelly et ke yap fe vyolans sou #manigat! Yo santi yo menace! #election #haiti

Others, such as @ZoGrann, wondered about the connections between the violence and recent Martelly allegations that the election will be won “in the streets”:

@ZoGrann: Put 2+2 2gether: Michel François Martelly camp unraveling/ talking abt streets more imp't than ballots/ 3 Manigat supporters dead. #Haiti

Meanwhile, echoing the sentiments of Mirlande Manigat and of many Haitians, Radio France International (RFI) correspondent Amelie Baron tweeted:

@ameliebaron: @mirlandemanigat warning ” a pink milice (Martelly's color) is in formation & that's how a dictatorship starts, with a youth brigade” #haiti

Martelly failed to show up at what was supposed to be a second debate yesterday, after having threatened two members of the press who had asked about his unpaid Miami debts at the first one held March 9, 2011. The threats were condemned by Haitian journalist associations.

Many are wondering whether a novelist could have come up with a better plot for Haiti’s election, scheduled for Sunday. Former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti earlier this year for the first time since 1986.

Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a left-wing populist, is reportedly on a plane back to Haiti after seven years of exile in South Africa, following a coup in which Martelly, a cross-dressing popular singer associated with Duvalier and the right, is widely believed to have played a role.

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