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6226: Jeremie - An Election Day Witness Account (G. Antoine) (fwd)

From: Guy S Antoine <GuyAntoine@worldnet.att.net>

Jeremie - An Election Day Witness Account

After a tense week in Port-au-Prince... I had felt like a prisoner within
that congested city, which is an open market by day and a virtual
ghost town by evening, where most stores closed at 3:00 p.m. even
though they still posted open for business until 5:00 p.m. on their walls
or window panes, where news of homemade bomb explosions and
deaths of innocent children and random injuries to bystanders who
simply "were in the wrong place at the wrong time" reached my ears
with alarming frequency and yet there was no visible sign of panic, a
place where the meaning of the word "security" takes a whole new
dimension as people dedicated to the safeguard of human rights had
their guns next to them "just in case" and where you are greeted at
most business fronts by a "security" personnel with a "heavy" gun
("I bet MY gun is HEAVIER than yours" seemed to be the message
everyone wanted you to know), a generalized urban decay where
sidewalks are transformed into municipal parking lots and food marts
and street merchants peddling all sorts of wares from "fritailles" to
highly stylized art, a redefined sense of personal space where you
have to zigzag through it all, mere inches (if even that) from still and
quite unstill life, and particularly from moving vehicles (our hats off
to the drivers), conveying neither hostility nor vulnerability but a
sense that you've been there all along and capable of enforcing
mutual respect if need be (bluffing, if you will), a true wonderland
spatially distorted checkerboard where it literally can take hours to
navigate a few city blocks by car in the middle of the day, not unlike
various traffic hell holes in Manhattan, a city where life seems
suspended in an unreal but altogether punishing reality, a mecca for
seekers of sensual exoticism, political narcissism, foreign expertism,
diplomatic cynicism, and aligned-highly directed-opportunistic-news
fabricating media machine, but certainly not a place for ME... I was
happy to escape onboard a twentysomething-seater plane to Jeremie
two days before Election Day.

Desperately trying to recollect the reason I had engaged myself in
such a predicament in the first place, I quickly fell asleep.  But the
flight would only last half an hour, more or less.  So I was soon
awakened to the view of an amazing coastline and, wonder of
wonders, to the sight of green, as in trees everywhere. Could this
still be Haiti?  Well, indeed, it was... not a mirage, but a historical
reminder of what most of Haiti must have looked like before the
great centralization of its financial and political activity. Southwestern
Haiti has not been subjected to the same degree of accelerated
ecological decay due to its geographical and logistical isolation
from Port-au-Prince.  At least in this corner of Haiti, it does not
seem too late to take a determined stand, and go on from there
reclaiming the land of our ancestors.

We arrive at the Foyer Culturel de Jérémie, and soon after we
are asked to be interviewed by two reporters from Radio
Metropole and Radio Vision 2000.  I politely ask them to
return in a few hours, to first give us a chance to see the town
of Jeremie, "La Cité des Poètes".  They agree.  We, of the
Independent Coalition of International Observers, had been
welcomed briefly at the airport by a young Catholic priest,
Father Jomanas, who was eager to return to his "jardin", a plot
of uncultivated land which he had bought, but on which he now
planted a variety of fruit bearing trees, and that he was most
happy tending to, while sharing cultivation techniques with
neighboring land owners or workers.  That is his work by day,
whenever he can afford the time from the duties of his parish.
By night, he fully assumes his role as teacher of Canon Law at
the recently established night-time School of Law in Jeremie, of
which he is also the founder and the Dean.  His purpose is to
prepare individuals that will help Haiti transition to a State of Law.
The students are all adult and professional, one woman nearing 60
years of age, and all visibly Proud to be a Member of the School.
This is the school's sixth year and there have been two graduating
classes already.  A special effort has been made to recruit women
and police officers.  In the evening, we had a chance to meet and
talk to the Professors and the students of each class: first, second,
third, and fourth year.  A member of our delegation, a secondary
studies teacher, advocate of Children's Rights and volunteer trainer
of Haitian teachers each summer through Project Teach, engaged
the fourth year class in a spirited discussion of the Law as it applied
to Children's Rights and the inefficacy of corporal punishment.

Back to the Interview with the journalists.  For the most part, they
seemed uninterested throughout, because our message was clear
and simple: Elections were about to take place.  We had come to
observe not only the election process itself, but the climate that
surrounded them in specific geographical regions. We were aware
of the fact that these elections were being boycotted by in-country
"opposition" parties, and not supported by the so-called International
Community (most ably led by the United States of America).
However, no one could deny that there was indeed an electoral
activity taking place, and that elections, boycotted or not, were going
to take place on November 26.  We were here to OBSERVE,
independent of any government or political affiliation, and we were
all doing so as volunteers, bearing the costs of our own expenses.
The persistent question seemed to be: in doing so, were we affirming
the legitimacy of the November 26 elections?  Well, this is of course
open to personal interpretation, but as far as we were concerned, we
were not there to AFFIRM or DENY the legitimacy of the elections,
as an organization we were simply there to OBSERVE and later report
on what we had indeed observed.  Any member of our delegation
was free of course to hold on to his own personal view of the
legitimacy of the elections or even to his own ideological,
philosophical, and political leanings, but as a group we adhered to
a detached stance, the better to report exactly what we had seen
"with our own eyes", and not what we heard others say or what
the aligned media and various political and diplomatic interest
groups would "pre-fabricate" AS THEY INVARIABLY DO.
We engaged ourselves voluntarily to observe, to observe, to
OBSERVE.  The interview was mercifully short on both sides
of the microphone.

That night, I went to bed slightly after two in the morning.
People were still walking and talking in the streets, there had
been some excitement with a couple of rara bands making
their way past the hotel, one could distinctly hear the welcome
Konpa beat emanating from a distant night club; all in all, it was
a rather festive atmosphere.  What a difference from Port-au-Prince!
Were we even in the same country, I frequently wondered.

The next day was dedicated almost entirely to the business at hand.
We started early by visiting the local BED (Biwo Elèktoral
Depatmantal) and interviewing the bureau chief, L. Ouston, a
recent graduate from the Jérémie School of Law, on the readiness
of his bureau to handle the logistics of the elections the very next
day.  The interview obviously had to be short, as he was obviously
preoccupied by the fact that he had yet to receive from Port-au-Prince
a lot of the necessary materials.  Furthermore, he had to make sure
that the training of the Electoral Officers proceed as planned at some
location some time THAT DAY, he had to go to the airport hoping
to receive some additional 60 ballot boxes and other electoral materials,
he had to make sure that the existing materials were being properly
distributed to the various BEK (Biwo Elèktoral Kominal), etc, etc.
There were reports of impending trouble in Anse d'Hainault.  But
throughout the interview, Mr. Ouston remained open, friendly,
informative, even candid with respect to the enormous logistical
difficulties he had to overcome somehow, and he invited us to
attend to the training sessions for the Electoral Officers.  We also
asked him for a list of all BV's (polling stations) in Jérémie.  He
promised to have the list ready for us in a couple of hours.  For
my part, I left this interview, impressed with the fact that this was
an individual clearly imbued with a great sense of his civic responsibilities.

We went back to the hotel, waiting for the list of BV's and the
location of training sessions.  To my great satisfaction, all published
electoral information I had seen was available either in Kreyòl only,
or BOTH in French and KREYOL.  A myth had been dispelled in
my eyes.  The government IS paying some attention to the fact that
Haitian Creole is constitutionally and in reality Haiti's only
NATIONAL LANGUAGE, though French is recognized as one
of its two OFFICIALLY approved languages.  Well, at least this
was the case in these particular electoral circumstances. A few days
before, in Port-au-Prince, we had been treated by the KEP
(Konsèy Elektoral Pwovizwa) or CEP (Conseil Electoral Provisoire)
to a question and answer session that turned into a boring political
discourse held in French (with English translation provided by one
of our drivers for our monolingual English speakers), and without a
great deal of specificity, just long on rhetoric.  It remains true that in
Haiti, whenever a politician speaks in French, you had better check
your wallet. In this case once again, Jérémie provided us a breath
of fresh air.  But the day had just started...

I realize this note is getting long, so I will stop here and continue at
a later time if this is of any interest to the list.  Obviously, I have yet
to provide any discussion of those "sacré nom de Dieu" percentages!
And on that score, I will probably disappoint.  I will state only what
I have personally observed and stay clear from the cynical chess wars
that are raging on.  In Haiti, LIKE IT OR NOT, less than 5% - or -
more than 60%, we have a President-elect.  In the Dear old U.S.A.,
leader of the Free World and the so-called International Community,
we have not a president-elect but one virtually appointed by the Supreme
Court.  All hypocrisy put aside, American people should stop preaching
about democracy, start repairing their own, and truly support democratic
processes in the world even when a people's interests would not seem
to coincide with theirs.  Why?  Because, otherwise, their discourse
appears to be very shallow indeed.

If you are interested, I will lead you into a surprising world of technical
and procedural irregularities (the mushrooms) and the fierce determination
of a people to exercise its right to vote (the trees).  It will be entirely up
to you to keep your head to the ground, straight ahead or backwards,
or toward the tree tops.

Guy S. Antoine
Windows on Haiti