As an American, I’ve experienced heated emotions during election time.
But, I have never experienced fear. Certainly not fear.
This week, however, Port-au-Prince did — as I have never seen. All the gas stations closed at 8 p.m. the night before Election Day, and a citywide vehicle ban remained in effect until the day after, Monday morning.
All for fear of tire- and building-burning, drive-by shootings, ballot tampering and general electoral corruption.
All of which happened, nonetheless, and I found myself once again fleeing Petionville, just ahead of angry protestors.
Protests broke out just hours into voting, with accusations of ballot tampering by the current government and their favored candidate, Jude Celestine and his party.
Deceased earthquake victims remained on registration lists, and voters who had lost their voter cards in the quake were not permitted to vote, despite being listed.
Twelve of the 18 presidential candidates renounced the elections as corrupt, requesting their annulment (Jude Celestine was not one of them), and accused the current government of tampering with the vote to favor Celestine.
Fifty-six polling stations reported corruption. The BBC reported that Mark Weisbrot — co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, which sent observers to Haiti’s election — called it “a farce.”
In Haiti, of this there is no doubt.
Despite all this, Haiti’s electoral council and current government have held that Sunday’s votes will stand. However, a run-off election will be held between the top two presidential candidates if no one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
As we await the results, the country is “hot.” If Celestine is proclaimed victor, it will surely explode.
People are afraid. Genuinely afraid – of each other.
The short democratic history of Haiti is marred with violence, fraud, government overthrows and often-unwelcome international intervention. This year, just having elections so quickly after the earthquake caused uproar from those living under tarps, the jobless and the sick — who are in no condition to follow politics.
People are afraid because “the mass” is angry.
All month, it’s seemed, “the mass” — the boiling underbelly of the social structure — has threatened to rise at any moment, likely creating a schism by the majority of the country’s poorest.
The days wear on, the “etrangers” (foreigners) remain, and nothing changes. The cholera creeps in – no work, no home, no hope. For most, nothing changes.
It’s humiliating, dehumanizing and quite honestly, sickening to witness.
“The mass.” There is no other name for it when the people of Haiti come together: One great, breathing body of struggle, resistance and strength.
At an election rally Thursday for Jude Celestine, “the mass” came to bear witness. The previous weeks were marked with cholera protests and election shootings, yet Carrefour Airport road was absolutely alive with the crowd.
“Are you American?” said the guy next to me in English, as I filmed from atop a cement barricade.
“Aren’t you scared?”
Every few minutes someone would start running, a break in the crowd and tens of others would follow. There was an edge of fear and excitement, like at any moment a shot could sound and panic would envelop the streets.
But as the live music came to a close and Celestine finally spoke, his support seemed lacking. People left, or just watched without response — far less than half the crowd seemed to rally at his words.
It’s inconceivable that the people of Haiti will accept Jude Celestine as democratically elected. But whoever it is, the next president will need a lot more than the most votes to run this broken nation.
As we wait for news of the victor, perhaps more than ever in this moment in Haiti, only tomorrow knows what it will bring.