Monthly Archives: March 2011

Getting the Gourdes: Hard cash preferable in Haiti

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Automatic teller (ATM) and credit card machines have become so commonplace, that most rely heavily on them for reasons of security as well as convenience. From supermarkets to airport terminals, they are becoming almost innocuous.
But not, it seems, in Haiti.   
Firstly ATMs are harder to find than banks (which are fewer since the January 2010 earthquake), and transactions are just as complicated. I got the first-hand experience when I travelled to Haiti with a group of CARICOM journalists.
A trip to an ATM in the heart of Port Au Prince, is reminiscent of the days of travellers cheques. Special tellers deal handle this transaction, which requires the presentation, and photocopying, of one’s passport, and then delivery of cash from a different teller.
Thankfully one is allowed to cut the line, which is a blessing as the bank line stretches to the sidewalk outside the bank, with customers being let in one at a time by heavily armed guards.
Transactions are also closely watched by guards, whose duties extend to preventing the use of mobile phones and electronics such as cameras, in the bank, as a security measure.   
That Haitians still use the banks seem a credit to their resilience. Over one-third of the country’s ATMs are estimated to have been destroyed in the earthquake. However even before that it was estimated that less than 1 in 10 Haitians had ever used a commercial bank.
Despite this the Haitian Gourde, (Creole Goud) introduced in 1813, is healthy, compared to some other currencies. The rate of exchange is HTG 40 to $1US. 
With the country’s economy on the upswing before the earthquake as traditional areas of commerce were resuscitated, and with the influx of money following the disaster, the currency remains strong.
Still Haiti is far from boasting easy access to savings or loans. It is certainly a far cry from the cash-free society most countries stand on the verge of. So if you prefer to use your ATM/credit/debit card, save it for another trip and get some cold hard cash before entering Haiti.

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Keeping the Peace. Foreign Observers in Haiti Election

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As the second round of presidential election is conducted in Haiti today Sunday, March 20, each step of the process is

International observers in Haiti's election

being watched and recorded for later examination. In this, the second round of voting in Haiti’s most recent election,

Haiti's provisional electoral council

Haiti's provisional electoral council face the press, post-election

 this crucial role is shared between local, regional and international observers.

Ambassador Colin Grandison, who heads the joint OAS/CARICOM observation mission confirms there are, “200 observers from CARICOM (Caribbean Community)
Latin America, North America. But we also have a high number of observers from Europe, as states such as France, Spain, Portugal are observer members of the OAS and also part of the joint observer mission.”
A core group of two persons has been on the ground in Haiti since October last year. Coordinators, who are in charge of different teams, came in about three weeks ago. Long term observers came in about a half before elections; followed by short term observers on March 16. “Short term observers are debriefed and leave the country immediately following elections. Long term observers stay longer”, says Ambassador Grandison, “Because we need them to do some of the follow-up in the electoral process.”
Preliminary election results are declared on March 31, and the final result on April 16. 
In-between an electoral tribunal will adjudicate all complaints related to the elections process. The reports generated by observers help validate any election, which is important for the support of international community from which Haiti receives an estimated 80% of its budget. Observers have become an integral, though disputed, aspect of Haitian elections, since the first democratic election in 1991, due to the country’s history of dictatorship.
In addition to the multi-national observers the United Nations Security Council has a long established Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti. It has been in operation since 2004.
Officially there to support the political process and capacity-building of security and law-enforcement, MINUSTAH will provide logistical support during the election.
“Votes are not counted at the polling station. Results sheets are put into a clear envelope along with other documents. The envelope is sealed and all those envelopes from throughout the country, Some 33,000 results sheets, are brought to Port Au Prince. This is done by the peacekeeping mission.”

Ambassador Grandison

Ambassador Colin Grandison

Despite the international presence however, elections remain plagued by violence and allegations of fraud. Grandison stresses that post-election reports are used to address inequities but says “Electoral processes are very complex. Many things can go wrong.”

Keeping the Peace. Foreign Observers in Haiti Election

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As the second round of presidential election is conducted in Haiti today Sunday, March 20, each step of the process is being watched and recorded for later examination. In this, the second round of voting in Haiti’s most recent election, this crucial role is shared between local, regional and international observers.
Ambassador Colin Grandison, who heads the joint OAS/CARICOM observation mission confirms there are, “200 observers from CARICOM (Caribbean Community)
Latin America, North America. But we also have a high number of observers from Europe, as states such as France, Spain, Portugal are observer members of the OAS and also part of the joint observer mission.”
A core group of two persons has been on the ground in Haiti since October last year. Coordinators, who are in charge of different teams, came in about three weeks ago. Long term observers came in about a half before elections; followed by short term observers on March 16. “Short term observers are debriefed and leave the country immediately following elections. Long term observers stay longer”, says Ambassador Grandison, “Because we need them to do some of the follow-up in the electoral process.”
Preliminary election results are declared on March 31, and the final result on April 16.
In-between an electoral tribunal will adjudicate all complaints related to the elections process. The reports generated by observers help validate any election, which is important for the support of international community from which Haiti receives an estimated 80% of its budget. Observers have become an integral, though disputed, aspect of Haitian elections, since the first democratic election in 1991, due to the country’s history of dictatorship.
In addition to the multi-national observers the United Nations Security Council has a long established Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti. It has been in operation since 2004.
Officially there to support the political process and capacity-building of security and law-enforcement, MINUSTAH will provide logistical support during the election.
“Votes are not counted at the polling station. Results sheets are put into a clear envelope along with other documents. The envelope is sealed and all those envelopes from throughout the country, Some 33,000 results sheets, are brought to Port Au Prince. This is done by the peacekeeping mission.”
Despite the international presence however, elections remain plagued by violence and allegations of fraud. Grandison stresses that post-election reports are used to address inequities but says “Electoral processes are very complex. Many things can go wrong.”

Haiti’s Election Unaffected by its Past

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Haiti is attempting to put it’s troubled past to rest as the country prepares for a March 28 run-off of the 2010 presidential elections. However spectres of the past have been raised with the return of former president Jean Betrand Aristide.
Despite the resurfacing of allegations of war crimes, the majority of the 4.7 million people registered are expected to vote, witt the focus will be on the two remaining presidential candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, and singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. However 172 candidates will also contest 76 disputed seats.
All campaigning was stopped on Friday evening and the country was quiet this evening in the wake of Saturday’s bustle. This was in contrast to the scene Friday, March 19 as twice former president returned from exile.
There was a jubilant chaos in the streets as thousands of Haitians welcomed their beloved “Titid” with messages on t-shirts, banners and placards. “B’am papam (give me my father)”, they had asked, and finally he was home.
Waving flags in a carnival atmosphere, people walked and ran alongside cars, motocycles and over-crowded public transports, to Aristide’s home in Tabarr.
“The problem is exclusion. The solution is inclusion,” Aristide had said earlier in an address at Aeroport International Toussaint Louverture, where he was also greeted with adoration. With the nation and the world watching, the former president spoke in English, Zulu, Spanish, French and his native Creole, saying when he is away from Haiti, he cannot breathe.
While many of his comments were drawn from his Lavalas Party’s slogans, Aristide’s speech was far from divisive.
“The humiliation of one Haitian is the humiliation of all Haitians,” he repeated before stating, “our blood is the blood of Toussaint Louverture…we will not betray our blood.” He added the roots of freedom are deeply planted in Haiti.
Flanked by his wife, daughters and supporters, including American actor Danny Glover, Aristide stated his love for his homeland and his people, calling for unity and saying the people are the hope of Haiti.
Aristide’s return two days before presidential elections on caused little of the expected disruption. Although he appeared to hint at exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas party, Aristide’s tone was one of conciliation. He noted the peaceful atmosphere in contrast to fears that his return could cause unrest.
While a smoke bomb was set off (allegedly by security forces) as supporters scaled the walls of Aristide’s residence on Friday, there was no violence.
Aristide’s gave no indication of his intentions but one highly placed observer feels his presence was precipitated by presidential campaigners. “They put him on the agenda by saying don’t come to Haiti. So he came to Haiti.” Aristide however, has simply stated that the role of a patriot is to love his country, whether in exile or at home.
The regional official noted, “If Aristide wanted to disrupt the election he could have stayed in Africa, made a comment and disrupted the election.”
A member of the Lavalas party concurred, “If Aristide speaks for either of the candidates, they will win. If he says don’t vote; no one will vote.”