Immediately following the earthquake, there was an outpouring of sympathy from people in the United States and around the world. American families opened their hearts and contributed millions to non-profit organizations that were working around the clock to save lives. The United States Government provided emergency medical care and distributed food, water, and tents to the displaced, and world governments committed more than $9 billion in aid for reconstruction at a donors’ conference in March, including more than $1 billion pledged by the United States.
I myself got to work right away, visiting the country twice to secure critical supplies for survivors and view recovery and relief operations firsthand. I also introduced legislation to forgive Haiti its foreign debt, and allow the country to secure additional aid in the form of grants so that it wouldn’t incur further debt. I was very pleased that Congress passed the legislation in a bipartisan manner, and that President Obama signed it into law just three months after the earthquake.
One year later though, little if any of the money that was pledged has reached the people of Haiti. The United States Congress appropriated $2.9 billion for relief and reconstruction efforts, but the money was held up for months because the Obama Administration could not reach an agreement with Congressional appropriators on a plan for its use. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), one million displaced people are still living in tent camps, and the conditions in many of these camps are appalling. There is still a critical need for food, clean water and sanitation facilities.
A deadly outbreak of cholera that began along the Artibonite River in October has now spread throughout the country. According to USAID, cholera has already killed more than 3,400 people and infected more than 150,000 people. The international community was slow to respond to the crisis, and the effects of the epidemic have been exacerbated by the lack of sanitation infrastructure and the lack of access to potable water.
Recovery efforts have also been hampered by a weak Haitian government. Ideally, the Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28th would have resulted in a strong, credible government that would oversee recovery and reconstruction efforts. But these elections, as many of us feared, turned out to be deeply flawed.
The credibility of the Haitian elections was in doubt long before they actually occurred. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) was widely viewed as biased in favor of current President Rene Préval. The CEP refused to allow candidates from over a dozen political parties to participate in the elections, including Lavalas, Haiti’s largest political party. Meanwhile, thousands of displaced persons were disenfranchised either because they were unable to obtain new voter cards reflecting their new addresses or because there were no accessible polling places at the tent camps where they live.
There were numerous reports of ballot-stuffing and other types of fraud on election day. Many voters were turned away from polling places throughout the country because they could not find their names on voter lists.
Haitians began to protest the elections before the polls had even closed. During the day, twelve presidential candidates issued a statement urging that the elections be discontinued and the results invalidated because of widespread fraud. Some protests became violent in December when the CEP announced preliminary results, which designated two candidates for a runoff election but which did not match the results reported by official election observers.
According to an analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), there were major problems with the conduct of the elections and the tallying of the votes. Tally sheets were either missing or were discounted for irregularities at 1,326 voting booths or 11.9 percent of the total. Furthermore, among the tally sheets that were not discounted, more than 5 percent had clerical errors, and 8.4 percent had irregularities that were sufficient to disqualify them. As a result of the missing, discounted and otherwise irregular tally sheets, more than 24 percent of the total votes either were not counted or should not have been counted.
Prior to the elections, I advised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a letter signed by 44 of my colleagues, that the U.S. should not support elections in Haiti in the absence of assurances that they would be free and fair; open to participation by all eligible political parties; and accessible to voters displaced by the earthquake. It is now clear both inside and outside of Haiti that the November 28th elections did not meet these basic democratic standards.
I call upon the Government of Haiti to set aside the flawed November 28th elections and organize new elections that will be free, fair and accessible to all Haitian voters. The fact that the CEP and the Government of Haiti have been unable to carry out the questionable runoff and have postponed it with no date set provides further support for my conviction that the whole election should be set aside. Haiti’s next government will be called upon to make difficult decisions that will have a lasting impact on Haitian society, such as the allocation of resources for cholera treatment efforts and earthquake reconstruction projects. If these decisions are made by a government that is not perceived as legitimate, the recovery process could be impeded for years to come.
Finally, I call upon the U.S. Government and other donor governments to keep their promises to the Haitian people. It is long past time to rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure, remove the rubble from the streets, move people out of tents and into permanent housing, deliver the aid that has been promised, and respond to the cholera outbreak with the urgency it deserves.