Political uncertainty could cost Haiti $$billions

A powerful United States senator has warned that political uncertainty looming over earthquake-ravaged Haiti could cost the French-speaking Caribbean nation billions of dollars in reconstruction dollars if left unresolved.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blames Haitian President René Préval’s failure to enact needed reforms for what he described as the “chaos and irregularities” in the recent legislative and presidential elections.

Earlier this summer Lugar and some U.S. legislators had others called on Préval to change the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

But the president, noting that he had already changed the CEP before, refused to honor the call.

“I and others urged President Préval to enact much-needed reforms to ensure the credibility of these elections,” Lugar said on Dec. 1.

“He refused to do that. As a result, the elections have been fraught with numerous reports of irregularities and fraud. Political uncertainty now threatens to exacerbate the human suffering in Haiti,” he added.

Since the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, at least 1. 5 million people remain under tents and tarps, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,700 people in the past month.

“The United States has an interest in helping to address the ongoing humanitarian problems in Haiti, and we will continue to do that through various means,” Lugar said.

“But our willingness to direct funds through the Haitian government depends on the fair, transparent, and legal resolution of the current political crisis,” he added.

Meanwhile, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is urging Haitians to be patient and wait on official election results.

“The ‘quick counts’ or opinion polls are not an exact science. Individuals and media should not be guided by the unofficial results, speculation or assumed partial accounts that are currently circulating,” MINUSTAH said.

“The only poll that counts is the one that took place on Nov. 28,” it added. “We call on everyone to be patient and await the announcement of official results of the Dec. 7.

“The Provisional Electoral Council should have time and political stability to complete its work. The result will be subject to possible challenge by candidates, political parties and the Haitian people through the legal process of litigation,” it continued.

Political observers say the political tension in Haiti was especially evident on Nov. 30 when the U.N. troops and protesters clashed in a second day of demonstrations in Saint Marc, a western port city north of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Witnesses said U.N. peacekeepers fired shots in the air and tear gas in the direction of opposition protesters who were supporting presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat and senatorial candidate Francois Anick Joseph. Protesters retaliated by burning tires and throwing rocks.

A U.N. spokesman said he had no information on rubber bullets or tear gas used but noted that about 600 protesters had assembled in front of the U.N. base in Saint Marc.

“They were burning tires and throwing rocks on our forces there,” said Jean-Francois Vezina, a spokesman for U.N. police.

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