Today, the UN issued a “political instability warning” here in Port-au-Prince. The police are out in full force, stores and schools closed early, and this afternoon, we heard gunshots in the distance.
Malya Villard Appolon, the co-director of our partner organization, KOFAVIV, told us that a mass demonstration was in the works. Supporters of Jean Bertrand Aristide were planning a march to demand his return to Haiti. Aristide, who the New York Times characterized this week as a “firebrand slum priest,” is Haiti’s first (and some say only) democratically elected president. He was pushed out of office twice. Both times, the US did a lot of the pushing.
The planned march was one factor in the “political instability warning.” The other is that more than two months after the elections, the government is finally scheduled to announce which two candidates made it into the presidential runoff race.
Earlier, while it was still possible to move around the city, we visited the Champs de Mars displacement camp in the middle of town. The women we met were vaguely worried that violence might break out, but they had more immediate concerns. Roselyn, a young woman with a one-month-old baby boy born of rape, had not eaten since the day before. Louina, a mother of four and also a rape survivor, showed us her wounded arm—an injury from last Friday’s violent police raid on the camp.
The women said they knew about the election, but had not been able to vote. Back in November, they also had more immediate concerns: they were too afraid to leave their children alone in the camp because the threat of rape is so grave. As one woman told us, “I cannot leave to go find a voting station. Voting takes hours. In the summer, I left the camp for 20 minutes to fetch water and when I came back a man had slashed the sides of our tent and was trying to rape my daughter.”
Whoever wins the run-off race that will be put in motion with tonight’s announcement will have many crises to address as the president of Haiti. Women in the camps are hoping tonight that their crisis is not forgotten.