Haiti holds long-awaited vote still reel­ing from hur­ri­cane

Three min­utes to em­brace on the US-Mex­ico border

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LES CAYES, Haiti: Haiti holds a long-de­layed pres­i­den­tial elec­tion yes­ter­day that its peo­ple hope will lift the econ­omy af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane and more than a year of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity. First held in Oc­to­ber 2015, the elec­tion was an­nulled over al­le­ga­tions of fraud, and a resched­uled vote was post­poned last month when Hur­ri­cane Matthew struck, killing up to 1,000 peo­ple and leav­ing 1.4 mil­lion in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.

Homes, schools and farms across south­west­ern Haiti all bear the scars of Matthew, which piled fresh mis­ery onto the na­tion of more than 10 mil­lion on the west­ern half of the is­land of His­pan­iola still re­cov­er­ing from a ma­jor earth­quake in 2010. “(I want) for every­one to come to­gether, for the coun­try to be re­built,” said Jude­line Hu­bert, a 23-year-old nurs­ing

SAN YSIDRO, United States:

For 20 years, Laura Avila had yearned to hug her mother again. On Satur­day, tears stream­ing down her face, the 35-year-old had her wish fi­nally come true-if only for three min­utes.

At 12:27 pm, she hes­i­tantly walked to­ward a heavy metal gate on the US-Mex­ico border in San Diego that a US Border Parol agent had opened only min­utes be­fore, bury­ing her face in her mother’s em­brace.

Avila and her 11-year-old daugh­ter were among six fam­i­lies cho­sen to take part in an event or­ga­nized by the mi­grant ad­vo­cacy group Border An­gels in co­op­er­a­tion with US au­thor­i­ties on the oc­ca­sion of United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Day yes­ter­day.

One by one, each fam­ily was es­corted to the open­ing in the steel fence sep­a­rat­ing the San Diego sub­urb of San Ysidro from Ti­juana, in Mex­ico, and for three min­utes-un­der the watch­ful eye of border agents and a scrum of jour­nal­ists-hugged and kissed their loved ones who had waited on the other side. “I last saw my mother when she was 50 and next week she turns 71,” Avila, who lives in the Los An­ge­les area, said af­ter the emo­tional re­union. “It was an early Christ­mas present for the two of us, and a birth­day present for her. “She had to take a four-hour flight from Pue­bla (in east­cen­tral Mex­ico) to see us,” she said of her mother who had been de­ported af­ter il­le­gally en­ter­ing the US.

Satur­day’s event-the fourth or­ga­nized by Border An­gels since 2013 — took on added mean­ing for those at­tend­ing, com­ing on the heels of the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent. Trump vowed dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to build a wall along the US-Mex­ico border and to de­port mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants from the coun­try. Whether Trump pushes ahead with his harsh im­mi­gra­tion pro­pos­als was clearly on every­one’s mind Satur­day as the fam­i­lies hugged and cried, with many won­der­ing if it would be the last such event to take place. “I am terrified,” said Luis Her­nan­dez, 25, who hadn’t seen his stu­dent from the south­west­ern port of Les Cayes.

Of­fi­cials said the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of the hur­ri­cane and a bad weather forecast yes­ter­day risk de­press­ing voter turnout in the poor­est coun­try in the west­ern hemi­sphere, where demo­cratic par­tic­i­pa­tion is gen­er­ally low. Weak turnout may un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of the con­test, which pits more than two dozen can­di­dates in the race to suc­ceed the for­mer pres­i­dent, Michel Martelly, who left of­fice in Fe­bru­ary. Since then, a care­taker gov­ern­ment has run the is­land. “The Haitian peo­ple need a leader they have cho­sen, not some­one cho­sen for them,” said Louis St-Ger­main, the vice-del­e­gate, or elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive, for Les Cayes. “They are tired fa­ther in five years. His par­ents slipped into the United States through the border with Ti­juana when he was five years old and his fa­ther was ar­rested and de­ported five years ago.

But Her­nan­dez, like sev­eral of those at the event Satur­day, was al­lowed to stay in the US thanks to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram. DACA al­lows im­mi­grants like Her­nan­dez who ar­rived in the United States as chil­dren to work and study in the coun­try on a tem­po­rary ba­sis. But many of these so-called “Dream­ers” now fear Trump will re­peal the ac­tion, lead­ing to tragic con­se­quences to some 750,000 re­cip­i­ents.

‘Touch­ing the sky’

“What Trump has pro­posed is so scary for a lot of mi­nori­ties, my­self in­cluded,” said Her­nan­dez, who runs a tele­vi­sion and In­ter­net ser­vice in Los An­ge­les. “He has said he plans to undo the law that pro­tects me. “He doesn’t even have to look for me. He has my ad­dress given that I’m in this pro­gram.” Still, he said he re­mains hope­ful and had promised his fa­ther that they would soon hug again. “It was like touch­ing the sky,” his elated fa­ther, Ed­uardo Her­nan­dez, told AFP through the fence af­ter the brief re­union. “I just wish it could hap­pen more of­ten, and for longer than three min­utes.” The area where Satur­day’s re­union took place is called Friend­ship Park and it is where fam­i­lies from both sides of the border ev­ery week­end are al­lowed to speak-and lock pinky fin­gers-through the steel mesh. But since 2013, on only four oc­ca­sions-in­clud­ing this Satur­day-has the large gate along that border been opened to al­low a lucky few fam­i­lies cho­sen by Border Pa­trol to phys­i­cally em­brace. En­rique Morones, founder and di­rec­tor of the San Diego-based Border An­gels, said he hoped the park as well as re­unions like Satur­day’s would con­tinue with the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. “My only mes­sage to Trump is this,” he told AFP. “Love has no bor­ders. And he should re­mem­ber his roots and the roots of mi­grants all over the world”—AFP of the in­sta­bil­ity, of things that are miss­ing.” Opin­ion polling is far from re­li­able in Haiti, civil so­ci­ety groups say. Still, a re­cent sur­vey by poll­ster BRIDES made lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur Jovenel Moise the fa­vorite to take the pres­i­dency for Martelly’s Bald Heads Party in the first round. Among his most prom­i­nent com­peti­tors are the one­time boss of a gov­ern­ment con­struc­tion com­pany, Jude Ce­lestin, for­mer sen­a­tor Moise Jean-Charles, and Maryse Nar­cisse, a doc­tor backed by ex-Pres­i­dent Jean-Ber­trand Aris­tide.

Un­less one can­di­date gets more than 50 per­cent of the vote or wins by at least 25 per­cent, a sec­ond round run-off will be held for the top two fin­ish­ers, likely on Jan. 29. The vic­tor is sched­uled to take of­fice in Fe­bru­ary. To safe­guard vot­ing in a coun­try with a his­tory of elec­toral vi­o­lence, nearly 13,000 of­fi­cers from the na­tional po­lice and the United Na­tions mo­bi­lized yes­ter­day.

But how many of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple bat­tered by Hur­ri­cane Matthew last month will make it to polling sta­tions is a par­tic­u­lar worry in south­ern Haiti. Only 4,000 iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards have so far been pro­duced to re­place those lost to Matthew, said Wil­son Fievre, gen­eral di­rec­tor of Haiti’s Na­tional Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Of­fice. Hav­ing the where­withal to vote may still not be enough. “Even if they can get vot­ing ma­te­rial to all of these places, there’s still an open ques­tion of whether peo­ple will ac­tu­ally care,” said Jake John­ston, a Haiti spe­cial­ist at the Wash­ing­ton-based think tank Cen­ter for Eco­nomic and Pol­icy Re­search. —Reuters

TI­JUANA, Mex­ico: Mem­bers of the Her­nan­dez fam­ily hug each other and re­act as they en­counter at the gate of the US- Mex­ico border fence opened for a few min­utes on Satur­day.—AFP

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