Haiti holds long-awaited vote still reeling from hurricane
Three minutes to embrace on the US-Mexico border
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