Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Day of Dawning Peace in Haiti

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Day of Dawning Peace in Haiti

Article excerpt

Haiti is a country struggling to overcome tragic and persistent poverty and violence, but last February 7 could become a watershed moment in its history: Before and after February 7. On that day, Haitian officials held organized general elections with the support of the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Organization of American States (OAS). The eyes of the international community were on the nation for what could have been a day of violence or a day to reestablish a sense of normalcy.

The best thing happened: citizens went to the voting booths and voted peacefully. They demonstrated to the world that they wanted to recover their lost sense of institutional order.

On that day, MINUSTAH chief Juan Gabriel Valdes left his house in Port-au-Prince at five in the morning. It was the day of the long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections, and he drove around the most turbulent neighborhoods to verify security conditions in the city. The sun was still hidden between the sea and the mountains as he maneuvered his armored four-wheel drive vehicle down the streets. Then he saw people walking in small groups. Soon he realized that they were leaving their houses and heading to the voting centers to vote for one of the thirty-five candidates competing in these elections. Valdes had come to Haiti as a representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to organize the elections. The event had been long anticipated in and outside of the country, and in the end it would give the victory to Rene Garcia Preval.

What the former minister of foreign affairs of Chile saw that morning satisfied him. If these men and women were walking in good spirits so early in the morning to fulfill their civic obligations, something good was bound to happen. It had to be a good sign. Perhaps these elections would be the beginning of peace in Haiti.

Early in the election period, only fifty thousand citizens had been registered to vote. By the end, however, three and a half million Haitians had added themselves to the electoral roll, designed by OAS technicians in cooperation with MINUSTAH. The work had been difficult but successful. Nothing was easy about the task of restoring democratic institutions in this Caribbean nation, but peaceful, orderly elections with massive turnout could be the beginning of a promising road. All of this went through the head of the diplomat who had left the ambassadorship of his country to Argentina to accept the challenge of commanding the UN Mission.

At eight o'clock in the morning, Valdes went to the military airport in Port-au-Prince to fly over some cities with the international press. He boarded a Russian-made helicopter with his lifelong friend, Jose Miguel Insulza, now the Secretary General of the OAS. Life had brought them together again, this tinge under conditions very different from anything they had seen before. Dressed in informal attire and equipped with enormous head phones to protect themselves from the deafening noise of the engines, Valdes and Insulza flew over the country for more than an hour. From the sky they could see the dry beds of rivers that had once given life to eternal forests. Now they were dead, consumed by deforestation. But there were no disturbances or unusual movements. Everything was calm. After they returned to Port-au-Prince, both drove around the city. Long lines of voters could be seen on the streets, and in true Haitian style there was not an inch of space between the bodies in line. It was very hot, and Valdes couldn't help thinking that if Haitians were out there defying the high temperatures and the exhausting hours of waiting, they must truly be anxious for change, peace, and tranquility. Positive signs were adding up.

The morning passed without clear reports. Though early news had spoken of disorder and demonstrations, the truth was established as the press caught up with what was really happening. …

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