Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cholera and the elections

Cholera spreading, affecting election campaigns in Haiti
The Miami Herald, JACQUELINE CHARLES/MIAMI HERALD STAFF Posted on Wednesday,

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- First presidential hopeful Michel `Sweet Micky'
Martelly asked for a dayslong campaign truce. Then, opponent Jude Célestin
announced that he was temporarily suspending all radio and TV ads, and
called on his opponents to follow.

Now, Leslie Voltaire is asking to postpone the Nov. 28 election.

A deadly outbreak of cholera in an already earthquake-wracked Haiti has
become one more complication in a nation still grappling with the effects of
the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left an estimated 300,000 Haitians
dead and at least 1.5 million Haitians living underneath tents and tarps.

As campaign jingles continue to play on local radios and three presidential
candidates taped a televised debate Wednesday morning, Haiti health
officials reported that after days of successfully containing the epidemic
to the rural valley where it first broke last week, cholera had finally

Officials said 174 cases had been confirmed in the city of Arcahia, a
small rural village 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince. There were also
suspected cases in nearby Cabaret, and they were investigating reports in
Cité Soleil, a slum in the capital not far from the main international

The waterborne bacterial infection had killed 303 Haitians, including
five in Arcahia, and hospitalized 4,722 Haitians, the government said late

``It's encroaching, and we are taking measures,'' said Dr. Ariel Henry,
the chief of cabinet for the Ministry of Health. ``We are training people on
the ground to give out oral rehydration salts. We are putting in place
cholera treatment centers. We are also doing a big effort all over the
country with 50,000 people. We are training them, and we are preparing to
deploy them.''

The health ministry has not asked for a delay of the vote, but it has
asked candidates to refrain from holding rallies in cholera-affected
communities. For some like Voltaire, an urban planner who is among the 19
presidential candidates seeking to replace President René Préval, that is
not good enough.

``The vote should happen when the World Health Organization says it is
contained, or when the [Provisional Electoral Council] says this election
will not use rallies,'' Voltaire said.

So far, neither the WHO, which is working alongside Haitian health
officials to contain the epidemic, nor the electoral council charged with
putting on the elections has called for a postponement out of public health

Gaillot Dorsinvil, president of the council, told The Miami Herald the
fate of the elections is up to the government, and as far as the council was
concern, the vote was moving ahead as scheduled.

That message was reiterated Wednesday in Washington when the diplomat
leading a joint Organization of American States/Caribbean Community
observation mission reported that ``the electoral process is progressing
steadily toward 28 November.''

``The political environment is more reassuring with the increasing
participation of parties, political platforms and candidates who initially
intended to boycott the elections,'' said Colin Granderson, who is also the
assistant secretary general of CARICOM.

Still, Granderson conceded that the evolution of the cholera outbreak and
its potential impact on the process remain a concern.

Célestin, who participated in the televised debate Wednesday in which the
question of cholera was raised but not possible postponement of the
elections, said he's not seeking a delay.

Rather, he believes that Haitians should not have their attentions
divided while the government and international humanitarian community scale
up a massive prevention and public education campaign, alerting Haitians on
how they can save themselves from a disease that kills within hours when not
treated in time.

``The population should not have to listen to campaign jingles while
people are dying,'' said Célestin, tapped by Préval to succeed him. ``To see
candidates put posters in a hospital in Mirebalais where people are dying,
it's sad.''

Martelly also complained about how some candidates are trying to
politicize the epidemic to their benefit, wearing campaign T-shirts and
vehicles as they visit the sick. He's disappointed, he said, that his
request has fallen on deaf ears.

``We need to start working together even though we may be different
candidates,'' he said. ``At the end of the day, Haiti must be the

Not everyone favors a pause. Lawyer Jean-Henry Céant, who debated Célestin,
said the elections should continue as planned. Sen. Youri Latortue, whose
coalition is supporting longtime opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, also
wants to see the schedule maintain. Manigat had a slight lead over Célestin
in a recent poll.

``We are entering into this election under difficult circumstances, but
we cannot leave the country without a government,'' said Latortue, who on
Tuesday summoned the health minister to a session to get a report on the
government's efforts. ``We have a lot of problems to resolve. We already do
not have any money. Each time you postpone the date that is money.''

Observers say even if no decision is taken on the election, how the
government handles the outbreak could influence the outcome of the vote in
what is emerging as a competitive race. Though Célestin is neck-and-neck
with Manigat in the most recent poll, he is trailing in a number of
quake-battered cities, including the capital where observers say he's being
hurt by the government's often-criticized handling of the quake response.

``If the management of the outbreak is not well-handled, it may
jeopardize the government's image or any one associated with the actual
management and government,'' said Gregory Brandt, president of the
Haiti-French Chamber of Commerce.

Rosny Desroche said he doesn't see how the government can escape

"People are suffering. Either way, the government will be held
responsible,'' he said.

But Reginald Boulos, the chairman of the Economic Forum of the Private
Sector, which commissioned the poll, said cholera could also be a chance for
the Préval government to redeem itself.

``The earthquake was a negative for the government because they didn't
react appropriately,'' he said. ``It could turn out to be a positive thing
if they manage it well; if they show leadership, and compassion in the
people. Or it can be a downfall for them if again there is lack of
coordination and waste of money, and people are dying.''

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