U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

95/06/27 Briefing: Brian Atwood on Haiti Elections
Office of the Spokesman

[Excerpts taken from press briefing of June 27, 1995]


TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 1995

MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I'm very pleased that we have with us today Brian Atwood, the Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who, as you know, led the Presidential delegation to the elections in Haiti over the weekend. He is back, and he is here to talk to you about our perspectives on the conduct of those elections, the aftermath and what it means for the future of the people of Haiti. Brian.

MR. ATWOOD: Thank you very much. I see some people in the audience here who were with us in Haiti, so I can't tell Andrea Mitchell much about what happened down there, but I think for some of the others who were not there.

Let me offer today some perspective. I have indicated that I thought that some of the negative comments -- and there were certainly many -- that were made about this election were somewhat taken out of context with respect to the Haitian reality, and I want to make sure that you can report this story in context.

We believe that there was a very significant breakthrough for democracy in this election; that people were voting for the very first time without fear of intimidation by the military, without fear that their government was going to unduly influence them in the way they voted.

For the most part, there was very little violence. No one killed that we know of. Three incidents, I believe, and only one that might -- and one of those incidents might not have been in any way connected to the election.

So security, while you may see some pictures of people arguing and some turmoil, the security situation was excellent.

We didn't see any systematic effort to commit fraud in this election. That is also very different from what has occurred in the past in Haiti. Despite earlier allegations about the Electoral Council, we do not believe that the Electoral Council tried in any way to influence the results of this election in a way that would favor a single party. All of this is very, very positive.

With respect to the disenfranchisement of voters, which has been discussed in some detail, a lot of the disenfranchisement was the result of an effort to try to register as many voters as possible.

There was a date set for the end of the registration period. I believe it was May 20 -- maybe it was May 15 -- it was in May. In any case, we can get that date if you need it.

Many voters were not registered as of that time, and so after a bit of a hiatus, they then opened the registration roles again. The problems then became, "Do we have enough ballots to accommodate the many thousands that registered after that," and in many cases they were not able to open BIVs or polling places because materials didn't arrive. Many of the technical advisers were urging the CEP not to extend the registration roles that late, because they knew there would be problems getting voting materials.

But I want to make a point here. They were registering people because those people wanted to register to vote in three elections -- not just in one -- in this election, in the run-off election and in the Presidential election. So they took a chance and some 90 percent of the people of Haiti were registered. That's a very positive sign as well.

For those that were disenfranchised, could not vote in this election, they really should have registered to vote prior to the date that was set by the law, and they were only fortunate that they could register because they extended that date. So you have to look at this disenfranchisement issue in that context as well.

Obviously, the issue of candidates not being on the ballot was significant. We don't yet know the number. The most that we could count before we left I think was about 23. But don't forget, we're talking about over 11,000 candidates.

So the question is, how serious was that, and I think in some areas it was the only source of real turmoil because, obviously, people are very upset when their name's not on the ballot, as were their supporters.

That issue, we believe, will be discussed with the parties. The solution is not an easy one, whichever way you go. Mr. Remy yesterday, the President of the Electoral Council, made a very positive statement, indicating that he would meet with the political parties to discuss this issue, and I think again that's a very positive move.

He has indicated that the elections for those now six communal areas that could not be held as a result of various problems -- mostly logistical, but there was one area where the ballots were burned a few days before the election -- will be held on July 23. That's in the case of five of those (areas). I think in one case, Jean Rabel, the election will be held today.

He had indicated in that case and in all of the cases of elections that will be held for the first time, that the candidates whose names were missing would be added to the ballot. So that even reduces the number of people that were affected by that problem.

With respect to the counting process, it's been also widely reported -- and some of you may have seen the pictures in the paper of all of the ballot boxes that were mistakenly taken to the BEDs -- the departmental electoral area in the Port-au-Prince area called the "west."

We have now managed through the help of the civilian police of the United Nations and the CEP -- the Electoral Council -- to identify all of those ballot boxes to provide security. All parties have been invited to participate in observing the counting of those ballot boxes. The poll workers have come back for the most part. They've added about 200 CEP workers to do the job. The civilian police are providing security, and those votes will be counted.

There were a few cases where the ballot boxes were compromised, and those votes will not be counted. But, again, the effect on the election is minimal. A lot of extra workers have been put on and transportation laid on to make sure that ballot boxes and tally sheets could be moved from the most remote areas of the country into the BEDs for the process to continue.

I don't want to minimize the problems. I think I don't need to. They've been widely reported. But I did want to make sure that people saw this in context.

The most important point I would make is that there was no systematic effort to try to commit fraud. There was very little violence, and there was a will on the part of the Haitian people who expressed themselves through the ballot box that really was unique in Haitian history, even as compared to 1990 when, of course, the military was still there and the government -- there were serious questions as to whether or not the government would honor the results of the election.

So I'll be happy to take questions.


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