In Haiti, Hillary Clinton meets with candidates, pushes Preval on elections

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Haiti over the weekend and met with President Rene Preval and each of the three candidates jockeying to replace him. (Jan. 31)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 7:06 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turned her attention Sunday from Egypt to a crisis closer to home - a disputed presidential election in Haiti that threatens to stall its recovery from a massive earthquake.

Clinton's visit to Haiti came as the U.S. government is pressing President Rene Preval to accept election monitors' conclusion that his handpicked candidate did not qualify for a runoff. "We've made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations and we would like to see those those acted on," Clinton told reporters, referring to the election monitors from the Organization of American States.

U.S. officials fear the extended dispute over the fraud-riddled Nov. 28 elections will discourage the flow of investments and aid to the country as it struggles to recover from an earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people a year ago. About 800,000 people still live in squalid camps.

Clinton's schedule Sunday included meetings with Preval and the candidates that the OAS deemed the top vote-getters in the November balloting - former first lady Mirlande Manigat and singer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly.

She also was meeting with Jude Celestin, Preval's candidate. The Haitian electoral commission said in December when it announced preliminary results that Celestin, not Martelly, had qualified for the final round of elections, prompting rioting that left five people dead. After the OAS report, the ruling party said Celestin would drop out of the race, but he has not done so.

The State Department recently yanked visas from several ruling-party members allegedly involved in fraud or violence in the elections, in what analysts saw as an effort to pressure the government to accept the OAS results.

The electoral board, dominated by Preval's allies, is scheduled to release final results this week. The second round of the presidential election is set for March 20.

Clinton considered canceling the trip because of the uprising in Egypt. Instead, she dealt with that crisis by phone, calling from her plane to a meeting in Washington and ringing British Foreign Minister William Hague, officials said.

Clinton's one-day trip captured the multiple woes afflicting Haiti. Her motorcade wound past pancaked buildings and mounds of gray rubble, as well as dozens of new, one-room wooden homes in a sun-baked lot.

She visited a clinic run by Boston-based Partners in Health to treat victims of a cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 3,500 lives since fall. After stepping into a shallow basin of bleach to disinfect her shoes and washing her hands in chlorine-scented water, Clinton entered a tent where several middle-aged men and women lay on wooden cots, intravenous tubes hanging from their arms. They stared dully at Clinton while a baby wailed in the background.

Outside the tent, Clinton noted that the number of newly reported cholera cases has dropped. But "we have a long way to go," she said, vowing that U.S. support will continue.

Clinton has deep connections to Haiti, beginning with a trip she and her husband made to the nation as newlyweds. At the State Department, she has made its economic development a priority and helped secure nearly $1 billion in congressional funds for rebuilding after the quake.

She acknowledged Sunday that the reconstruction had not moved quickly enough. "It's been steady but not adequate to the task we are confronting," she said.

Clinton's trip took place as Haiti's politics are in turmoil. Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned this month after 24 years abroad and has been arrested on charges of corruption and crimes against humanity.

Preval's term was supposed to end Feb. 7, but parliament passed emergency legislation that would allow him to remain in office for three more months. Violent protests broke out last year when the law passed, and Clinton said the timing of Preval's departure was "one of the problems" she was raising with him.

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