The United States yesterday criticized Sunday's presidential election in Haiti as not being fully free and open, and said it will continue to withhold most U.S. economic aid until a more democratic government is established.
The U.S. criticism, voiced by State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman, was similar to condemnations of the election by France and Canada, which are the other two major bilateral aid donors to the impoverished Caribbean country.
In Port-au-Prince, leaders of a civic alliance of about 50 business, labor and religious groups urged foreign governments not to recognize whoever is declared to be the new president.
The drying up of foreign assistance and the prospect that international development banks will reduce or cut off future aid is likely to create "a difficult economic situation" in Haiti, according to a State Department official familiar with the situation there.
As of last night, no winner in the elections had been announced. Redman said he did not know whether there will be a runoff election as required in the Haitian constitution if no candidate wins a majority of the vote. Another State Department official said it is unlikely that the administration could accept the results of the runoff election as fair, even if the vote is substantially larger than the extremely low turnout reported Sunday.
Under provisions of a measure passed by Congress last fall, a total of $78.7 million in aid for the current fiscal year was suspended in November until a government based on free and fair elections takes office in Haiti. This money was to be used for fuel, food, economic projects and riot-control training.
About $30 million for anti-poverty and food aid distributed through nongovernmental organizations remains intact. Redman said the United States has no intention of cutting off that flow because "it benefits the Haitian people directly, and does not go through the Haitian government."
Redman said the results of Sunday's elections "are clouded by the lack of secret ballot and the absence of those candidates who earlier had demonstrated significant appeal to the voters." He added, "Though we take note of the fact that some Haitians did vote, it is not possible to portray Sunday's voting as fully free and open."
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris said the results of the vote were practically meaningless. He said that voter participation was low and that this and other factors "limit the significance of the result, which has yet to be officially proclaimed."
France is the second largest outside aid donor after the United States.
Canadian Foreign Minister Joe Clark said the massive abstention from the polls Sunday, reported to be as high as 98 percent, clearly expressed the opinion of Haitians. Canada became a significant aid donor to Haiti in recent years, and is now its third-largest source of bilateral foreign assistance.