PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A former coup leader who is wanted by the United States for allegedly smuggling cocaine called on his supporters Sunday to resist “anarchists” who forced a presidential election to be postponed, a sign of deep polarization in Haiti that could lead to more unrest.
Guy Philippe called for counterprotests and said he would not recognize any transitional government put in place when outgoing President Michel Martelly leaves office Feb. 7 unless it was representative of the provinces. “We are ready for war,” Philippe said. “We will divide the country.”
It was not clear how much support Philippe can muster, but he remains popular in his southern stronghold of Grande-Anse.
The tone of his remarks points to the depth of polarization over the political crisis.
Haiti was to choose Martelly’s replacement Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin declined to participate because of alleged fraud that sparked anti-government protests and violence.
In a statement Sunday, the U.S. State Department called for accountability for any violence related to the delayed election, saying electoral intimidation and destruction of property were “unacceptable.”
Given the short timeline, some form of interim government is likely to be formed to oversee the election process.
Martelly said the fraud claims were unfounded, but critics think he unfairly favored his chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise, who finished first in the initial round of voting in October.
On Sunday, supporters of Moise protested for the first time. Pushing for the vote to be completed, they used trucks to block a northern highway that is a major trade route with the neighboring Dominican Republic, regional police chief Charles Nazaire Noel said.
Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gathered in a downtown area of Port-au-Prince that is still largely ruined from an earthquake six years ago. They sang and danced around a bonfire in the street to the thump of a sound system before setting out for the fifth mass march of recent days.
“Martelly believes the country is for himself and his family. We want him to go,” said a man named Dorval, 40, who is unemployed.
Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, has been unable to build a stable democracy since the overthrow of the 1957-1986 dictatorship of the Duvalier family. A series of military coups and questionable elections have ensued.
A former police officer who has been accused by Human Rights Watch of overseeing extrajudicial killings, Philippe in 2004 led bands of former soldiers to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and overthrew the chaotic government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has a long-standing arrest warrant against Philippe for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The DEA has tried to capture him twice.