The impromptu campaign rally ended not with cheers but panic
as armed men on motorcycles, some wearing the
yellow-and-green T-shirts of a rival presidential contender,
pulled up to the small crowd and fired into the air.
Men and women immediately took off the red-white-and-blue
T-shirts of their candidate and fled down the pitted side
streets of the Cite Soleil slum, said Pierre Joseph Laimay,
who organised the recent rally on behalf Charles Henri Baker,
a factory owner who is one of 19 candidates in Sunday's
Laimay, a wiry man with a wisp of a moustache, said he
managed to gather a crowd of several dozen by handing out
T-shirts along with small payments for water and bus fare - a
big deal in a largely jobless city - and he hoped to make a
little money himself from the campaign for his efforts. As
the others fled, he says he stood his ground.
"If they were going to kill me, they were going to have to do
it with my T-shirt on," the 45-year-old father of three said,
glancing about nervously as he sat on a street corner in a
waterfront slum notorious for gang violence.
Accounts of voter intimidation have long been common in
Haiti, and this year is no different. Several candidates have
reported attempts on their lives, raising fears of the sort
of election-linked violence that tore the nation apart in the
And this is a vote that already faces huge obstacles because
of a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic and the devastation
of January's earthquake.
The next president will oversee billions of dollars in US and
other foreign reconstruction aid to Haiti.
"This period coming up is going to be critical for the nation
state to make some decisions about how this country rebuilds
itself over the coming years," said US Ambassador to Haiti
Earlier this week, Baker's supporters clashed with those of
candidate Jude Celestin, who is supported by President Rene
Preval, near the southern coastal town of Jeremie and at
least one person was killed as the sides traded gunfire.
Sen. Joseph Lambert, head of Celestin's campaign, said it was
an attempt to kill the candidate, who was in a convoy of
campaign vehicles at the time, because he is likely to win
Sunday's vote without the need for a runoff, which is
required if no one gets more than 50 percent.
At least one major candidate, Leslie Voltaire, said the
election should be postponed because of cholera. Lambert and
other Haitian officials said neither the cholera nor the
violence should halt the vote - a position shared by the UN
and the US government.
"Obviously, we have seen elections held in Afghanistan and
Iraq ... a small incident like this won't stop ours," said
Lambert, referring to the shooting near Jeremie.
Some conflict between supporters of rival candidates are
inevitable as campaigning winds down this week. People are
often paid small amounts, or get a little gas money or other
small gifts, to attend and cheer on candidates.
And with so many people in the race, even a small percentage
of votes can propel someone into a runoff or make them a
spoiler, provoking fierce contests even among those who have
little chance of becoming president.
Violence has been a factor in Haitian elections since
President for Life Jean-Claude Duvalier was forced into exile
in 1986, ending a 29-year family dynasty in the Caribbean
republic that maintained itself through executions and