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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Red Cross worker slain in rising Haiti violence

By Stevenson Jacobs The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti · A kidnapped international Red Cross worker was found shot to death, the organization said Friday, expressing its concerns about escalating violence that threatens elections to replace ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”Elections are the bridge to democracy,” trumpets a slogan to persuade frightened Haitians to vote. Crossing that bridge is proving anything but easy.Daily killings and kidnappings, dismally low voter registration and logistical snags are forcing election organizers to consider tough choices, including suggestions of delaying the balloting. Joel Cauvin, a Haitian employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was abducted Wednesday and found dead the next day, the committee said Friday.The Geneva-based organization said it was “extremely concerned about the growing insecurity in Haiti.”Cauvin’s family had been negotiating a ransom with his captors when talks abruptly and inexplicably broke off, said Wolde Saugeron, an ICRC spokesman in Haiti.U.N. peacekeepers said they freed a kidnapped woman in a raid Wednesday, and local Radio Metropole identified the victim as a worker for the Haitian Red Cross.”Until the people of Haiti can walk outside of their homes in peace, they cannot be expected to vote,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has called for a delay in Haiti’s polls until security is restored.The U.S. House of Representatives refused to support her appeal this week. Nearly 7,000 local and regional posts are up for grabs Oct. 9, and elections for president and 129 legislators are slated for Nov. 13.So far, just 200,000 of Haiti’s 4.5 million eligible voters, fewer than 5 percent, have registered, with about a month left until registration ends. Only 100 of 424 planned voter registration sites have opened, though another 117 centers are supposed to open soon, according to the Provisional Electoral Council.The U.N. special envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, said it was unrealistic to expect a flawless process. “These are not Austrian elections, these are Haitian elections,” Valdes said.Valdes predicted more Haitians would register in coming weeks and rejected calls for postponement. Almost daily shootouts in the densely populated slums of Port-au-Prince are frustrating a 7,400-member U.N. peacekeeping force and keeping skittish residents from registering.Hundreds, including several foreigners, have been kidnapped for ransom in recent months.Most violence is blamed on well-armed street gangs loyal to Aristide, who fled Haiti amid a February 2004 revolt. Aristide partisans say they are victims of killings and other atrocities by Haiti’s police.More than 700 people have been slain since September, when Aristide supporters stepped up calls for his return from exile in South Africa.Looking to their security, few candidates have announced they will run. “What is happening in Port-au-Prince doesn’t make people want to come out and register,” said Rosemand Pradel, secretary-general of the Provisional Electoral Council, which suffered a grenade attack in March.He said the council is trying to extend the registration period until the end of August and has not ruled out postponing October local elections “as a last resort.”Pradel also suggested that elections in the pro-Aristide slums of Cite Soleil and Bel-Air, home to several hundred thousand people, could be delayed until the areas “cool down.”Rising violence prompted the U.S. Peace Corps to evacuate its 16 volunteers earlier this month, three months after the U.S. Embassy ordered nonessential personnel to leave. On Tuesday, the embassy announced it was scaling back consular services because of the violence and would only offer U.S. entry visas for students and medical emergencies.Most Haitians remain wary.”Yes, I’m scared. … I don’t know if it’s worth risking my life just to vote,” student Yvanne Chalmen, 19, said after registering at a downtown center guarded by three men with shotguns. 

  Note: This article was first published in the Sun-Sentinel 

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