PORT-AU-PRINCE – A former Haitian coup leader wanted by the United States for smuggling cocaine called on his supporters on Sunday to resist “anarchists” who forced a presidential election to be cancelled, in a sign of deep polarisation that could lead to more unrest.
The former rebel, Guy Philippe, called for counter protests and said he would not recognise any transitional government put in place when outgoing President Michel Martelly leaves office on February 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 and the tone of his remarks points to the depth of polarization over the political crisis.
Haiti was due to choose Martelly’s replacement on Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin refused to participate over alleged fraud that sparked anti-government protests and violence. .
In a statement on 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 says the fraud claims are unfounded, but critics believe he unfairly favoured his chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise, who came first in the first round of voting in October.
On Sunday, Moise supporters in favour of holding the election protested for the first time, using trucks to block a northern highway that is a major trade route with the neighbouring Dominican Republic, regional police chief Charles Nazaire Noel said.
Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gathered in a downtown area of Port-au-Prince 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 this week.
“Martelly believes the country is for himself and his family, we want him to go,” said Dorval, an unemployed man aged 40.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has been unable to build a stable democracy since the overthrow of the 1957 to 1986 dictatorship of the Duvalier family and ensuing military coups and election fraud.
A former police officer accused by Human Rights Watch of overseeing extra-judicial killings, Philippe in 2004 led bands of former soldiers to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and overthrew the chaotic government of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has a long-standing arrest warrant against Philippe for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The DEA has tried to capture him twice.
Philippe denies the accusations and said the United States has no legal authorisation to make arrests on Haitian soil. In November, the DEA participated in the arrest on cocaine charges of two men in Haiti related to Venezuelan first lady Celia Flores. (Reuters)
Protesters throw rocks during a demonstration rallying for the resignation of President Michel Martelly in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 23, 2016. (Reuters)