Kerry arrives in Haiti to offer U.S. support ahead of elections

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 06, 2015 4:41 PM

By Lesley Wroughton

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Haiti on Tuesday to underscore U.S. support for elections later this month and to press its leaders to ensure the process is peaceful.

The first round of voting in August was disrupted by violence and bureaucratic problems, a setback for stability in the impoverished Caribbean country. Legislative elections were canceled in 2011 and in 2014.

During the brief visit, Kerry's first as secretary of state, he will tell Haiti's leaders "that this is the moment for them to take seriously," a senior State Department official said.

"The secretary is coming to show that we want to continue to partner with the Haitian people, we are still interested and still support them, and to emphasize how important these elections are," said the official, who briefed reporters on the visit.

Haiti has struggled to build a stable democracy ever since the overthrow of the dictatorship of the Duvalier family, which led the country from 1957 to 1986, and ensuing coups and election fraud.

Devastated by an earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 220,000 people, the country has slowly rebuilt with the help of international aid, including about $4 billion from the United States.

Although investment has since flowed into Haiti, it is still hobbled by a lack of economic development and opportunity that benefits everyone.

"These elections are important because there's a lot of work that still needs to be done, and we need a partner across the table from us in terms of a fully elected, legitimate parliament and an elected president when President (Michel) Martelly's term is up," the official said.

Kerry will meet Martelly, who cannot seek re-election but has dozens of candidates running throughout the country under the so-called Haitian Tet Kale (Bald Headed) Party, named after his famously smooth scalp.

The Verite (Truth) Party of former president Rene Preval and the Lavalas Family party, linked to twice deposed former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, also have candidates.

While Martelly is not participating, the State Department official said he could ensure that conditions were safe enough for Haitians to vote in the Oct. 25 elections.

"His real responsibility, if you will, is to ensure that the Haitian police and other law enforcement officials have the wherewithal necessary to make people feel safe to go out and vote on election day," the official said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh and Christian Plumb)