Amid the devastation of January's earthquake and a deadly cholera outbreak, Haitians will vote Sunday for a new president. If those circumstances are not dire enough, threats of violence, corruption and low voter turnout threaten to undermine an electoral process that is always messy. Yet electing a competent new leader in Haiti is critical to the nation's recovery and holds important implications for the United States and Florida as well.
There are 19 candidates vying to succeed President Rene Preval and no clear front-runners, making it likely no one will win more than 50 percent of the vote. In that case, the top two finishers would advance to a runoff in about a month. A joint election observation mission of the Organization of American States and 15-nation Caribbean Community issued a strong condemnation Friday of pre-election violence and urged the Haitian police to increase efforts to head off confrontations between factions.
The credibility and outcome of the election in Haiti is important here as well. About 830,000 Haitians live in the United States, half of them in Florida. Many candidates have campaigned and raised money in Miami, New York and elsewhere. A handful of candidates participated in a campaign forum at Florida International University, and Haiti's minister of living abroad called for candidates to detail plans for the Haitian diaspora at an October forum at Eckerd College. Haitian-Americans cannot vote in Sunday's election, but their financial and organizational support are influential, and some candidates believe they should be allowed to cast ballots in future elections.
There are broader issues at stake as well. The United States has delivered on just a small portion of the $1.1 billion pledged to help Haiti rebuild after the earthquake, and the country's new leadership has to provide assurances the money will be properly spent. Haitians living in the United States and elsewhere sent more than $1.6 billion last year to the impoverished country. Yet the Caribbean nation has made little progress in digging out of the rubble left by the earthquake, and the scale of the humanitarian crisis is heart-wrenching.
Haiti has wrestled with poverty, unemployment and unreliable leadership for years. More than 1 million remain homeless and living in tents months after the earthquake, and the cholera outbreak has killed more than 1,500 Haitians since October. The United States and the international community have a moral obligation to help this suffering country, but a meaningful recovery will require strong internal leadership that can be established only by a valid election on Sunday.