Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that Haitian authorities must move quickly if they are to hold free and fair national elections by Nov. 20 as planned.
Rice met with Haitian President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard Latortue during a daylong visit designed to show support for Haiti’s attempts to overcome long years of political instability.
The election process “must be open, inclusive and fair,” she told a news conference at the presidential palace.
With the elections less than eight weeks away, Rice said Haitian authorities must make decisions about where to place polling booths and make full use of services provided by the United Nations, the Organization of American States and other institutions.
Elections “can be a very important and precious step along this road to democracy,” Rice said.
Latortue said that Haiti shared Rice’s concerns.
Repeated efforts to install stable constitutional rule in Haiti have failed over the years but the United States, with a big assist from U.N. peacekeepers, is eager to see the country turn a corner this time.
U.S. has helped Haiti for years
The Bush administration has provided well over $100 million in assistance since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country with U.S. help in February 2004 amid a revolt against his rule. Ten years earlier, President Clinton had sent 20,000 U.S. troops to reinstate Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president.
The State Department did not announce the trip until less than 24 hours before Rice’s early morning departure Tuesday, a sign of uneasiness about the potential for violence during her visit.
When former Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Haiti 10 months ago, gunfire erupted outside the presidential palace not long after he arrived there for talks. It was not clear whether the violence was related to his visit.
Politically motivated violence has erupted frequently in Haiti since Aristide’s departure. Haitian authorities hold Aristide’s supporters largely responsible. But police operations in pro-Aristide neighborhoods have often turned deadly. Aristide is living in exile in South Africa.
Violence decreasing, administration says
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday the administration believes violence is easing.
“I think what we have seen is an environment that is increasingly secure,” he said. “That said, there are still pockets of real difficulty.”
In addition to leaders of the interim government, Rice planned meetings with representatives of a Brazil-led U.N. peacekeeping force. She conferred on the Haitian issue Monday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
The 15-nation Caribbean Community suspended Haiti’s membership shortly after Aristide fled the island during last year’s revolt. The Community maintains that the post-Aristide government is unconstitutional.
Aristide’s supporters contend that the United States forced him from office. The administration says he left voluntarily.