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Haiti Election Stalemate Leaves U.S. with Few Options

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a media availability following the North American Foreign Ministers Meeting in Wakefield, Quebec, Canada, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010.
AP
AP

The standoff over Haiti's disputed presidential elections has left U.S. policymakers in a bind, forced to choose between a series of bad options as they try to navigate a way out of a volatile political crisis in a country still reeling from the January earthquake that left a quarter million people dead.

"If you ignore the legitimate questions raised about the election, you create conditions for longer-term instability," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. "If you don't continue to provide assistance on the humanitarian side while you try to deal with the questions posed by the election, then you hurt the people you're trying to help."

The secretary made her remarks one day after Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council said it was willing to recount ballots from the November 28 vote. That proposal came after several days of rioting by supporters of musician turned politician Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly that reportedly left at least four people dead.

Martelly came in third by less than a percentage point in results announced by the council on December 7. Only the top two candidates, former Haitian First Lady Mirlande Manigat and ruling party candidate Jude Celestin, qualify for the second round of voting scheduled for January 16.

Celestin and Manigat both rejected the proposed recount. Meanwhile Martelly is calling for a complete do-over of the first round in January with all 18 original candidates under the supervision of a new electoral council.

Martelly's supporters charge the government with rigging the election against him, but they are far from the only critics of how the balloting was carried ou. Twelve of the eighteen candidates who participated in the first round held a news conference before the polls were even closed to condemn reports of ballot box stuffing, fraud and irregularities.

And when the results were announced, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, said in a statement that they were "inconsistent with the published results of the National Election Observation Council" which had thousands of observers on the ground.

Three days later Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the U.S. "must come down squarely in support of the Haitian people's right to choose their leaders freely and fairly" and called for a cut off of direct aid to Haiti's central government and a suspension of U.S. visas for top Haitian government officials and their immediate family members.

On Monday Secretary Clinton said Leahy's words "should be heeded" by Haiti's leaders.

"This is a very strong signal that we expect more and we're looking for more," she said.

Former President Bill Clinton waves during his visit to a cholera treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders in Tabarre, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dec. 15, 2010.
AP

But in Port-au-Prince Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton, who is co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission said it would be "a mistake" to suspend reconstruction aid.

"In my opinion, nothing has yet happened which justifies that," he said.

An aide to Leahy said the senator was not proposing any reduction in reconstruction aid to Haiti, but was looking instead for a way to directly pressure President Rene Preval's government to take the necessary steps to end the electoral standoff and support a fair outcome.

"The recognition of problems with the election is widespread, the question is how to salvage it," the aide told CBS News.

"The Haitian people need a government they respect, and the U.S. needs a government it can work with," he added, "its going to be difficult even with that but it would be much harder without it."

Special Report: Haiti's Road to Recovery

Tony Cavin is Washington Senior Producer, CBS Newspath.