The chief of United Nations peacekeeping operations is calling Haiti's elections a good first step on the path to peace and stability. But the chief peacekeeper cautions that the western hemisphere's poorest country will need international support for decades to come.
Even before the votes were counted, U.N. officials were calling Haiti's presidential election a success. With more than 9,000 blue-helmeted peacekeepers helping with security, throngs of voters overcame organizational breakdowns and scattered violence to return their impoverished nation to democratic rule.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno called the vote a sign of hope. But as he anxiously monitored the election proceedings, Guehenno told VOA Haiti will have to have peacekeepers and other international assistance for years, maybe decades. "In ten years, you can have the foundations. But what is really important is to have a long term project, not to think that there is any quick fix for Haiti. It has to be a sustained long-term effort," he said.
The U.N. first sent a peacekeeping force to Haiti in 1995. The mission was disbanded in 2001, following disputed elections that ultimately soured relations with the international community. This time, Guehenno says, the world body must be prepared to stay until the job is done.
"In the past the big mistake that has been made is that the international community didn't stay the course. You had one good event and people would move on. And for Haiti, considering the challenges of development in Haiti, this needs to be a longer-term effort," he said.
Looking back on mistakes made during and after the 2000 election, Guehenno says the international community will have to act fast to ensure that this time, the post-election process goes smoothly.
"The role of the U.N. is to make sure that whoever wins the election, that victory is not seen as the defeat of the ones who will have lost the election; that Haitians come together, because considering the challenges of Haiti, if it's one half of the island against the other, it's not good for the country, so it will be very important for the Haitians to come together," he said.
Guehenno says it will be important in the next weeks and months for Haitians to move away from personality-driven politics, and to begin talking about how to make Haiti better.
"It will be important to move away from a winner take all culture, where winners sometimes abuse their victory and don't respect the losers. Haitians will need to come together because their country has huge problems, but the peacefulness of elections so far is just a first step, but it's a good first step," he said.
In the meantime, the U.N. peacekeeping chief says the international community is encouraged that while Haiti may be the among the world's poorest countries, the people have shown with their feet that they believe in democracy. Referring to the election as a foundation, he says "now we have to build a house".