October 6, 2015 / 8:42 PM / 3 years ago

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

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged Haitians to vote in upcoming elections and said there was no place for violence or intimidation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers opening remarks at the "Our Ocean" conference at the Hotel Sheraton Miramar in Vina del Mar city, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Kerry said the United States believed elections needed to go ahead as planned on Oct 25 and there was enough time to make sure the vote was peaceful.

“Over the next three weeks there is all the opportunity ... to take advantage of the election process and make sure this election is without incident, without violence, without intimidation, and that people go to the polls and vote,” Kerry said during a brief stop in Port-au-Prince.

“The United States condemns any violence and we encourage full participation in the election process,” he added.

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.

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.

Kerry met President Michel 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 Lavalas Family party, linked to twice deposed former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, also has candidates. Another leading political party, Vérité (Truth), announced last month it was pulling out of the elections, saying it was the primary victim of violence during the first round of voting in August.

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

“His real responsibility ... 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.

Martelly said Haiti was “not where we want to be” but had made giant strides including lower inflation.

Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman

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