A candidate headed into next month’s runoff for Haiti’s parliament was convicted of cocaine trafficking in Miami-Dade County.
Ernst Jeudy, 58, who is seeking to represent one of Haiti’s most lucrative tax bases, the city of Delmas, was charged with cocaine trafficking and possession with intent to distribute after Miami-Dade police said he checked in a tote bag at Miami International Airport. The controlled substance — nearly a half-pound of cocaine — was detected by a dog.
“The above defendant was taken into custody,” said the police. “The defendant was found guilty … sent to 3 1/2 years.”
Jeudy’s 1987 guilty plea for cocaine trafficking escaped Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council. The council, known as the CEP, qualified Jeudy along with 1,845 other candidates to run for 139 legislative seats in the violence- and fraud-marred Aug. 9 vote.
“After finishing counting all of my tally sheets with my campaign team, I want to tell the people of Delmas ‘Thank you’ for the sacrifice they made to give me victory in the first round,” Jeudy, who is already calling himself Deputy, wrote on his Facebook page the day after the vote.
Jeudy didn’t win, according to preliminary results, but finished second of 33 candidates for the lower house seat with 12 percent of the vote. The city, located in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, had one of the lowest voter turnouts at 6 percent. The city’s former mayor, Wilson Jeudy, is Ernst’s cousin and founder of the party, Randevous, he’s running under. Wilson Jeudy, spokesman for Ernst and the party, did not return a phone call from the Herald seeking comment.
Jeudy’s conviction and presence in the race are yet another example of Haitian officials’ failure to require a police background check. The oversight, human rights advocates and others say, contributed to the attack of polling stations during the vote and could lead to a parliament of legal bandits.
“The legal department of the CEP didn’t do its job,” said Pierre Esperance, the executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, which published a report earlier this year questioning the moral character of 31 candidates who were “in conflict with the law.”
“There are a lot of candidates with huge criminal files before the police and in foreign countries, yet they didn’t do anything about them,” Esperance said. “This is why we say these elections are going to produce a lot of kidnappers, drug traffickers and others in parliament who have committed crimes.”
Under Haiti’s electoral law and constitution, a person running for office should not have been convicted of a crime. The fact that Jeudy was convicted in the United States should not have any bearing, said Esperance, noting that in June the CEP booted out Levelt Francois after approving him because of a drug conviction.
Asked about Jeudy’s case, Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of the elections council, told the Herald that officials received a document on Monday regarding the case indicating that Jeudy had been convicted in the U.S. for drug trafficking. The document was accompanied by a letter from Jean Martin, the Fanmi Lavalas challenger who finished behind Jeudy with 9.8 percent of the votes.
“The CEP is currently checking this information with representatives of the U.S. government in Haiti,” Opont said, adding that “the electoral decree specifies that even after a candidate is elected, he can still be removed.”
With more than 6,000 elective posts up for grabs and 41,000 candidates, elections officials cannot research everyone, he said, adding that “the CEP cannot ask for what the law doesn’t require.”
Unlike human rights advocates, Opont said he does not believe there “is a causal relationship between the [election day] violence and the absence of police certificates because in many places supporters of candidates and former lawmakers” were alleged to have been behind the polling station attacks.
Last month, a Haiti National Police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the reason so many suspected criminals have slipped through the cracks and are now running for elected office is because this is the first time the law governing elections does not require candidates to produce results of a police background check.
News of Jeudy’s criminal background comes as candidates and elections observers continue to wait on the publication of the final results from the first round of the legislative races for 20 Senate seats and 119 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies.
The preliminary results have not only produced an avalanche of disputes from candidates at the Departmental Electoral Bureau of Litigation (BCED), but they have heightened calls for the vote to be annulled.
On Thursday, opposition parties again protested, demanding cancellation of the elections, the resignation of Opont and the departure of President Michel Martelly. They plan to continue their protests Friday by demonstrating in front of a Petionville hotel where elections officials are hosting a breakfast with candidates.
“The CEP and I have received a lot of attacks,” Opont said at a Thursday news conference where he denounced his critics and reiterated plans to lead the process until the end of the elections.
A decision earlier this week by Verite, a leading opposition party backed by former President René Préval, to not go to elections with the current CEP because it lacks credibility had not affected the body, he said.
Verite’s decision, however, has triggered fears by electoral observers that it could lead to an unraveling of the process and embolden beliefs by some that Haiti could be headed for a caretaker or transitional government.
Late Wednesday, another political party, Pitit Dessalines, joined the chorus of criticism by calling on the CEP to halt the campaign, which opened for the presidential race two weeks ahead of schedule. Final results should be published but only after the sanctioning of additional candidates accused of election day violence and ballot stuffing.
“For four long years, the founders of the Pitit Dessalines platform mobilized and insistently pounded the streets to say that nothing good for this country could be expected from the Martelly government, particularly with regard to elections,” the party said in a statement. “We had a clear vision of today’s trenches.”
Esperance said the elections council suffers from a lack of credibility and trust.
“We don’t see how the process can advance without the CEP resolving its many problems,” he said.
And while many are demanding Opont’s resignation, Esperance said the entire nine-member council is responsible for problems with the vote. For example, a CEP member was in the Central Plateau, where the human rights assistant program director, Marie Yolene Gilles, reported she saw armed candidate Willot Joseph enter a polling station with armed men and created a ruckus. Joseph is a former member of the lower Chamber of Deputies who in 2006 was elected to office while in jail for vehicle theft.
Another CEP member assigned to Grand’Anse said on the eve of the vote, her vehicle was attacked by partisans of Bouclier, a party close to Martelly. So far, neither Joseph nor Bouclier has been sanctioned.
The National Human Rights Defense Network along with two other observer groups, National Council Observation (CNO) and the Haitian Council of Non State Actors (CONHANE), have issued a detailed report on election day and called for an independent commission to investigate. At least 50 percent of the 1,508 voting centers registered acts of intimidation, violence and fraud, the report said.
Esperance said members of the three observer groups met with CEP members Sept. 2.
“We met with the CEP last Wednesday and posed the problem to them,” Esperance said, “but we don’t sense that the corrections will happen.”