A former Haitian coup leader wanted by the U.S. for smuggling cocaine called on his supporters Sunday to resist “anarchists” who forced a presidential election to be canceled, in a sign of deep polarization that could lead to more unrest. The former rebel, Guy Philippe, called for counterdemonstrations and said he would not recognize any transitional government put in place when outgoing President Michel Martelly leaves office Feb. 7 unless it was representative of the provinces.
“We are ready for war,” Philippe said. “We will divide the country.”
It was unclear how much support Philippe can muster, but he remains popular in his southern stronghold of Grande-Anse, and the tone of his remarks points to the depth of polarization over the political crisis.
Haiti was due to choose Martelly’s replacement Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin refused to participate over alleged fraud that sparked anti-government protests and violence.
Given the short timeline, some form of interim government is likely to be formed to oversee the election process.
Martelly said the fraud claims are unfounded, but critics believe he unfairly favored his chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise, who finished first in the initial round of voting in October.
Sunday, Moise supporters in favor of holding the election demonstrated for the first time, using trucks to block a northern highway that is a major trade route with the neighboring Dominican Republic, regional police chief Charles Nazaire Noel said. They brandished voter-registration cards, demanding that the election go ahead, Noel said.
Haiti has been unable to build a stable democracy since the overthrow of the 1957-1986 dictatorship of the Duvalier family and the ensuing military coups and election fraud.
A former police officer accused by Human Rights Watch of overseeing extrajudicial killings, Philippe in 2004 led bands of former soldiers to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and overthrew the chaotic government of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Activists with roots in Aristide’s movement make up the bulk of the protesters who forced the election commission to cancel Sunday’s presidential vote. The protests have continued despite that victory, with leaders calling for a neutral interim government to take Martelly’s place and oversee fresh elections.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has a long-standing arrest warrant targeting Philippe for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The DEA has tried to capture him twice.
Philippe denies the accusations and said the U.S. has no legal authorization to make arrests on Haitian soil. In November, the DEA participated in the arrest on cocaine charges of two men in Haiti related to Venezuelan first lady Celia Flores.
Philippe is running for a seat in the senate, a race he is seen as having a good chance of winning. He said he would come to the capital with a security detail to be sworn in as a senator in the event he won. “I will come to Port-au-Prince, and I will come in good shape. I will retaliate if necessary. If they try to arrest me, I will retaliate, because it is illegal,” Philippe said.