South Florida congressional lawmakers say they plan to closely monitor a Tuesday vote in Haiti’s Senate that will help determine if long-overdue elections take place this year.
On Monday, Haitian President Michel Martelly sent an amended electoral law to the Senate and lower chamber of deputies as part of a package of laws to be voted on, including legislation to make it easier to do business in the country.
“Haiti is a democracy. There are certain things a democracy must do: they must have annual elections; no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. “Let’s hope that they do because the consequences will not be kind.”
Wilson along with Miami Republican lawmakers Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen visited Haiti last week to meet with Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and parliamentarians.
“We basically had two lines of questioning throughout every meeting: ‘Are you being good stewards of the public money, especially U.S. taxpayers dollars, and you’ve got to schedule a date certain for elections,’ ” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Transparency, accountability and elections, elections, elections.”
The amended electoral law, an impending cabinet reshuffle and possible changes to the council charged with organizing the balloting are part of a political accord reached after two months of dialogue between Martelly and dozens of opposition parties. The exchange was mediated by the Roman Catholic Church, whose new cardinal, Chibly Langlois, as late as last week was still trying to salvage the agreement.
Senate President Simon Desras said while be believes the new law will pass, he still doubts the executive has the political will to stage the balloting, scheduled for Oct. 24.
“The government didn’t need an accord to respect the constitution, or to organize elections. They don’t do an accord to do carnival,” he said.
The ongoing political crisis has triggered traditional signs of malaise in Haiti: anti-government protests — the most recent took place on Saturday in Port-au-Prince — and increased migration attempts.
On Monday, after 114 Haitians were intercepted off the Turks and Caicos, Gov. Peter Beckingham, who oversees the British territory, called on Haitian authorities “to do all that they can to stop this dangerous and illegal trade.”
“It is exacting too high a price in Haitian lives and TCI public spending,” Beckingham said.
To date, a migration agreement between the two nations has not been signed. Last week, Haitian and Bahamian officials reached an accord during the visit of Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell. The agreement, which includes an anti-migration public service campaign, would be signed within 60 days, officials said.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday also reported that it had returned 82 Haitian migrants back to Cap-Haitian. The group was among more than 200 migrants from Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic Coast Guard intercepted over 10 days.
“There were no deaths, but it could have ended up in deaths,” said Marilyn Fajardo, deputy public affairs officer.
So far, 559 Haitian migrants have been interdicted at sea since the fiscal year began Oct. 1. Coast Guard officials said 508 were interdicted in the last fiscal year.
Ros-Lehtinen said if Haiti wants to attract investments, and keep people at home, it has to work on stability, and elections and accountability are necessary first steps.
“If they don’t see hope for the future, they are going to act on their own and vote with their feet,” she said. “The onus is on the government, the ruling party to deliver on the promises made, they have to provide a better economic future.”
Still Ros-Lehtinen said she was feeling more “optimistic than in previous visits.” Wilson said it was “a wonderful experience.”
“I saw things in Haiti I didn’t know were there,” she said, mentioning the police training academy.
For his part, Diaz-Blart said the meetings were positive. He remains concerned, however, about how U.S taxpayer dollars are being spent in the country, issues raised in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
“We were able to see on the ground some of the noticeable improvements that have been made by the Haitian government,” he said. “We will continue to keep an eye out on the issues in the report as funding continues.”