Haiti has recalled its ambassador to the United Nations for consultations after U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ special representative said she welcomed a corruption inquiry into the way $2 billion in oil loans from Venezuela was spent by former Haitian government officials.
Ambassador Denis Regis confirmed to the Miami Herald that he had been recalled and Haiti Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue also confirmed the decision.
Rodrigue said the government believes that a statement issued by Susan D. Page, the special representative and chief of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti — known by the acronym MINUJUSTH — “surpasses its role to support the country in the enforcement of rule of law and justice.”
He said the Haitian government also summoned Page on Tuesday to explain the communique.
On Sunday, Page said she welcomed the decision by Haiti’s justice system to assign an investigative judge, Paul Pierre, to look into complaints filed by about 20 citizens demanding an accounting for the $2 billion Haiti received as part of a discounted oil program with Venezuela, known as PetroCaribe. She also called on Haitian authorities to look into two separate incidents involving alleged police brutality and shootings.
Page noted that the U.N. mission’s role is to strengthen the rule of law in Haiti. The mission was formed following the end of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in October after 13 1/2 years.
Page also cited a recent Transparency International report ranking Haiti as the most corrupt country in the Caribbean.
“I salute the initiative and the active role of Haitian citizens and civil society engaged in the fight against corruption and impunity, whose actions demonstrate that the population defends accountability and justice,” Page said in a statement.
The diplomatic row came as leaders from the 15-member Caribbean Community economic bloc known as CARICOM were ending a two-day summit in Port-au-Prince. Haiti, which is a member, hosted the summit, where leaders discussed issues concerning ISIS terrorism recruitment, regional air transport and a regional arrest treaty.
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who marked a year in office on Feb. 8, has been at odds with the international community and in January irked the country’s foreign diplomatic corps when, according to several sources, he demanded that foreign donors support his campaign promises or take their aid elsewhere.
In an interview with Bloomberg last month, Moïse, complained that billions of dollars have been squandered by the international community in Haiti over the years.
“Right now in Haiti, the money of foreign taxpayers, your money, is being wasted,” Moïse said. “Every year we receive $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion in aid, or more. However, it’s all consumed in a state of disorder that constitutes public international development aid.”
A Caribbean diplomat said during Tuesday’s closed-door session with CARICOM leaders Moïse told the group that “he didn’t like what the U.N. had to say about corruption, so he recalled his ambassador.”
During the closing press conference of the CARICOM Summit Moïse told reporters that Haiti today “is fighting to protect an image,” and as president he’s determined to do “all I can do to ensure that Haiti’s image is respected in the exterior.” Moïse’s reaction is far different from that in January when it was reported that President Donald Trump had referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries,” in a meeting with lawmakers over an immigration deal.
Foreign diplomats have demanded that Moïse, who has said he’s out to combat corruption, show he’s serious about rooting it out. He has been reluctant to pursue the PetroCaribe allegations, which were detailed in two separate reports by the Senate’s anti-corruption committee.
The most recent report, which triggered several citizens’ lawsuits, alleges that much of the $2 billion that Haiti owes Venezuela from the PetroCaribe oil program was embezzled by government officials, most of whom served under former Haitian President Michel Martelly, a political ally of Moïse.