Amid crisis, Rubio visits Haiti to urge dialogue between president and opposition

Jean Henry Céant, right, was dismissed as Haiti’s prime minister on Monday.
Jean Henry Céant, right, was dismissed as Haiti’s prime minister on Monday. AP

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is headed to Haiti, where he plans to spend the day on Wednesday urging dialogue between the country’s embattled president and opposition parties calling for his resignation.

The Florida Republican senator is visiting as chairman of the Senate’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said Laura Ortiz, who handles foreign policy press inquiries and Hispanic media outreach for the senator’s office.

“The goal is to urge for dialogue,” she said. “The U.S. obviously is continuing to call on the actors to engage in dialogue and that’s the message.”

Rubio, who had been critical of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse over his support of Venezuela, has been less vocal since Haiti joined the United States in not recognizing “the legitimacy” of President Nicolás Maduro as he prepared to begin a new term in January and then again as the Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó after he declared himself interim president of the oil-rich South American nation.

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On Tuesday, the White House announced that Moïse is among five Caribbean leaders invited to meet with President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach County on Friday. Their nations, Haiti, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, are all members of the Lima Group — a bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations — at the Organization of American States that have been pushing to step up sanctions and political pressure on Venezuela.

Rubio’s visit to Port-au-Prince comes as Haiti undergoes its own economic and political crisis. On Monday, lawmakers in the Lower Chamber of Deputies fired Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant and his 21-member government after only six months in office, citing Céant’s inability to improve the living conditions of Haitians, who are facing frequent blackouts amid fuel shortages, skyrocketing prices, double digit inflation and an $89.6 million budget deficit.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

The Céant government’s ouster took place in a highly unusual and unprecedented hearing as the prime minister waited in the Senate, where he had been summoned to answer questions about five Americans who had been arrested with an arsenal of illegal weapons in Haiti but then released at the request of the U.S. government.

That hearing, which was postponed after senators failed to get the necessary 16 members for a quorum, has been rescheduled for Wednesday during Rubio’s visit.

“It’s like the chamber of deputies is hiding something that they don’t want us to know so they went ahead and ousted Céant,” said Sen. Evalière Beauplan, an opposition senator. Beauplan, who was invited to meet with Rubio, said he will be in the Senate where Céant has been invited to provide information on why the armed Americans turned over to U.S. custody, who hired them and why.

Beauplan said he’s designated another lawmaker, Deputy Manes Louis, to represent him and the Democratic sector that has been calling for the president’s ouster.

“We Haitians are friends of the Americans, but we hope that they offer us better than what they are offering,” Beauplan said.

“I think the Americans have a deal with Jovenel Moïse,to protect him and help him finish his term because they know all of the problems in Haiti, the corruption, the money laundering.... and yet they still support him,” he said. “Marco Rubio knows all that’s taking place in Haiti.

Leah Cassayo, 12, reads a letter outside of Sen. Marco Rubio's office in Doral asking him to pass a Clean Dream Act and protect families with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on Nov. 22, 2017.

During his visit Rubio can expect to get an earful as he meets with not only Moïse and U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, but representatives of opposition political parties, civil society and the business community.

Andre Michel, another opposition leader behind the protests, said the primary obstacles to any political dialogue remains Moïse, and the obstacles became even bigger following Monday’s unceremonious firing of the prime minister by the president’s supporters in parliament.

“What happened yesterday plunged us into an institutional crisis, and the only solution is the resignation of Jovenel Moïse,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Port-au-Prince-based human rights group National Human Rights Defense Network issued a report on last month’s deadly protests that led to the U.S. and Canada warning citizens not to travel to Haiti.

According to the report, at least 40 Haitians died and 82 were injured throughout the country between Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. The group also reported that at least 45 structures including 12 gas stations, one university and several businesses, schools, vehicles and private homes were either pillaged, burned or vandalized by demonstrators.

The report blamed the deterioration of the country’s socioeconomic conditions for sparking the violent protests, and said blame lies with the legislature as well as the executive.