Radio Télé Ginen attacked in Haiti
A high-level delegation from the Organization of American States is headed on Wednesday to Haiti, where a solution to a brewing political crisis appears increasingly unclear amid ongoing violent protests and hardened demands for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who is implicated in a corruption scandal.
The visit is being led by U.S. OAS Ambassador Carlos Trujillo, who chairs the permanent council and general committee of the group, and will include Gonzalo Koncke, chief of staff for OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. The visit was requested by Haiti, whose foreign minister, Bocchit Edmond, sent a letter on June 14 to Trujillo asking if the OAS can help facilitate a dialogue between the president and those demanding his ouster.
“The visit is a fact-finding mission,” Edmond told the Miami Herald. “They will be meeting with all the relevant stakeholders to find a way on how best they can facilitate [an] inter-Haitian dialogue.”
Edmond’s request comes after Haiti’s representative to the OAS had spent the past month refusing requests from Canada and the 15-member Caribbean Community to bring the deepening crisis to the attention of the OAS’s permanent council. At the same time Haiti, which had contacted the United Nations in March for help, did not follow through with the requirements to get a high-level U.N. mediator.
An OAS official familiar with Wednesday’s visit said the goal is to “lower the political temperature ...and lay out parameters for dialogue,” while giving assurances for an OAS-electoral observation mission at the next election.
Acknowledging that success remains uncertain, the official said that given the mass demonstrations and ongoing tensions, the OAS involvement is the best solution. The organization, the official noted, has a long history in Haiti of creating an atmosphere for dialogue.
But that is a tall order in Haiti, where the OAS, which unsuccessfully tried to mediate the 2004 political crisis that eventually led to the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is viewed by some as ineffective. Some also see it as being responsible for the disdain some protesters have toward Moïse, who earlier this year broke with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and supported the OAS and the Trump administration’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as president.
Canada, the U.S. and others have insisted that Moïse needs to be part of any talks. But the political opposition, anti-corruption grassroots activists and business and religious leaders have refused. On Monday, the head of the Protestant Federation of Haiti, Sylvain Exantus, confirmed that he had received an invitation to meet with the president at his private residence but had declined.
The federation is among those calling for Moïse’s ouster, citing a May 31 report by government auditors accusing him of receiving millions of dollars for questionable road rehabilitation projects that auditors say were part of an embezzlement scheme to defraud poor Haitians. The report examined how Haitian officials in three presidencies from 2008 to 2016 have used billions of dollars in savings from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe aid program.
In a speech last week, Moïse proclaimed his innocence and declared that he would not step down. His supporters have said he’s a victim of political maneuvering.
On Tuesday, in a joint statement, eight Florida Democrats in the U.S. Congress and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., announced plans to hold a meeting in South Florida next month to discuss strategies to strengthen the rule of law and civil society in Haiti. Among the invitees will be members of the Haitian diaspora and its advocates, elected officials from Haiti and the U.S., and other key stakeholders, the U.S. lawmakers said.
“We must do all that we can to ensure that Haiti does not become a failed state as this crisis unfolds,” the statement said. “While the frustrations that have prompted the protests are justifiable, the violent acts being used to express them are indefensible and hurt the very people they’re meant to help.”
The ongoing social and political tensions in Haiti have been unfolding ever since last July, when the administration’s miscalculated decision to raise fuel prices sparked three days of rioting and the cancellation of international flights. They continued to simmer for months with a 10-day lockdown of the country in February and renewed protests earlier this month. The protests and increased calls for the president’s resignation were prompted by the audit.
The U.S. has been talking to business leaders and politicians in hopes of defusing tensions. Julie Chung, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, is also planning to visit on Monday. She has several meetings scheduled, including one with the president of the lower chamber of deputies.
In recent days several proposals have emerged, but so far all seem to lack popular support. One idea is for the creation of a unity government. The plan would call for Moïse to remain in power but day-to-day governance would be handled by a prime minister from the opposition. The new opposition-led government would work on reforming the constitution and holding early presidential elections. Instead of ending his presidency in 2022, Moïse’s five-year presidential term would end a year early, in 2021.
While some Moïse supporters have expressed a willingness to have an opposition prime minister, the unity government remains a hard sell among Haitian politicians and business leaders who for the past two weeks have been meeting with different groups to craft a road map out of the crisis that may or may not include Moïse as president.
“Haitians don’t have a problem talking; just not with the president,” said opposition Sen. Evaliere Beauplan, a spokesman for the radical opposition known as the Secteur Démocratique et Populaire. “The president is a liar. He doesn’t want dialogue.”
Beauplan said he and others in the opposition are putting together a plan on what a post-Moïse transition would look like. They are not interested in any formula, he said, that includes cooperating with the president, “who has lost his legitimacy, his ability to summon anyone and has corruption allegations.”
“We are not looking for jobs. We are looking for meaningful change,” Beauplan said, adding that he doesn’t understand why the international community keeps pushing the opposition to meet with a president facing corruption charges.
“They keep asking us to talk to him, to negotiate with people who have violated the law, who are corrupt....they won’t accept that in their countries, but they want us to. We find them to be incoherent as diplomats. They should show us the examples they have at home.”
Gary Bodeau, the president of the lower chamber of deputies, said he would not support the idea of an opposition prime minister. He accused the radical opposition of promoting violent tactics that have turned streets into no-go zones of rock throwing and burning barricades, and left children unable to go to school.
“In what parliament?” Bodeau said raising doubt that such a plan would find support. “They have to find a neutral prime minister, a high profile personality who has a good background....Someone who can guarantee the interests of all parties.”
Frantz Bernard Craan, the head of the powerful pro-business Private Sector Economic Forum, said unity governments have never worked in Haiti because they are “teams of rivals.”
Craan said the business community is looking for a way out of the crisis that would lead to a new constitution, a new way of governance and restore confidence so that the next presidential elections would be clean and acceptable.
“There is a big problem here now, nobody trusts anybody and we don’ t want to enter into discussion regarding Jovenel, regarding the new government because within the private sector there is no unity on that,” Craan said.
But the group has made itself clear on whether the president is part of the problem or the solution — which can make the goal of the OAS, to get all sides in the same room, difficult, if not impossible.
“We don’t now what the OAS can do or are doing. We hope that someone can facilitate, but it has to be an inter-Haitian solution,” Craan said. “We have said Jovenel is not part of the solution. Why? Because for us, he has been incapable of bringing everyone around the table to look for a solution.”