OAS tells Haiti opposition to back off — and tells president to start governing

A fact-finding mission from the Organization of American States concluded its visit on Wednesday to a politically volatile Haiti with two messages, and a proposal to help bring those implicated in a Venezuela PetroCaribe aid corruption scandal to justice.

For the frustrated masses seeking to depose Haitian President Jovenel Moïse: “We will always support rule of law. If you don’t like Moïse, the solution is to beat him at the ballot box. We are not going to ask him to resign,” said an official speaking on background because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. Moïse is in the third year of a five-year term.

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And for the president: “You have to govern, and right now you are not governing.”

During the talk with Moïse, the delegation proposed putting together an OAS-sanctioned commission made up of international financial experts to help Haitian government auditors determine how much was stolen from the PetroCaribe aid fund, and who should be prosecuted.

Moïse, the official said, agreed. “He said he was ready to go to Washington and sign. He said he has nothing to hide.”

The handpicked successor of former Haitian President Michel Martelly, Moïse is among several Martelly supporters and ex-government officials accused of embezzling millions of dollars in the latest government audit of the program. The audit was issued on May 31 by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes. It looks at six governments under three different presidents, but it is the alleged corruption involving Moïse, who sold himself as a banana farmer during the presidential campaign, that has spurred nationwide violent protests and growing calls for his resignation.

“There can’ t be impunity. Whoever stole money needs to be held accountable,” the official said.

The delegation drove through the capital, where, nearly 10 years after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, government ministries are still unrestored. The buildings were supposed to be replaced with money from the PetroCaribe fund. A lot of that money was wasted or stolen, according to auditors.

“It was very apparent,” the official said. “A lot of fraud took place.”

The high-level visit, led by U.S. OAS Ambassador Carlos Trujillo, who chairs the permanent council and general committee of the hemispheric organization, lasted about five hours. He was joined by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, OAS Haiti representative Cristobal Dupouy and Gonzalo Koncke, chief of staff for OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.

After arriving in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday morning, Trujillo headed straight to Moïse’s residence in the hills of the capital, where he was joined by the foreign minister, Bocchit Edmond. Having refused suggestions for about a month to bring Haiti’s crisis to the attention of the OAS permanent council, Edmond finally did so on June 14, asking Trujillo if he could come see if the OAS can facilitate dialogue between the president and those demanding his resignation.

“We are not mediators,” said the official, adding that the aim of the OAS is to help put in place conditions for a dialogue, not dictate one.

It was at the president’s residence that the delegation made it clear to the president that he has to step up. The protests have stalled government functions. Banks are opened half a day. Revenues are not coming in or being collected, and earlier this week the finance minister said instead of 2.5 percent economic growth, Haiti can expect to see less than 1 percent.

Moïse, the official said, complained that while he has support in the lower chamber of deputies, he lacks a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which has thwarted his ability to get a new government in place, four months after the lower chamber fired the last prime minister. Of 29 senators, only four are viewed as opposition.

“You don’t need an absolute majority,” the official insisted.

After meeting with Moïse, the group conferred with the representatives of Canada, Brazil, the United Nations and other OAS member countries. They also heard from four members of civil society, and the representatives of two of the more moderate political parties, Fusion and OPL, along with an ex-Senate president, Kely Bastien.

Not part of the discussions: representatives of the private sector, which has been asking the president for months for a dialogue. Also not invited were members of the structured grassroots movement Nou Pap Domi (We are not sleeping) and the radical opposition, both of which have been rallying Haitians into the streets in demonstrations that have become increasingly violent.

If Trujillo was hoping to find a more moderate stance on whether Moïse should stay, and a dialogue was possible, some in attendance said he did not get it. Meanwhile, the exclusion of the more outspoken players in Haiti’s brewing political crisis had even some members of the foreign diplomatic corps, wondering if the OAS’ visit could produce the needed dialogue between Moïse and those demanding his departure.

“This shows a willingness by the OAS to impose a solution without listening to the popular demands of the population,” Nou Pap Domi said in a statement. “[But] we at Nou Pap Domi are committed to finding a solution to Haiti with Haitians.

“The presence of the OAS does not change our position,” the organization added. “But we wrote the OAS on June 8, 2019, to inform them that we do not recognize the legitimacy of President Jovenel Moïse and we have no trust in him leading the country because he has serious allegations that involve corruption.”

Edmonde Supplice Beauzile, a former senator and current head of Fusion, said the meeting has not changed her party’s position on Moïse.

“We cannot lose time with him. He’s not credible,” she said of the president. “The OAS has to start working for the goodwill of the Haitian people and not a person who doesn’t have leadership or credibility.”

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.