Frustrated by the long-delayed legislative and municipal elections in Haiti, the Obama administration is sending one of its leading experts on the earthquake-recovering nation to meet with government and opposition leaders in the hope of breaking the political stalemate that has held up the balloting.
Thomas Shannon is to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. During the visit, he will meet with Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, Roman Catholic Cardinal Chibly Langlois, parliamentarians and political party leaders. He will also meet with Sandra Honoré, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Haiti. Haitian President Michel Martelly is currently on a trip to Europe.
Shannon’s visit comes four days after Haiti was supposed to hold elections, which are now three years late.
On Sunday, Martelly’s government officially announced that the vote was being postponed but did not announce a new date. The same day, thousands of angry would-be voters aligned with opposition groups marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding that elections be held.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Two of the protest’s organizers were arrested.
Opposition leaders have announced another protest for 10 a.m. Thursday to demand the release of those arrested. They have also been calling for the resignation of Martelly, who could be ruling by decree in January if a deal is not brokered between him and the opposition. The terms of two-thirds of Haiti’s Senate and the entire lower house of Parliament will expire by the second Monday in January.
Haiti’s government and the opposition groups have blamed each other for the delayed balloting. A group of six senators have refused to vote on an electoral law, saying it is unconstitutional and favors the government. Martelly and Lamothe have said they had made several concessions, and that it was the opposition that did not want elections.
In addition to the delayed elections, Shannon and Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams plan to raise a number of other issues during the visit, including post-earthquake reconstruction and the professionalization of the Haiti National Police.
On Wednesday, Lamothe’s office announced that a commission had been formed to establish a career plan for the police officers. The announcement came a day after the Senate’s justice and security committee grilled Haiti Police Chief Godson Orélus over concerns about the politicization of the police force and the use of tear gas and other tactics used to quell opposition protests.