June 10, 2023

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Haiti says it is organizing elections, referendum

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Haiti’s government assured the international community Thursday that it “had nothing to worry about” on the holding of long overdue parliamentary, local and presidential elections and that President Jovenel Moïse “has done everything” to facilitate their organization this year.

“The electoral machinery has been set in motion. The Provisional Electoral Council has the resources needed and the electoral process is following its normal course,” Acting Haiti Prime Minister Claude Joseph told the U.N. Security Council.

Joseph’s declaration came moments after he asked member nations to ante up $17 million for an elections fund, and after members of the U.N. Security Council, led by the United States, questioned the government’s commitment as a political stalemate deepens and Haiti faces worsening problems. They include a deadly resurgence of gang violence and COVID-19, human rights violations and a worrying humanitarian crisis.

“We believe that the government of Haiti has not sufficiently focused on addressing Haiti’s most urgent priority: organizing parliamentary elections that would end the current period of rule by decree by President Moïse,” Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior adviser for special political affairs at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said. “We note with appreciation the efforts by the government to undertake voter registration, but more must be done.”

DeLaurentis said the U.S. is providing more than $3 million to the Consortium for Elections and Political Processes Strengthening, which includes the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Their activities include focusing on improving electoral administration, strengthening the competitiveness of political parties, educating voters on electoral processes, promoting electoral transparency and ensuring voter participation.

He also added that with the growing violence — kidnappings were up 36% in the first four months of this year and homicides up by 17% — the U.S is providing an additional $5 million to strengthen the Haiti National Police capacity to work with communities to resist gangs.

“We call on other donors to increase their support as well,” he said about the police support.

Other nations joined in in criticizing the government’s failure to prepare for elections. They also expressed unease over Moïse’s efforts to hold a controversial constitutional referendum that was scheduled for later this month, but indefinitely postponed by Haiti’s elections commission, citing the recent COVID-19 outbreak. The Biden administration last week said it was opposed to the process, which critics of the government have said is illegal.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, council members received a report from U.N. Security General António Guterres. It painted an even more dire picture than his last report in February. In recent months, intra-gang violence has forced the displacement of more than 16,000 Haitians, including thousands of women and children. The violence — including a failed police operation in the Port-au-Prince shantytown of Village de Dieu in March, where officers were killed and their bodies never recovered — is undermining the nation’s confidence in the government’s capacity to ensure public safety, the report noted.

Guterres’ special representative, Helen La Lime, said the violence was threatening free and fair elections. Haitian attorney Chantal Hudicourt-Ewald, representing the civil society, painted an even grimmer reality as she spoke of the daily risks of living in the country: a courthouse bordering gang-controlled neighborhoods; a gang war that has claimed countless lives; a deadly surge of COVID-19 with no vaccines and limited access to hospitals and oxygen to respond; and “the victory cries” of gangs circulating on social media as they seize new turf.

While many Haitians agreed the constitution needs amending, they were opposed to the unconstitutional way in which Moïse was proceeding, she said. Hudicourt-Ewald was a member of the 1987 constitutional assembly that created the current constitution.

“There is no trust in state institutions and in the political class. People do not believe that the authorities want or are able to tackle insecurity. Haitians’ current worries are to ensure their families survive. People are simply afraid,” she said. “The country is in disarray.”

In response to the testimony, U.N. Security Council members called on Haiti’s political actors to engage in dialogue without pre-conditions to find a way out of the political crisis.

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Internally displaced people sit inside a shelter at the Center Sportif of Carrefour in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. A UNICEF report says that escalating gang violence has displaced thousands of women and children in the capital in the first two weeks of June. Boulet-Groulx AP

China’s representative said the testimonies and the latest U.N. report, which also showed 295 alleged human rights abuses attributed to gang members and unidentified armed men in recent months, demonstrated that “Haiti has not yet emerged from its crisis and the country is still in chaos.”

Haiti is a country “with political divisiveness, economic difficulties, social unrest, rampant gangs, unchecked pandemic, and deprivation of livelihood,” said Geng Shuang, deputy permanent representative. “The Haitian government and Haitian leaders bear the primary responsibilities for this disappointing and even desperate situation.”

Geng made no secret of what has been described as “Haiti fatigue.” He questioned the dollars and resources invested in Haiti over the past 30 years, and suggested it’s time for the U.N. to come up with a new model because “these efforts and resources have so far not achieved expected results.”

“The Haitian people are still suffering tremendously and the future of Haiti is still very bleak,” he said, calling for the U.N. to come up with new ideas and ways to help Haiti’s 11.5 million people. “There is no external solution to the question of Haiti. The country must be able to solve its own problems and achieve development on its own.”

La Lime told the council that a political agreement between Moïse and those who oppose him remains elusive, despite Haitian-led mediation efforts.

“Rhetoric used by some political leaders grows increasingly acrimonious,” she said. “A political consensus remains the best possible means to holding a peaceful process that will allow the Haitian people to fully exercise their right to vote.”

Much of that rhetoric has been aimed at the constitutional referendum initiative, which the government is determined to carry out. It has contributed $33 million to a U.N. elections fund, which the U.N. said is enough to pay for the balloting, which has also been plagued by technical problems.

Joseph blamed the recurring political instability on the country’s current constitution, and laid out the government’s reasons for a new charter. He told members that Moïse plans to offer a new constitution to make the country governable. Preparatory work, he said, had engaged experts from the Organization of American States and the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti.

“A new date for holding the referendum will be communicated shortly by the electoral council,” Joseph said. “In the meantime, we are working overtime to move the electoral process forward.”

Joseph, who flew to New York to address the council in person, told council members that the government was aware of the “complexity of the situation and the concerns that it could give rise to.”

He blamed the violence and insecurity on “certain fringe elements of the opposition, which thrive on disorder and instability.”

Joseph also took issue with the report, saying that it did not “sufficiently take into consideration the significant progress that has been achieved in the country in the past three or four years in the area and promotion for the respect of human rights, the combat against corruption, improvement of governance and strengthening of the rule of law.”

It was noted during the council that Joseph is Moïse’s sixth prime minister, and that following the firing of the last prime minister the country had failed to appoint a new government approved by parliament and the terms of most lawmakers had elapsed after Moïse failed to hold elections on time.

Moïse, who is on a visit to Turkey this week, is committed to working toward achieving “a peaceful atmosphere through dialogue” and working together with all of the political parties, Joseph said.

“The executive has assumed his responsibilities toward his people. He is committed toward holding elections at all levels by the end of the year,” he said.

Joseph called for international commitment to provide technical assistance to help strengthen the Haitian police.

As far as the organization of the upcoming elections, Joseph told the council: “There is nothing to worry about, except for certain logistical problems and the crucial issue of security which is being addressed in all its aspects.”

The government has identified 12 sites for storing elections material and worked out a deployment plan, he said. The electoral council, he added, has drawn up a budget for both the referendum and elections, and Haiti is “waiting for international partners to live up to their pledges and provide financial support to the tune of $17 million.”

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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.

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