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Haitian PM Presses for Constitutional Reforms

Haiti's prime minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis, has called for new efforts to reform the nation's 1987 constitution. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that Mr. Alexis is seeking to correct what he believes are injustices in the governing charter.

Speaking to a group of scholars at Florida International University, Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis appealed for an open debate on the nation's political future. He said the Caribbean nation is facing significant challenges, in spite of the backing it has received from the United States and other international partners.

More than seven thousand United Nations peacekeepers are deployed in the country to help end violence following an armed rebellion that led President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leave the nation in 2004. Elections were held last year, allowing the country to return to constitutional rule.

Prime Minister Alexis says, as the government struggles to rebuild, one key focus should be the constitution.

He said it is time to consider, not whether to maintain the 1987 constitution in its present state, but the best way to go about changing it.

Mr. Alexis told scholars at the university in south Florida that the constitution drafted in 1987 helped strengthen democracy and break with the nation's history of authoritarianism.

He said the charter promoted agrarian reform and the decentralization of government as ways to integrate communities that were traditionally marginalized in the country.

But Mr. Alexis cited a list of possible reforms to the constitution that he said could further strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions. He said the current system places too much control in the hands of the legislature, and he criticized the charter's failure to allow for voters to organize referenda to consider political changes.

The prime minister also said the ban on Haitian nationals from holding citizenship in other countries is an injustice, especially in light of the financial support that Haiti receives from its diaspora community.

The Inter-American Development Bank reported that Haiti received nearly $1.7 billion from Haitians abroad last year, mainly from immigrants in the United States.

Haiti's president, Rene Preval, also has called for an end to the constitutional ban on double-citizenship, saying it will help expatriates take a greater role in rebuilding the country.