Haitian President Jovenel Moise's term will end on February 7, 2022, the Biden administration said Friday, weighing in on a contentious question that has roiled the Caribbean nation for months.
"In accordance with the OAS [Organization of American States] position on the need to proceed with the democratic transfer of executive power, a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 7, 2022," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to a question from VOA.
"The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and restore Haiti's democratic institutions,” Price said.
The Biden administration's expression of support is significant for Moise and comes at a crucial time as he faces intense pressure from the political opposition to step down this Sunday.
Price told VOA the U.S. Embassy in Haiti maintains contact with members "across the political spectrum" and that the United States, like the OAS, has "consistently called on all political forces to adhere to the spirit of their constitutional order."
Haiti Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond tweeted Friday afternoon that he had a “very productive meeting” with the State Department. The ambassador said he discussed “upcoming elections, referendum on the new constitution and security challenges.”
Edmond also tweeted that he had a “productive call” Friday with officials at the National Democratic Institute, a nonpartisan organization that works with partners in developing countries to increase the effectiveness of democratic institutions.
The opposition accuses Moise of violating the country's constitution by not organizing elections in 2020 and of ruling by decree. That is the basis of its demand for his resignation.
Opposition leaders, their supporters and ordinary citizens tired of the current state of affairs have taken to the streets almost daily over the past week to reiterate their demand.
UN backs US position
The United Nations on Friday backed the American position on the end of Moise’s term in 2022. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told VOA that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "closely following developments" and that Guterres was encouraged "by the willingness of many stakeholders to engage constructively in finding agreement on a way forward, to ensure the holding of several free, fair and peaceful electoral processes in the coming months."
But the way forward is murky. Moise's handpicked Provisional Electoral Council has announced a referendum on the constitution on April 25, followed by presidential and legislative elections in September.
In contrast, Moise's opponents, who have vowed not to participate in an electoral process they view as illegitimate, have come up with their own transition plan. The plan stipulates that after Moise leaves office, a successor will be chosen from among the Supreme Court justices and a commission made up of seven members of the opposition will choose Cabinet members.
It is unclear how the Biden administration and U.N. statements Friday will affect that plan.
Anxiety about Sunday
Meanwhile, some Haitians are expressing fear that the situation will turn violent Sunday, after the opposition vowed to take to the streets and turn up the pressure. Haiti’s national police and security forces have been criticized for being overly aggressive and firing upon peaceful protesters and journalists over the past year.
A protester was shot and killed by a police officer during a spontaneous protest Friday, VOA Creole reported. Tires were seen burning and blocking some streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Asked how the Moise administration would handle protests Sunday, Edmond told VOA the government intended to remain in observer mode, unless public property was destroyed and crimes were committed.
Sunday is a day of national significance to Haitians. February 7 was the day dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was overthrown. It is also the day when democratically elected presidents are to be sworn in, according to the constitution.
What does the U.S. anticipate in the months ahead? State Department spokesman Price said the Biden administration expects the Moise government to exercise “restraint” in issuing decrees, “only using that power to schedule legislative elections and for matters of immediate threats to life, health and safety, so the parliament can be restored and resume its constitutional responsibility.”
Cindy Saine at the State Department, Margaret Besheer at the United Nations and Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.