The United States is encouraging Haitian political leaders, civil society and the private sector to find a political solution that will lead to presidential and legislative elections in the Caribbean island nation later this year, following last week’s assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
A commission made up of representatives of all sectors of Haitian civil society plans to meet Thursday to sign a political accord that will name a new president.
“We're very happy to hear that they're moving in that direction,” said Laura Lochman, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Lochman on Wednesday sat down with VOA to discuss the crisis in Haiti and how the United States is planning to help with the investigation of Moise’s assassination, gang violence, and COVID-19 cases.
Lochman was a member of the U.S. delegation that traveled to Port-au-Prince on Sunday in response to a Haitian government request for security and investigative assistance following the July 7 killing.
The following are excerpts from the interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: Various groups of Haitian political leaders plan to meet this week to discuss a solution for the political crisis and name a new leader. Will the U.S. recognize their decision?
Lochman: The United States, in conjunction with our international partners, have been in constant contact with Haitian political leaders, encouraging them to come together and have an inclusive, open process and form a unity government that includes the private sector, civil society, as well as the various political parties. So, we're very happy to hear that they're moving in that direction.
VOA: Haitian Senator Joseph Lambert posted a message on Twitter, saying he had met with the U.S. delegation and that they "appreciate" the Haitian Senate resolution naming him as provisional president of Haiti. Can you confirm or deny that statement?
Lochman: We did, in fact — when we were on the ground in Port-au-Prince on Sunday — we did meet with Senator Lambert. We also met with the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, and Prime Minister-Designate Dr. Ariel Henry. And we have the exact same message to all three gentlemen, which is to encourage them to work together, to take their time, have an inclusive process, draw in other political parties and the civil society actors to come up with a consensus government that could help restore stability to Haiti and lead them to presidential and legislative elections this year.
VOA: Would the U.S. recognize Lambert as a leader if that's the conclusion?
Lochman: Again, it's up to the Haitians to come up with the solution to this political process at this point. So, we rely on them and give them all of the support that we can to work conclusively, to work together, to form a consensus government. And the United States will definitely, along with our international partners, support an inclusive, credible government.
VOA: Will the U.S. continue pushing for elections in 2021?
Lochman: We have always believed … and continue to believe very strongly that it's imperative to hold elections for both the president and the legislature this year, and that is because there has been, really, a vacuum in democratic governance in Haiti that is not serving the needs of the Haitian people. There are many significant problems — on the economic front, security front, political front, health front — that need to be dealt with in Haiti, and you need three functioning, fully staffed branches of government responsible to the Haitian people to take on those challenges.
VOA: If I may ask, elections have never solved Haiti’s problems. What is the U.S. thinking these elections will settle?
Lochman: Well certainly, again, a power vacuum or a lack of democratic governance would never be the solution in our minds. You need to have all branches of government in place and working together in the pursuit of providing services to the Haitian people that they deserve. And the U.S. government, as well as other international partners, have been working with them and will continue to stand with them to improve their democratic governance and institutions.
VOA: When does the U.S. expect to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Haiti?
Lochman: The delivery of vaccines is quite imminent — at least the first tranche of vaccines should be arriving very soon. And then, there will be provision of more as conditions allow, in terms of cold storage, etc., but we are committed to providing them as soon as possible.
VOA: Has there been consular access to the three Americans who have been accused in the assassination? Is there a determination whether they are culpable?
Lochman: We have been informed that there are three American citizens detained by the Haitian National Police (HNP) in connection with the horrible assassination. Our embassy in Port-au-Prince is providing the normal and appropriate consular services to those U.S. citizens.
VOA: Has the U.S. said no to any request from Haiti for assistance?
Lochman: We have not. We are, again, working very closely — it's on a constant basis — with Haitian officials to determine what their needs are, to kind of drill down on the specifics and determine how we can best support them from the U.S. government perspective.
VOA: Has the U.S. received a request from the Haitian government for U.S. troops to protect infrastructure sites like its ports and the airport?
Lochman: Prior to last weekend, Haiti’s acting prime minister did send a letter, both to the United Nations and the United States, asking for assistance in maintaining the safety of some of their critical infrastructure, as well as helping on election security, and with the investigation of the assassination. So again, we're working internally within the U.S. government, as well as with our international partners, to coordinate with the Haitians on how best to respond to their requests.
VOA: The U.S. is saying yes to the request to send U.S. troops to protect Haiti’s infrastructure sites?
Lochman: To reiterate, we are working with them now to get a very clear idea of exactly what their needs are and how we can best respond to those needs. And while nothing is being taken off the table at this point, we are trying to understand better the fundamental issues they're grappling with. And one of the things that we may ramp up, for instance, is our provision of advisers to the HNP to help them combat the gangs that are such a problem there right now. But again, this conversation is going on daily.
VOA: Ambassador Michele Sison has been named to a new post at the State Department. When can we expect this administration to name her replacement?
Lochman: Ambassador Sison remains the ambassador to Haiti. At this point, she is awaiting Senate confirmation for her new role, and she is on the ground in Port-au-Prince working way too many hours per day and putting her full experience into helping solve the issues on the ground in Haiti.
VOA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Lochman: Just that, again, the United States has had a long relationship with the Haitian people, and we are fully committed to doing everything that we can to assist them in this very difficult time that they are experiencing.