WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti's opposition leaders have agreed on a plan to replace President Jovenel Moise with a new head of state on Sunday.
They accuse Moise, who has ruled for nearly four years, of being an autocrat who failed to curb the rash of kidnappings that have terrorized the nation. They also criticize Moise for what they regard as his weak response to a crippling economic crisis.
Moise has said he will not step down until February 2022, noting he has one year left of his five-year term.
The opposition agreement, named Ako Final Teras Garden (Terrace Garden Final Accord), creates a commission made up of seven members of civil society and seven opposition leaders. The commission would be tasked with choosing a president to lead the transitional government from members of Haiti's Supreme Court.
The prime minister would be chosen among the opposition politicians, and the heads of government ministries would be selected by the new government.
The opposition is determined to finalize their choices before February 7, they announced Monday.
Moise has said he intends to transfer power to the winner of the general election scheduled for September of this year.
Moise has also said he intends to make changes to the country's constitution. A hand-picked Provisional Electoral Council (KEP) was chosen last year, despite criticism from the opposition that it is not representative of civil society. The KEP announced in January that a referendum on the constitution will be held on April 25.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Haitian Ambassador Bocchit Edmond said the opposition's plan to form a transitional government has been tried before — and failed.
"It is time for Haiti to leave that cycle — that cycle of using illegitimate people to replace elected officials," he told VOA. "Every time we have elections, we have to reverse the electoral votes. We have to ask the president to go, (only) to be replaced by a transitional government, which has never served the good of the Haitian people."
But the opposition isn't listening. Leaders announced a nationwide mobilization in all 10 departments of the country that began January 28-31, followed by general strikes Monday and Tuesday, and again on February 7 to keep the pressure on Moise, who was a businessman before entering politics, to step down.
Former Senator Jean Charles Moise of the Pitit Dessalines opposition party joined protesters in the streets of Port-au-Prince on Sunday.
"When I was a senator and my term expired, I left the Senate. I was elected to a six-year term, so I resigned. We all know that the constitution states that every five years there must be elections to choose a new president. A president's term lasts five years. That is why we have told President Jovenel Moise that his term is expired," Moise (no relation to the president) told VOA.
Former senator Moise said after February 7, there will be a new "system" governing Haiti and a there will be a transition period.
"The leader will not be a member of the opposition — I want to reassure the people (of Haiti) about that — whether you are living in Haiti or abroad, this time we must liberate our nation, this is our country. (General Jean Jacques) Dessalines did not win the revolutionary war to end up with this result," he said.
Haitian opposition leaders aren't the only ones calling for a transitional government. U.S. Representatives Andy Levin, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Albio Sires, chair of the Western Hemisphere Civilian Security and Trade subcommittee, expressed the need for a transition in Haiti in a joint statement issued in December 2020. The U.S. lawmakers said there was "growing concern" about political events in Haiti.
“Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is pursuing an increasingly authoritarian course of action, issuing a series of recent decrees that include creating an extraconstitutional domestic ‘intelligence’ force,” the statement said. “His latest actions are reminiscent of past anti-democratic abuses the Haitian people have endured, including the run-up to the Duvalier dictatorship. We will not stand idly by while Haiti devolves into chaos.”
Reacting to the statement in December, Ambassador Edmond expressed frustration and said he intended to meet with the congressmen.
“It is really disturbing,” he told VOA. “It saddens us to see democratic officials call for a transitional government. We don’t think that going through a transition again will help Haiti.”
Haiti has had eight provisional governments since the departure of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 1986.
Last week, Edmond told VOA he had a "lengthy discussion" with Congressman Levin that lasted more than 45 minutes. He said they met virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"We will continue to discuss the situation and show that maybe they had erroneous information. But we will continue the dialogue to make sure they have accurate information. I'm here to answer all their questions and give them any information they ask for," Edmond told VOA.
The ambassador said he plans to speak with Congressman Meeks later this month.
Meanwhile, a general strike announced by Haiti's unions to protest against insecurity and to demand the president resign was observed Monday. The streets of the capital were mostly empty, with only pedestrians and a few motorbikes moving about, according to VOA Creole reporters in the capital.
Most businesses, markets and schools remained shuttered. A second day of strikes is planned for Tuesday.
Matiado Vilme and Florence Lisene in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.