Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, is outraged about a statement issued Tuesday by three Democratic U.S. congressmen calling for a “Haitian-led transition back to democratic order.”
“It is really disturbing,” Edmond told VOA on Wednesday in an exclusive interview. “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.
The joint statement issued by 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, says they are watching events unfold in Haiti with “growing concern.”
“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.”
'Limit the decrees'
Jon Piechowski, U.S. deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, echoed that concern in an exclusive interview with VOA Creole earlier this week.
“We are asking the government of Haiti to limit the decrees and only issue them to prepare the legislative elections or address issues pertaining to the well-being, health, security [of the Haitian people] until a new Parliament is installed and can address constitutional matters,” Piechowski said.
Moise has been ruling by decree since January 2020 because Parliament is out of session. The terms of two-thirds of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate expired months before the pandemic hit the Caribbean nation in March.
In their statement, Levin, Meeks and Sires said they would work with the incoming Biden administration and international partners to develop a multilateral strategy to address those concerns and hold accountable Haitian officials who violate the people’s human rights.
The lawmakers said they would develop a U.S. policy that “prioritizes the rights and aspirations of the Haitian people and supports a credible, Haitian-led transition back to democratic order.”
Edmond told VOA he immediately reached out to the congressmen and intends to meet with them in the new year.
“I am looking forward to talking with them in January,” he said.
Haiti has faced increased pressure from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Organization of American States and the United Nations to hold elections as soon as technically possible.
But the ambassador said the January 2021 timeframe suggested by the U.S. was not feasible because the Moise government believes an overhaul of the current constitution is necessary first and plans to hold a referendum on that in early 2021.
“I think we have already met them in the middle,” Edmond told VOA. “We have agreed to elections. President Moise has done his job in naming an electoral council. We are working on possible calendars to submit now.”
Pressed on a precise date for elections, Edmond said the Moise administration did not want to give a date it could not realistically uphold. He said an election schedule was in the works and would be made public early next year.
As for the Provisional Electoral Council, Edmond told VOA that members were working with Haiti’s international partners “to make sure the election is fair. We understand this is the path to go.”
But Haiti’s opposition has criticized the Moise government for unilaterally naming members of the council without seeking its input and has vowed not to participate in any elections organized by the administration. The opposition urged Moise to step down February 7, 2021. He responded that his five-year term would end on February 7, 2022.
Concern about human rights
With regard to the human rights concerns expressed by both Republicans and Democrats, Edmond said the Moise government shared those concerns.
“What is going on in those slums [La Saline, Village de Dieux] is gang battles for turf control,” Edmond said. “What happened in La Saline, the government condemned it several times. There is a legal process going on. An investigative judge was appointed on this issue — he is working on it. We need to be very patient and make sure that these victims receive justice, because we understand that these crimes cannot remain unpunished. But the executive [branch] cannot interfere in the judicial process.”
During the La Saline massacre in November 2018, armed gangs killed at least 71 people, raped numerous women and destroyed the homes of hundreds of residents. U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly called on Haiti’s government to bring those responsible to justice.
The ambassador said the Moise administration had also prioritized training for the national police force, which has been under fire for human rights violations.
Reflecting on 2020 and his mission to reinforce bilateral relations, Edmond, who previously served as Haiti’s foreign minister, said that “it has been a pleasure to work with the Trump administration, and we are looking forward to working with the Biden administration.”
But at the end of the day, “Haiti will always handle its foreign policy considering its [own] interests,” he said.