Haitian Senate Leader Carl Murat Cantave on Sept 23, 2019 in Port au Prince, Haiti.
Haitian Senate Leader Carl Murat Cantave on Sept 23, 2019 in Port au Prince, Haiti.

WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - A group of prominent opposition Haitian senators sat outside the Senate doors early Sunday morning, a day when parliament is normally not in session. 

“Over the weekend there were rumors that the Senate leader was organizing a special session Sunday. Such a vote would be considered out of the ordinary,” Senator Antonio Cheramy told VOA Creole. “We called around and tried to find out what was going on, but we’ve had absolute silence (from the Senate leader).” 

Senator Cheramy said he and fellow opposition colleagues decided to stake out the Senate because they can’t allow such a vote to be held behind their backs. 

Antonio Cheramy in front of the Senatè, on Sept 23, 2019 in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Around midday, Senate leader Carl Murat Cantave took to Twitter to deny the rumors and set the record straight.

“Contrary to the rumors that a ratification vote is planned for this Sunday, the vote to ratify PM designate @fritzwmichel and his government is planned for this Monday 23 September 2019 at 8:00 am,” Cantave said.

He defended his intentions in a subsequent Tweet saying, “I promise you, whatever happens during the ratification vote, rest assured that I will take charge with courage, savor faire, and know-how to lead a difficult task which you, my fellow senators are depending on me to oversee.”

No government

Haiti has been without a prime minister since March when Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant was forced to resign after a no-confidence vote. 

Prime Minister designate, Fritz William Michel’s nomination was approved by the lower Chamber of Deputies on September 3.  But the Senate failed to hold a vote to approve him last week after opposition senators, their supporters and activists vandalized the Senate ahead of the vote, breaking windows, displacing chairs and other furniture, creating a circus atmosphere in the room. 

Haiti's Prime Minister-designate Fritz William Michel, center, talks to his advisor Wilfrid Theodore, right, after his speech in the parliament, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 3, 2019.

Bribery allegations

Then came a bombshell accusation by opposition Senator Saurel Jacinthe that Senator Cantave came to his home to offer him $100,000  for a yes vote on Michel. He then alleged that the prime minister designate went to several other ruling party senators’ homes to offer them bribes in exchange for their yes votes.  

Senator Cantave denied the allegation on Twitter: "For the sake of history and the truth, I never offered money to Senator #Saurel Jacinthe, who is delusional. I am a proud and arrogant man. If the senator has proof [photos or sound], may he show them? The nation can not take this drama."

Ruling party Senator Dieudonne Luma Etienne also denied the bribery allegation in an interview with VOA Creole.  “I am the daughter of farmers. I've made many sacrifices. I have never chosen to make money the easy way. I've worked hard and struggled to make a name for myself in society. So there's no way today I'd be willing to tarnish my reputation for something like this,” she said.

But two other senators admitted on local radio that they did accept the bribe. 

Against the law 

Bribery is illegal in Haiti, a semi-presidential republic. The president is the head of state, while the prime minister is the head of government. Although the president is a publicly elected official, the prime minister is nominated by the president and must be a member of the ruling party of the National Assembly. The prime minister-designate must be approved by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate before taking office. The prime minister oversees the Cabinet and assures it performs its duties in accordance with the law. He also, in concert with the president, oversees national defense matters.

Aside from the bribery allegation which roiled the nation, Michel’s nomination has been fraught with problems. Michel has been criticized for selling to the government 20,000 American goats at a cost of $325 a head. Critics say Michel has no experience with livestock and does not own a goat farm. The market price for goats in Haiti is $100. He is also accused of not having been legally discharged of his previous government duties, which, if true would disqualify him from being prime minister.

Opposition vigil

VOA Creole reporter Renan Toussaint interviews Opposition Senators (Left to Right), Antonio Cheramy, Ricard Pierre and Nenel Cassy who are camped out in front of the Senatè, Sept 23, 2019 in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Opposition lawmakers say in light of these problems, Michel should withdraw his nomination. He has refused to do so, and told VOA Creole he is confident his nomination will be approved. 

“I am confident and I am ready to work with the Senate to present my platform so they can approve my nomination,” Michel said. 

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers vow to remain vigilant and say they plan on remaining at the parliament until the vote happens.

“We’ve decided to camp out here indefinitely,” opposition Senator Nenel Cassy told VOA Creole. “ We can’t afford not to be here at night and only be present during the day -  so day and night - we will be permanently here until the Senate holds the vote.” 

Child Marriage