WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Matiado Vilme and Renan Toussaint contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince
Chaos has dominated Haitian politics for weeks after opposition lawmakers used various tactics including removing furniture from the chamber and failing to report for work -- to block a vote on the designated prime minister Jean Michel Lapin's nomination. The country has been without a prime minister since March, when Jean Henry Ceant was forced to resign amid corruption allegations.
But on June 28, the Haitian parliament tried to get back to business, with lawmakers agreeing to restart work on resolving the political crisis which has crippled the country for months.
"The next item of business is the approval of the nominated prime minister (Jean Michel Lapin) and his cabinet," Deputy Gary Bodeau, leader of the Chamber of Deputies told reporters. "That way Haiti will be able to follow through on its responsibilities." He asked both lawmakers and members of the judiciary to do their jobs.
According to Bodeau, the nation has been crippled since the first PetroCaribe corruption report landed on the nation like a lead balloon in October 2018. Its implications of alleged widespread fraud and corruption by government officials - including the president - sparked ire among Haitians living in Haiti and abroad.
Haiti reportedly made billions of dollars in oil revenue from the PetroCaribe alliance it signed with Venezuela. $3.8 billion earmarked for infrastructure, education and social programs went missing, sparking outcry and calls for those responsible to be brought to justice. The president, who is among those implicated in the latest report on misuse of funds handed to the parliament on May 31, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. But many remain unconvinced, and there has been no action yet on the dossier from the Justice Ministry.
"The Ministry of Justice seems to have disappeared," Deputy Bodeau said, "Maybe they are evolving in the Dominican Republic or the United States or some other country, but I have still not heard of a single business accused of corruption in the PetroCaribe report which has been called upon to give back the money it took. There's been absolute silence about everything."
Senate leader disspells rumors
On the Senate side, Leader Carl Murat Cantave sought to reassure citizens that his chamber was hard at work, despite rumors to the contrary.
"The Senate can not be dysfunctional,” Cantave said. “I am telling you that even though today we are not yet convened officially it is important for the people to know that the Senate has never stopped working. “
Senator Cantave said he had met with a group of colleagues and with members of the Core Group (consisting of the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative and Ambassadors of the US, France, Canada, Spain, the EU and the Special Representative of the OAS) as well as members of civil society to discuss ways to resolve the political crisis.
Arguments and jokes
But before order was established in the parliament so that proceedings could begin, VOA Creole took video of lawmakers arguing and joking on the floor. Wary of backlash and criticism from angry, disappointed citizens who might see the images posted on social media, lawmakers sought to explain what the reporter was observing.
“In a minute, I’ll see myself on social media fighting,” one lawmaker joked. “There’ll be no fighting today,” interrupted Senator Printemps Belizaire. “The session just hasn’t happened yet," he told VOA Creole.
When lawmakers finally began proceedings, protesters were standing outside the parliament gates to let their displeasure be known.
“We are standing out here today because we learned that the parliament is back in session,” a female protester told VOA Creole. “We don’t believe we have a parliament because we regard these so-called lawmakers as mercenaries. We are putting them in quarantine because they are the source of the country’s problems. They are the reason Jovenel (Moise, the president) is here today. We’ll be out here until we know what’s happening inside.”
“We’re here to reclaim our mandate. Their mandate is a popular mandate!” a male protester shouted. “When a lawmaker has surpassed his designated mission (and decides) to plot with the Executive branch to waste the people’s money and resources — remember they are implicated in the PetroCaribe corruption allegations — we want President Jovenel Moise to resign and make himself available to the Justice Department and we want to clean house.”
Lack of confidence
As the months have passed without making progress on a resolution to the political conflict, nor moving forward on the PetroCaribe allegations, confidence in the nation's lawmakers has plummeted. Protesters VOA Creole spoke to during massive anti-corruption protests in the capital, Port-au-Prince expressed their distrust in politicians including those who purport to represent the interests of the people.
“These guys treat the affairs of the country like a toy. These guys treat the country as if (we are) Tom and they are Jerry (referring to the cat and mouse cartoon characters).” a young man protesting near the National Palace told VOA Creole. “All they do is talk. They are just out for themselves. The people should take notice and understand what’s happening.”
“When they rise they will waste our resources,” a man who said he felt he had a duty to be in the streets to defend his wife, children and home told VOA Creole.
“Many of these lawmakers have reached their expiration date,” another protester who was visibly angry said. “We can not follow them.”
Meanwhile, President Moise has consistently insisted that the path to progress and resolution of the crisis is a national dialogue. To that end, he requested representatives of the Organization of American States travel to Haiti for consultations and advice.
A message posted on the official OAS Twitter account on June 21 showed Permanent Council President Ambassador Carlos Trujillo and Chief of Staff of the OAS Secretary General Gonzalo Koncke with President Moise and his Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond. The message acknowledged that they discussed the “current political juncture and next steps for national dialogue.”
We thank President @moisejovenel's invitation to Chair of @CP_OEA Trujillo & #OAS Chief of Staff Koncke. Haiti & Haitians need democracy, peace, stability, security, prosperity. The country can count on #OAS for this and the necessary national dialogue between Haitians pic.twitter.com/qQKF2WOkvN— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) June 22, 2019
Whether the visit will make an impact on improving the situation remains to be seen. Haitians took to the streets to protest the visit, criticizing the OAS as imperialistic and not having the best interests of the Haitian people at heart.
The opposition lawmakers have also impeded progress on convening a national dialogue, insisting first that the president resign and be judged for his alleged corruption.
"It's not a question of us 4 (opposition Senators) but rather society in all its dimensions who are saying we must set an example. It's not logical to be led by corruption, " Senator Antonio Cheramy told VOA Creole. "We can't let corruption become the norm and replace what is morally right. So we're asking the people to keep their mobilization going because any fight for the (sake of the) country is never easy."
Back to work
Back at the parliament, Deputy Gary Bodeau used sarcasm to describe some of the legislative body’s antics.
“You know that sometimes, politics is like theater. Some of our lawmakers are very talented at that,” he said. “But you can see for yourselves that we are back at work today so the session is open. And I’m asking the constituents of each Deputy to take note of what I am saying - they must show up for work - and that goes for the Senate too - because today we must prioritize and produce results.”