Unless Haiti’s crippling political impasse is resolved and dialogue takes place between its warring political factions, the outlook for presidential and long overdue legislative and municipal elections happening this year will be grim, a group of experts with the 15-member Caribbean Community regional bloc has concluded.
In a confidential report obtained by the Miami Herald, a four-member expert team notes that as the political and constitutional crisis in Haiti deepens and criticism of its leading international partners mount, there is a desire for the Caribbean Community regional bloc known as CARICOM to step into the fray and play mediator.
But that would mean CARICOM, which no longer has offices in Haiti, will need to have a presence on the ground; seek the support of some of the major countries and international organizations in Haiti that make up what’s known as the “Core Group,” and be mindful of the “complex, fickle and slippery nature of the Haitian political terrain.”
And much like it did in 2004 when Caribbean leaders sat down with then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Jamaica amid escalating political unrest in Haiti and opposition to his presidency, they will need to be ready to “engage frankly” with Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the experts said.
Until now, Moïse, who recently invited a diplomatic mission from the Organization of the American States to see how it can help, has shunned a similar offer from CARICOM. The regional bloc made the offer as early as July 2019 and again in February.
Ultimately, the decision of what role, if any, CARICOM will play, will be up to the leaders of the Caribbean community, who finally decided to send in an group of experts to report on Haiti, a member country. The report is aimed at giving them a greater understanding of the dimensions of the crisis, which center around questions about when Moïse’s presidential term ends and his push to introduce a constitutional referendum many deem illegal.
A proposed special emergency meeting of CARICOM leaders on Haiti to discuss their options was scheduled for Tuesday but has since been postponed, the Guyana-based secretariat said.
“The international community seems to hold as an article of faith that elections will resolve the existing Haitian political problems,” the expert group said in its 17-page report. “However, recent Haitian history has demonstrated that disputed elections with scant participation will engender further political instability.”
While the CARICOM experts do their best to stick to the facts of Moïse’s embattled presidency, they do make some observations in the report, which has been shared with member countries. Among them:
▪ The delays in holding constitutionally-required legislative elections are what pushed Haiti further down the road of political instability and raised new doubts about the ability or the willingness of the Haitian political elite to commit to good governance.
▪ Among the dissenting voices against Moïse’s interpretation that his presidential term doesn’t end until Feb. 7, 2022, were “important and influential civil society entities,” including the Haitian Superior Council of Judicial Power, the highest State judicial institution; the Haitian Federation of Bar Associations; the Association of Magistrates; the Catholic and Protestant church leadership, eminent constitutional lawyers and human rights associations.
▪ Haitians consulted by the group repeatedly made the point that the present constitution needs to be reformed. However, they concurred that undertaking reform outside of the relevant positions of the present constitution will weaken the legality, legitimacy and credibility of the process and its outcome. The current charter forbids a referendum.
▪ The postponed referendum “to adopt the proposed new Constitution, a methodology prohibited by the present Constitution, suffers from the defect of the lack of a threshold for participation and the specification of the percentage of ‘yes’ votes required to determine the success of the referendum. This raises further questions of legitimacy and acceptability of the process and its outcome.”
▪ Despite arguments by Moïse, who has been ruling by decree since January of last year, that he needs to change the Constitution to confront an oligarchy taking advantage of a weak government that cannot regulate or tax it, he has been successful in forcing the wealthy and powerful fuel and electricity providers to pay outstanding debt and reduce their exorbitant profits.
▪ With only 4.5 million of an estimated 6.7 million voters registered when the registration for the referendum closed on 26 April 2021, there are fears of disenfranchisement. There is also concern about the integrity of the electoral registration exercise, particularly after two non-nationals were arrested and found to be in possession of multiple voter identification cards.
▪ As political turmoil deepens, the internal problems of the police force and doubts about their operational effectiveness in combating the surging crime point to a deeper problem: the capacity of the Haitian government to project authority.
With the U.S. and others growing increasingly exasperated with the Haitian political crisis, CARICOM has been seen as a potential mediator. But the regional organization has been reluctant, given the tacit support of the U.S., United Nations political mission in Haiti and Organization of American States for Moïse, and the bloc’s own history with Haiti’s political crises.