HAITI | Civil Society reject US calls for elections after Moïse Killing

HAITI | Civil Society reject US calls for elections after Moïse Killing

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica July 12, 2021 - Despite the fact that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wants Haitian leaders “to bring the country together around a more inclusive, peaceful and secure vision and pave the road toward free and fair elections this year,” there have been calls by civil society organizations among others, for a delay in the elections.

While the US and the United Nations have said legislative and presidential elections planned for September should go ahead despite the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, leading civil society groups as well as rights activists say holding a vote may not be the best way out of the crisis.

Human Rights advocate Pierre Esperance Human Rights advocate Pierre Esperance But the killing has thrown the country, which already faced widespread political instability and surging gang violence, into further disarray, and  leading Haitian human rights advocate Pierre Esperance has urged the Biden administration to take a different approach to solving the Caribbean nation’s difficulties.

“This week’s brazen assassination of the man who led Haiti into its worst period of violence and chaos, Jovenel Moïse, is a surefire sign that the United States needs to change its foreign policy towards Haiti – and fast. In the current state of insecurity in Haiti, the Biden administration must work to create the conditions in which we, the Haitian people — not the United States and the international community — can decide the future of our country, strengthen our democracy, and guarantee our basic human rights,” Esperance said, writing in the website ‘Just Security.’

“From day one of President Joe Biden’s administration, the U.S. has backed Moïse – a man who came to power in 2016 as Haiti’s president and proceeded to unleash violence across our country and dismantle our democratic institutions. Ironically, the Biden team apparently viewed him as the only person positioned to bring democracy and long-overdue elections to Haiti. U.S. support for him persisted even after Moïse outstayed his constitutional mandate, which Haitian judges, legal scholars, and civil society agreed had ended in February this year,” Esperance said in his column.

The Haitian Human Rights advocate whose organization has been chronicling gang violence and abuses in Haiti for some time, said  “Moïse also has been ruling by executive decree since Parliament’s term expired in January 2020. Unfortunately, continued U.S. support emboldened Moïse and his Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK) to consolidate his power. One of the ways Moïse and his party did so was by providing gangs with protection, money, and arms, which they used to rape, murder and kidnap Haitians for ransom across the country. This exchange operated to create a state of terror in order to quell political dissent. My organization, which has been documenting these crimes in Haiti for decades, could not keep up with the carnage: another massacre by gangs, regularly in anti-government enclaves, would take place before we could even report on the previous one.”

Esperance pointed to gang violence that surged under Moise’s presidency – and led to hundreds of killings, kidnappings and mass displacement – and described as “shameful” Washington’s continued push for elections in September against that backdrop.

That is “a path sure to result in sham outcomes and countless deaths of Haitian citizens”, he said.

“In such a violent, lawless environment where no credible state institutions function – a situation which Moise cultivated and which ultimately cost him his life – how could opposition candidates campaign safely? How could people turn up to vote and know they will get home alive? How could people trust in the results?”

Peter Mulrean, who served as US ambassador to Haiti from 2015 to 2017Peter Mulrean, who served as US ambassador to Haiti from 2015 to 2017Peter Mulrean, who served as US ambassador to Haiti from 2015 to 2017, also wrote in another Just Security column that forcing Haitian elections to take place this year “would be a mistake”.

“The degradation of Haiti’s democracy is now at a critical point, perhaps the point of no return. It is tempting to think that new elections will clarify the situation and restore stability, but experience teaches us just the opposite. What Haiti needs is to take stock of what is broken and fix it. That is what a broad coalition of opposition parties and civil society is calling for,” Mulrean said.

Haitian lawyer and political opposition leader, Andre Michel, said on Friday night that “the solution to the political crisis must be Haitian and largely concerted between the political class, civil society, the Diaspora and grassroots groups”. “Any other process is unhealthy and dead on arrival,” he tweeted.

Following their meeting last Wednesday after Moise’s murder, CARICOM heads, led by Chairman Gaston Browne, in a statement said  “in light of Haiti’s membership of CARICOM and the family ties that bind the people of Haiti and CARICOM together, CARICOM expresses its willingness to play a lead role in facilitating a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people and their institutions to craft an indigenous solution to the crisis.”

This lead role could manifest itself by way of leading the much called for dialogue among all the critical players. The Haitian people are anxious to move forward and away from the violence and mistrust that are holding them back,  but they are at pains to trust anyone from the government or the opposition to conduct this constructive dialogue.

Journalist for the Haitian Times Sam Bojarski told Al Jazeera that what he is picking up is that the Haitian people want a national dialogue! “The people want all the different actors in the country to come together and create a stable environment for elections. They are fearful about what's to come. I Don't think people trust the current forces in charge to organize a credible process for elections right now,” Bojarski said.

It is against this background that it is hoped that CARICOM can find a way to impress upon the interim government the need to have the regional organization play a role in facilitating a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people craft a solution to their crisis.

United States Democratic Congressman Andy Levin tweeted on Monday that “U.S. Haiti policy is at a crossroads.”  “Will we back an empty form of democracy, demanding elections ASAP even if they aren’t free/fair to focus on choosing among illegitimate pretenders to power? Or will we back Haitian civil society as they do the work to restore real democracy?”

In the early morning hours of Wednesday July 7, Haitian authorities say a commando group consisting of  26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans stormed the private residence of president Moise and his wife Martine, where they  opened fire killing president Moise and wounding his wife, Martine.

 Seventeen Colombian suspects have been arrested and three have been killed, the authorities announced, after interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph ordered a 15-day “state of siege” across the country.

On Sunday, the Haitian police chief Léon Charles, said the police had arrested the alleged mastermind behind Moise’s assassination, a Haitian man living in Florida named Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon.

"This is an individual who entered Haiti aboard a private plane with political objectives" declared Léon Charles. "Upon his arrival in the country in June, Charles Emmanuel Sanon, was accompanied by several Colombian nationals, in charge of 'ensure his safety' Police accuse him of recruiting the Colombians in order to oust the President from power and take his place.

But the motive remains unclear, and questions continue to swirl around who was involved in the killing, as well as what comes next in Haiti’s fractured and largely defunct political system.

Moise had been governing by decree since last year, while opposition groups, civil society organisations and leading jurists said his presidential term had ended in February, spurring mass protests urging him to step down.

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