MIAMI — If Haitian President Jovenel Moise thought his good relations with Washington would allow him to achieve what all Haitian presidents have wanted — to delay elections and change the country's constitution to his liking — the Trump administration begs to differ.
Moise, in a surprise announcement last Friday, told Haitians that elections would take place only after they have had a chance to vote on a new constitution through a referendum. He did not say when such a vote would happen, or more importantly, who would draft this new constitution.
But a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the U.S. is expecting elections in Haiti no later than January to renew the entire Lower Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the 30-member Senate and all local offices, including mayors. The dismissal of Parliament in early January 2020 has left Moise ruling by decree, and the end of mayoral terms this past July means that he's now one of just 11 elected officials in the country of 11 million residents. The other elected officials are the remaining 10 senators who are in effect powerless and can't even garner a quorum to assemble.
"We want to see Haitians afforded the right to elect their representatives and have been very clear and consistent on that point," a spokesperson with the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told the Miami Herald. "We want to see Haitians afforded the right to elect their representatives ... . In a democracy, the people's interests are represented by their elected representatives, yet today in Haiti, the legislative branch of government is not working."
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "Haiti's legislative elections are now overdue." While the U.S. wanted them to be held as soon as "technically feasible," Pompeo pointed out that the Organization of American States wants them to be held by the end of January 2021.
"We support the OAS' assessment that elections can and should happen by no later than January 2021," the spokesperson said.
Technically, there are serious doubts that such a deadline can be met. The representatives of other foreign governments in Port-au-Prince have said a number of technical, political and security conditions in Haiti must be met before balloting can take place. This includes voters being assured they can cast their votes without being pressured by illegal armed groups; the completion of the electoral list, and the distribution of new national identification cards that double as electoral cards.
Of approximately 6.8 million Haitians of voting age, just over 2 million have received the controversial new ID card, according to Office of National Identification spokesman Wandi Charles. Several satellite offices have been vandalized and burned, including the call center and the largest card distribution office.
"At the political level, there must also be the broadest possible consensus," said one foreign diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
During his Friday address, Moise, refusing to name names, said he's been in talks with members of the divided opposition. Leading opposition figures, however, have said no such talks are taking place, even amid talk that some people are in talks with the president, who may be seeking to shore up his rule by making changes in his administration. Opponents are continuing to demand Moise's resignation, while pushing for a transition government in lieu of elections to replace him.