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US urges OAS to quickly organize mission to Haiti as nation's turmoil deepens

Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

The United States Wednesday urged nations "to act quickly" in deciding on the composition and date of an Organization of American States mission to Haiti, which is under pressure to hold legislative, local and presidential elections this fall.

The U.S.'s plea came during a tension-filled meeting in which Haiti's representative to the hemispheric body accused the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua and Barbuda of attempting to destabilize Haiti and its ambassador of trying to serve his own personal agenda by highlighting the country's ongoing political and constitutional crisis.

Pointing out that it has been two months since the OAS Permanent Council offered to help Haiti break a debilitating political impasse, Bradley A. Freden, the U.S.'s interim representative to the OAS, said his delegation was "deeply concerned with security trends in Haiti, which have deteriorated in recent months.

"Humanitarian needs and human rights also remain pressing concerns for the United States," Freden said. "The United States strongly supports this mission and is willing to provide funding to ensure broad participation by members states from across the region."

In March, the OAS Permanent Council unanimously agreed to offer its assistance in facilitating a political dialogue between the government of Jovenel Moïse, members of the opposition and civil society — if the government extended an invitation for them to do so. On April 28, acting Haiti Prime Minister Claude Joseph wrote to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro asking for a mission.

In the letter, Joseph said the hope was that the OAS mission would lead to a political agreement to help facilitate the organization of the constitutional referendum and elections later this year. The inclusion of the controversial referendum, which is scheduled for June 27, created concerns among some member states.

Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders, who led the push for a mission with the March resolution, insisted that there should be no precondition for an OAS visit, and the referendum, which many Haitians insist is illegal, should not be on the table for discussion.

During Wednesday's OAS meeting, diplomats welcomed Haiti's request for the mission but expressed uncertainty over how best to proceed while concurring with the U.S. that they needed to act quickly.

Almagro said that at least 28 different political actors other than the Haitian government had been contacted about a possible Haiti mission and responded with interest. Who makes up the mission will be critical if the OAS, which hasn't had much success in Haiti in years past, is to have a chance at encouraging a constructive political dialogue among all parties in Haiti in hopes of paving the way for legislative and presidential elections.

"The situation in Haiti is clearly complicated," Guyana Ambassador Riyad Insanally said.

 

Insanally said before the Permanent Council can sign off on the proposed mission it will be necessary to address a number of issues: the objectives of the mission, financing, composition and timing.

Haiti's Ambassador Edmond Bocchit said the country has accepted the offer and the next step should be to ensure that the OAS mission takes place. However, he noted that the constitutional referendum was "a sovereign exercise" that has been decided by Haiti for June 27. Presidential and legislative elections, he said, are scheduled for Sept. 19, with runoffs on Nov. 21.

"The president of the republic is in constant dialogue with members of the opposition and we long to have all of the actors around the table. We are not there yet but we are working for it, this is our hope," he said. "This is precisely the context we believe this OAS mission can play an important role, in bringing the others to the table."

Bocchit then launched into a public attack of Sanders, accusing the diplomat, who has been critical of the situation in Haiti, of using the country's crisis as a pawn to promote his own agenda. Bocchit also accused Antigua and Barbuda, a nation of 100,000 people, of trying to destabilize Haiti, a country of more than 11 million, and engaging in "activities that are reprehensible."

"I am asking that you cease toying with Haiti to advance your own agenda," said Edmond.

Both Sanders and his prime minister, Gaston Browne, took issue with Edmond's attacks, saying the are unfounded and their only agenda is the "peace, security, democracy, human rights of the people of Haiti."

"The allegation by the Haitian representative to the OAS that Antigua and Barbuda is trying to destabilize the government of Haiti would be laughable if it weren't reprehensible," Browne told the Miami Herald. "As part of the hemispheric community, Antigua and Barbuda is committed to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We uphold these rights at home and abroad."

As tension filled the OAS meeting, there was also fresh violence on the streets of Port-au-Prince, where a shootout among warring gangs in Cité Soleil made for another volatile day in the Haitian capital.

(c)2021 Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.