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By Vania Andre

Elected officials from the Haitian Diaspora want a seat at the electoral table, two Haitian American organizations said after a meeting with U.S. State Department officials about Haiti’s latest political crisis.

Haitian diaspora leaders believe the solution out of this crisis is clear, Haitian-Americans for Progress (HAP) and the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) said in a statement, following their Feb. 2 meeting with the State Department’s Special Coordinator to Haiti Kenneth Merten, his deputy, Kent Brokenshire, and political officer Stephanie Kotecki-Bonhomme.

“Reliable and competent” people must be appointed to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) “including those living abroad,” they said. CEP is the governing body in Haiti that organizes elections. Several members of the council resigned in the months leading to President Michel Martelly’s last day in office amidst political infighting over the fate of the country’s leadership.

“This is not a bad idea,” Robert Fatton, a Haiti political expert out of the University of Virginia, said. But, “the Diaspora has to be careful about not appearing to be too bossy and arrogant in its recommendations, otherwise its desire to help will be perceived by Haitians in Haiti as a desire to dominate.  This ultimately would be quite counter-productive.”

The organizations also extended support with elections by assisting with recruitment of CEP officials, observing elections and mediating political disputes.

“Many of us in the Diaspora have significant experience in budgeting, legislating, capital projects development, elections, social services provision and economic development,” said Mark Lapointe, chair of HAP said.

Among their list of solutions to Merten were that the 2011 amended constitution be followed to “prevent a void at the executive level of government” and that a “free and fair” electoral process be conducted with the participation of qualified Haitians abroad.

“Before engaging in any serious negotiations with legitimate and elected Haitian authorities, the Diaspora would need to find a credible and democratic way to select the Diaspora member(s) who would serve on the Provisional Electoral Council,” Fatton said.

Haiti’s constitution recognizes those born to at least one parent of Haitian nationality as Haitian citizens. For years, members of the Haitian Diaspora have petitioned for more inclusive rights in Haiti, including voting eligibility and the right to hold public office. Under Martelly’s administration, the post of Minister of Haitians Living Abroad was created to guide the integration of the Diaspora in Haitian political and societal affairs. Although, well intended, many of the main goals, such as voting rights for those living outside of the U.S. never came into fruition.

“It’s clear that the Diaspora plays a fundamental role in sustaining the economy of Haiti through its remittances and that it wants to have a more institutionalized and positive influence on the country’s politics,” Fatton said. “On the other hand the ultimate decision should rest with Haitians in Haiti.”

“The well-being and stability of Haiti is our business,” said Joseph Makhandal Champagne, Jr., chairman of NHAEON and former mayor of the Borough of South Toms River in New Jersey. “As Haitian-American elected officials, we must proactively offer our support and our expertise to help Haiti move forward out of its current political crisis onto the path of democracy, nation-building and economic development.”

Last Saturday, former President Michel Martelly signed an agreement with the heads of both chambers of parliament that would allow for elections to take place April 24. A 15-member commission was created on Tuesday to process the registration of presidential candidates, with a transitional president to be elected on Feb. 14.

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