Human rights and opposition leaders in Haiti are taking the secretary general of the Organization of American States to task, accusing him of overstepping his role and wrongly supporting an extension of President Jovenel Moïse’s presidential mandate.
Luis Almagro, who assumed his second term as head of the hemispheric body last week after heavy lobbying by him and the Trump administration, recently issued a statement declaring that Moïse’s term as Haiti’s 58th president ends on Feb. 7, 2022.
The declaration, which urged Haiti’s political forces to “find a cooperative framework in order to comply with the letter and the spirit of their constitutional order,” immediately stirred already turbulent political waters and accusations of meddling.
Now, in an open letter, seven human rights organizations have decided to school Almagro on Haiti’s constitution in hopes of settling the debate over whether Moïse’s presidency ends on Feb. 7, 2022, as Almagro states, or on Feb. 7, 2021, as others contend.
The issue has long been a bone of contention — and political bargaining —since Moïse took office on Feb. 7, 2017, following a nearly two-year political crisis and presidential and legislative electoral process marred by violence, allegations of fraud and delay. The president and his supporters have always argued that he was voted in in a new election and therefore his five-year presidential term ends in 2022, five years after his Feb. 7, 2017, swearing in.
Moïse “knows that his term ends on Feb. 7, 2021, and what he’s trying to do is convince people otherwise,” said Gedeon Jean, a lawyer and founder of the Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research, who signed the six-page letter and issued a separate 22-page legal analysis supporting the constitutional argument. “I am sure that [Almagro] didn’t really understand the process; this is why in the letter we decided to spell it out.”
Almagro’s spokesman, Gonzalo Espariz, did not respond to a Miami Herald email seeking comment. Jean and opposition leader Edmonde Supplice Beauzile, whose Fusion Social Democrats political party is among five opposition groups that issued a separate document to the OAS, said the OAS representative in Haiti informed them their documents have been forwarded.
At the heart of the debate, which threatens to trigger an even deeper crisis amid the global COVID-19 pandemic ravaging Haiti, are several issues.
First, there is the controversial 2015-16 elections in which Moïse’s chief rival, Jude Célestin, accused the governing party of “massive fraud” in favor of Moïse and later refused to participate in a presidential runoff. The decision led to an indefinite postponement of the vote amid an outbreak of violence, and the departure of then President Michel Martelly without an elected successor.
A parliamentary vote and negotiated accord led to Sen. Jocelerme Privert assuming the role as interim president in February 2016 to complete the electoral process.
Second, there is the interpretation of Article 134.1 and Article 134.2 in the country’s amended 1987 constitution governing a president’s term in office, and the ongoing debate over whether the November 2016 election that eventually brought Moïse to power was a new election or continuation of a process.
“The election was a new election. Jovenel Moïse was elected in the first round,” said Haiti Foreign Minister Claude Joseph. “In principle, Privert was supposed to organize the elections in 190 days, but he did not do that. So we were out of the constitutional order with Privert and when he decided to organize the elections it was a totally new election with a new electoral council, a new electoral decree … so therefore Article 134.1 or 2 that the opposition is using is not applicable.”
“Everyone knows in Haiti a presidential term is five years, and now they are talking about four years,” Joseph added. “These are the same people who never wanted President Jovenel to be in power.”
Jean and the signatories to the letter, as well as opposition leaders who have been demanding Moïse’s ouster since he assumed office, argue that the election was a continuation. As proof they cite a March 2016 publication of the country’s official register, the Monitor, declaring that the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council was installed under a Feb. 5, 2016, political agreement to “continue” the electoral process that began in 2015.
The letter also points out that the 2015 electoral decree, regulating the elections, set the term of office of the elected president from 2015 to Feb. 7, 2021. Continue reading