By Bobb Rousseau
Haitians, who accept permanent residence abroad, even if they do not obtain the nationality of the country that grants them such an immigrant status, are not eligible to run for office in Haiti as long as they maintain or do not renounce their permanent residence. The Haitian constitution establishes continuous residency as another eligibility criterion for running for municipal, legislative, and presidential positions. Even if the constitution would have removed the criterion “never renounce their Haitian nationality”, Haitians living abroad would not yet be eligible to be candidates because they would not have met the requirements of the articles cited below relating to the continuous residence.
Little that we know, foreign nationality is not the only eligibility criteria a Haitian must meet before running for office in Haiti or obtaining a presidential nomination; there is also the criterion of continuous residency, which varies between two to five years, depending on the position he is seeking. Continuous residence is the legal and geographical place where the individual conducts his daily transactions. It is provided for by articles 70, 91, 96, 134, and 157 of the constitution. The word continuous means that the residence must not have intervals or that the years be not interrupted. In other words, the Haitian who moved back to Haiti from 2015 to 2017, left Haiti from 2017 to 2018 and moved back in 2018, has not lived in Haiti for five consecutive years, and in fact, will not be eligible to participate in the 2021 or 2022 elections, because he has broken or abandoned his residence in Haiti. Continuous residence ceases when the Haitian leaves the country and begins again upon his return to the country.
To be President, article 134 of the 1987 Constitution stipulates that applicants must reside in Haiti for five consecutive years. To be mayor, article 70 requires three consecutive years in the municipality, article 96 requires four consecutive years to become a Senator, while article 91 requires only two consecutive years to run for the office of the deputy. Continuous residence is not a criterion for running for CASEC, ASEC, or City Delegate.
As true as this eligibility requirement has been debated several times throughout the last presidential elections, it continues to be misinterpreted even by the greatest Haitian jurists, professors, and legislators. Some argue that as long as the Haitian visits Haiti at least once a year, he meets the basic requirement of the continuous residency, while others claim that as long as the Haitian owns a business in Haiti and pays taxes; it satisfies the notion of permanent residence. Nevertheless, the hottest enlightenment comes from Me. Danton Léger, former Member of Parliament for Léogâne and former Government Commissioner who maintains that as long as the Haitian has completed his Kindergarten and his fundamental education in Haiti, he meets the constitutional requirements of continuous residence. At face value, all of the above interpretations, except that of Me. Léger, are consistent with the intentions of the articles relating to the continuous residence.
When foreign countries grant permanent residency to Haitians, it is to allow them to move and settle in their country permanently. To this end, they are restricted from spending more than six months outside their country of residence. If they stay longer than six months, they risk losing their legal immigration status or no longer being entitled to the privileges granted to holders of a green card or residence permit. The bottom line up front is; as soon as the Haitian accepts permanent residence in another country; his residence is no longer Haiti and this, although he travels to Haiti every three months or that he may own a house or a business in Haiti. Therefore, they must first give up their legal immigrant status and ultimately, come to resettle in their community, if they want to reclaim their right to participate in elections or receive a presidential nomination in their country of origin.
These articles do not apply to Haitians traveling on immigrant visas or Haitians, such as Ambassadors and Special Envoys, who are on diplomatic missions to the country. Their years spent abroad do not affect their permanent residence in Haiti. Continuous residence is a concept well too ignored by Haitians living abroad so much so that their requests for integration into politics always revolve around the issue of dual nationality, which they claim, is the only restriction preventing them from enjoying their civic and political rights. Moreover, even if the constitution would have allowed them to stand as a candidate, despite their foreign nationality, their candidacy would have been rejected based on the continuous residence requirement, unless they settle in Haiti permanently or between two to five years, before the elections in which they would like to participate.
Bobb Rousseau is a legal and policy expert and a regular contributor to The Haitian Times