Queens congressman Gregory Meeks said that the current status quo in Haiti, including an increase in kidnapping and gang violence, is unsustainable.
Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the comments during a Zoom meeting which was broadcast live on Facebook on Wednesday evening. Comments and shares on social media indicate that the event was viewed by more than 400 people, including members of the Haitian community.
Meeks, who has previously called for a transitional government in Haiti said that elections, including a constitutional referendum, are not feasible under current conditions.
“I will continue to urge the Department of State to use their voice and vote within [international] institutions to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not spent in support of this referendum,” said Meeks, a Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, during the town hall.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who has ruled by executive decree since January 2020, has scheduled a constitutional referendum for June 27. Legislative and presidential elections will follow on Sept. 19.
But Moise’s calls to change the constitution were met with mass protest in Haiti and abroad on March 28-29, which overlapped with the 34th anniversary of Haiti’s current constitution.
During the town hall, Meeks said Haitians have been “loudly calling” for a change in the current government, which has lost the trust of its people. Those who tuned into the town hall event were able to ask questions for Meeks through the comments section, but attendees were unable to speak directly.
Still, the discussion in the comments section was lively, with finger-pointing at the Moise administration, his political opposition and past administrations, for destabilizing Haiti. Citing past transgressions in Haiti, a vocal group of commenters maintained that the U.S. should not use its influence against the Moise administration.
“Mr. Meeks, two words for you: No transition,” wrote one Zoom attendee, Jude Dupont.
Meeks did not explicitly call for a transitional government during the town hall and repeatedly stressed the need for Haitian-led dialogue. Going forward, Meeks said he plans to continue working with multilateral organizations like the Organization of American States and CARICOM to facilitate dialogue among Haitians and hold fair elections, which in his view should not involve a referendum.
The U.S. also has a responsibility to limit weapons trafficking into Haiti, said Meeks, citing the need to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to track weapons shipments.
“We can also work with the Office of Foreign Assets to make sure Americans with links to Haiti aren’t illegally shipping weapons to Haitian gangs,” Meeks said. “That’s some of the conversation I can have with the president and the vice-president also.”
Haiti draws attention from Congress
Meeks and several other members of Congress have been critical of Moise this year, going so far as to challenge the U.S. State Department’s position by calling for a transitional government.
A Feb. 6 letter to the State Department noted that Moise has lost credibility and criticized his unilateral selection of a Provisional Electoral Council to organize elections, criminalization of protest and other actions.
“The time for a Haitian-led democratic transition is now,” read the letter, which was co-signed by Meeks, New York Ninth District Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat, and five other members of Congress.
Meeks also called for a peaceful transition of power during a March 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Haiti, while also criticizing the ongoing expulsions of Haitian migrants as “untenable,” amid Haiti’s current political crisis.
In recent statements, the State Department has maintained that Moise’s term ends in 2022 and has encouraged the president to organize elections, while refraining from issuing further decrees.
“It’s something that we are very actively looking at,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress in March, about the situation in Haiti.
“We’ve urged the Government of Haiti to organize free and fair legislative elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in February. “The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions.”
Sam Bojarski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.