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Haiti’s newsreel – September 23rd 2020

Last week, through an official decree published in the official gazette, Le Moniteur, President Jovenel Moïse, named a new set of electoral commission members. The names of the nine-member provisional electoral commission were published on September 18, 2020 in the official gazette, to the surprise of most in the civil society organizations. The nominations came almost two months after eight of the nine commissioners from the previous CEP, which was created in 2016, resigned as a group in a letter addressed to President Jovenel Moïse on July 24, 2020. The decision to name the commission came as a result of much pressure from the US government, which impressed upon the Moïse government to reinstate the rule of law in the country as soon as possible, by forming the CEP, leading to organizing parliamentary elections in the near future. Notable absent from the new CEP membership are key sectors of the Haitian society such as the Roman Catholic Church, the private sector as well as the press, which declined the invitation by the President to propose representatives to be considered on the commission. The pressure to form this body was further expressed in a tweet by the US Ambassador to Haiti which stated the urgency of the formation of the CEP for the re-constitution of the Legislature as soon as technically possible. The US is looking for a calendar determining when elections would be held.

No sooner had the nominations been made public than the condemnation of its composition came under attack by various political factions. Almost unilaterally, all organizations considered part of opposition groups such as Organisation du peuple en lutte (OPL), la Fusion des sociaux-démocrates haïtiens (Fusion), le Mouvement Chrétien pour une nouvelle Haïti (Mochrenha), Veye yo, Inifòs, Ayiti an aksyon (AAA), Verite and Inite have all condemned the decision which they fear will only aggravate the already tenuous political and socio-economic climate in the country. As the condemnation and opposition to the CEP is justifiable in part because the people nominated to serve on the board of elections are not known in the public life of the nation, one of the most poignant criticisms was levied by the head of the Board of Directors for the human rights group, Fondasyon je klere (FJKL), Samuel Madistin. Speaking on a radio program in the capital on Monday, the jurist warned of a maneuver similar to that of François Duvalier in 1961 when he was able to change the constitution with a simple decree, interpreting the constitution in such a way that gave him the right to organize legislative elections which allowed him to stay in power until 1967. Then as now, the legislative term came to an end and within 6 months, Duvalier was able to sign 147 decrees (from July 31, 1957 through January 31, 1958) to reshape the nation to suit his interests. Noting that at the time, Duvalier benefited from the support of the US government under the guise of maintaining stability in the country, and just as now, those in favor of a new constitution also highlighted technical problems concealed to impose changes to their benefit. Noting that the 1987 Constitution has been an object of resistance to its application since enacted in 1987. Mr. Madistin warned that the Haitian people have long suffered from arbitrary constitutional changes that they cannot afford to allow someone who does not have the support of the majority of the people to make further changes that would plunge the nation into further chaos.

Despite all these protestations, President Moïse seems confident of his leadership and appears to have his way most the time and does not shy away from gloating in the political fights that he has thus far been winning. From the fight against overbilling in road construction projects, to the fight to repatriate energy contracts and the struggle to resist the various demonstrations dubbed “peyi lok” all of which he came out on top, he has shown to be proud of beating down his opponents. And now, the President is embarking on another project: organize elections and to draft a new constitution; two of the thorny projects that have been rejected by most of the political class as well as civil society. It is currently the main topic on social media with lively debate on both sides, with the opposition bitter about it and calling for more boycotts and demonstrations. But can this be effective? Given the history of political battles under the current president. In 2017, the first ever budget sent to parliament was treated as criminal and opposed fiercely by the opposition, but it was voted and adopted in the end. In January 2019, the Petrocaribe report mentioned the president’s name in the report some 69 times as the owner of Agritrans which was implicated in the scandal, but the president came out unscathed, despite the various protests by the petrochallengers. Other defiant moves by the president include the dissolution of parliament and going on to run the affairs of the state without a full legislature and currently, with the new CEP, no telling how far the president’s successful run will last. One thing is certain; he seems to gloat in his achievements and ability to outshine his opponents.

Finally, an article in the Miami Herald highlights a ruling on the status of people benefiting from the US government’s TPS program, and its implication for Haitians in this status. Trump has always wanted to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 250,000 immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan. A split decision by a three judge panel in the case of Ramos vs. Wolf in the Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a 2018 preliminary injunction from the federal district court in California that ruled that President Trump showed unconstitutional racial animus when he referred to these countries as “shithole countries”. As it stands, the fate of those under TPS will now have to be decided by votes on November 3, 2020. Both Trump and Biden have stark differences on how they see the status of TPS recipients. Trump has consistently expressed his desire to keep his promise to dismantle the TPS and deport all recipients currently under TPS protection. Joe Biden on the other hand has promised to protect TPS holders from being deported to unsafe countries and will work for a path to citizenship for long term TPS holders. With such legislation requiring action by Congress, Democrats in South Florida have committed to a path to citizenship for long term TPS holders and Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powee and Donna Shalala who are in close races against Trump supported candidates have taken up the cause and as such, the fate of TPS recipients may lie in the hands of South Florida voters.

Dela Harlley

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