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Haitian Conflict Escalates

A presidential commission comprising prominent members of Haitian society has proposed that Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his government resign in order to avert a political crisis.

The Rt. Rev. Ogé Beauvoir, Bishop Suffragan of Haiti since May 2012, serves on the 11-member panel. In a report presented to President Michel Martelly on December 9, the commission also called for replacing the head of the Supreme Court and the agency charged with organizing long-delayed elections. The commission said these and other “calming measures” could lead to a consensus government and to free and fair elections.

Anti-government protesters have staged rolling demonstrations in the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities for weeks, urging Martelly and Lamothe to step down. They argue that both men were installed by and serve the interests of the United States rather than Haiti.

Martelly announced the commission on November 28, after a day of particularly violent protests. It includes two other religious leaders: Msg. Patrick Aris, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, and the Rev. Chavannes Jeune, a pastor, evangelist, and presidential candidate in 2005. Martelly called commission members “credible, honest, and trusted by society.” He is expected to respond to the commission’s recommendations in an address to the nation later this week.

One source of the crisis, which has been brewing for more than three years, is Martelly’s failure to call new local and legislative elections, which were due in 2011 and 2012. The Chamber of Deputies authorized the elections again in 2013, but the Senate has not acted because six opposition senators have argued that the legislation favors the government. Under the Haitian constitution, if the elections do not occur by January 12 — the fifth anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country, killing up to 300,000 people — the Parliament will be dissolved and Martelly will be able to rule by decree.

Opposition leaders have accused Martelly of wanting to delay the elections so that he can run the country without Parliament and improve his chances for reelection next year. He and his government have charged the opposition with obstructionism. Minister of Communication Rudy Hérivaux has reportedly called the opposition “cockroaches” and “symptomatic of the stupidity of a certain retrograde political class.”

U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has urged the government and opposition to resolve their conflict. White met for more than an hour with representatives of the major opposition parties on December 2 and issued a statement afterward saying she left the meeting “optimistic that a way forward can be found.”

“The Ambassador looks forward to further meetings with a broad variety of political organizations,” the statement said, “and to continue providing strong U.S. support for a Haitian-led solution to the range of current political issues.”

One hand-written sign carried by a protester at an anti-government demonstration in Port-au-Prince on Novemeber 29 said, in English, “Pamela White Get Out of Here.” Thousands of demonstrators, who had assembled in the poor Bel Air section of Port-au-Prince, marched for several hours en route to the U.S. Embassy in the Tabarre section of the city but were turned back by Haitian police in riot gear and U.N. peacekeeping troops.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Haiti later this week to press the two sides for a resolution. Opposition organizers have announced four days of anti-government street protests beginning December 12 to coincide with the visit.

The presidential commission has called for a truce between the opposing political organizations and the release of dozens of people who say they are political prisoners. They also urged Martelly to avoid taking any action by decree, except actions that were tied to the elections, if and when the Parliament dissolves.

Gary G. Yerkey

Image: One of the many street protests in Haiti included a bonfire. • Gary Yerkey photo

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