Thank you. Good morning. I would first like to wish you a wonderful Haitian Heritage Month. I wish we could be together in person this morning. This month gives us an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate Haiti’s many contributions to the world, and especially to the United States. Today is also Haitian Flag Day – a day to commemorate the creation of Haiti’s national flag. I recognize you may have other important events to attend, and I know there is a march planned here in Washington, D.C. So I wanted to thank you for taking some time out of your schedules to engage with us on this particularly important day for the Haitian community.
Haiti’s rich history and culture testify to its great strength and limitless potential. Understanding this gives those of us who care deeply about Haiti the inspiration to continue persevering in our work to support Haiti as it struggles to move beyond this long and difficult period of multidimensional crises.
Most of us are familiar with the proverb, “Many hands make light work.” As we consider how Haiti’s splintered political environment has paralyzed the country and threatened the well-being of average citizens, these words seem apt. A shared effort is urgently required. Political and civil society leaders must bridge their divisions to accomplish the higher goal of restoring democracy and stability. The more Haitian leaders from diverse sectors of society participate, the easier this task will be.
Every few years, the world anxiously waits to see whether Haiti can overcome its internal divisions to schedule, organize and hold timely elections that lead to a transition of power between one democratically-elected leader and another democratically-elected leader. It should not be this way. In a representative democracy, the people—the people– possess the right to select the leaders who will legislate and govern on their behalf.
This proposition only works if the people can do so on a regularly recurring basis. In this way, electoral democracy forms the foundation of a stable and prosperous state. Countries around the world, and countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean – countries dealing with security and infrastructure challenges – regularly succeed in doing this despite the problems they face. Countries with serious political divisions overcome their differences to do this – and Haiti can also. Haiti’s history makes it a beacon of freedom and its democracy should not be an exception; it should be an example.
Legislative elections that should have been held in 2019 are long overdue. And, what has been the result of this delay? An unchecked executive power since January 2020, as the lower house no longer exists, and there are too few Senators to reach a quorum. There is no separation of powers and no way for the branches of government to hold one another accountable. This situation calls into question the core precepts of Haiti’s democracy.
More than that, this period of one-man rule by decree has already led to the announcement of a problematic national intelligence agency, the introduction of dubious definitions of terrorism, the reduced role of key institutions like the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, and the removal and replacement of three Supreme Court judges. The decision to hold a referendum to amend the constitution of 1987 further adds to the controversy, especially without an inclusive and credible consultative process that fully incorporates civil society. Likeminded international partners have joined local voices in expressing these concerns. BINUH tweeted on April 13 that the constitutional consultation process was “not sufficiently inclusive, participatory, or transparent” and called for the Consultative Committee to engage with a wider range of political and societal actors, including women’s and religious groups, across the country. An April 26 Core Group statement by the Ambassadors to Haiti from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union, the Special Representative of the Organization of American States, and the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations all echoed BINUH’s assessment of the consultative process. Haiti’s democracy cannot continue like this.
We believe legislative elections are the democratic way to end Haiti’s prolonged rule by decree, and presidential elections are necessary to transfer power peacefully from one democratically-elected leader to another.
Anyone who follows developments in Haiti can see that there are challenges. I personally observed these challenges during my visit to Haiti in 2019, and I urged President Moise to build a government that could tackle issues such as insecurity, corruption, and a lagging economy. Haiti needs a government with functioning legislative, executive, and judicial branches working to move Haiti forward. This is why we call upon all of Haiti’s political stakeholders to come together and agree upon the necessary mechanisms to hold free and fair elections in 2021 that are credible and reflect the will of the Haitian people.
There are many voices who disagree that the way to fully restore Haiti’s democracy is through free and fair elections, who assert Haiti needs a transitional government to put it back on the democratic path. This may be a tempting notion. But who would those people be? How would they be chosen? To which constituents would they be accountable? As an extraconstitutional governing body, which law would determine their mandate? Would a transitional government prevent further chaos? Would it restore timeliness to Haiti’s electoral calendar?
We have seen this before, and learned there are no shortcuts when building a resilient and lasting democracy.
The needs of the Haitian people are far too pressing for elections to be delayed further. You do not hold elections when it’s convenient; you hold them when they are due. In the United States, even during the most divisive and contentious junctures in our history – economic downturns, protests, natural disasters, a bloody civil war – elections were consistently held so that our republic could continue to progress.
The United States and Haiti are the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is one of our nation’s oldest friends. We share over $2 billion in annual trade. Remittances to Haiti, the majority of which come from the U.S., are equivalent to a third of Haiti’s GDP. The mutual influence of American and Haitian customs and achievements are evident, and fewer than a thousand miles separate our borders.
One major commonality between the people in the United States and Haiti is our devotion to the idea of freedom. Citizens in both countries look back with pride at our forebearers who valued freedom above all else and risked everything to secure this inalienable right. Haitians and Americans fought and died for freedom and set out to design new visions for our respective republics that had never been achieved before.
Centuries later, the Haitian people are still fighting to see a free Haiti – a Haiti that is free from corruption, free from lawlessness, free from kidnappings, free from poverty, and free from unilateral governance.
We hear the demands of the Haitian people for the security, education, healthcare, jobs, transparency, and opportunity they deserve. My colleagues and I have taken the time to listen intently to the thoughts and fears of Haitians in Haiti as well as in the United States. Will a single election be the magic charm that cures all of Haiti’s problems? Absolutely not. And make no mistake – we know how fragile our democracies are. But this does not diminish the fact that Haiti is in dire need of democratic consistency and institutions that serve the people.
When I was in Haiti, I met with inspirational young leaders who each demonstrated an ingenuity, determination, and resilience that should be encouraged and nurtured. The youth are the hope and promise of Haiti, and the opportunities that they are afforded today will impact Haiti’s development for years to come. Prosperity simply cannot be achieved when the fundamental rules of democracy are manipulated or ignored. The creation and preservation of strong, democratic processes and structures are long-term institutional defenses against dictatorship, partisanship, and greed. Without stability and rule of law, Haiti will struggle to attract foreign direct investments and retain its brightest minds.
This is why we choose to invest in Haiti’s people and institutions over individual leaders and personalities. U.S. assistance in Haiti improves access to basic services, including health, water, education, nutrition, and security. In the last decade, the U.S. government has directly contributed billions of U.S. dollars toward the most immediate economic, nutrition, natural disaster, and COVID-19 response needs. In January, we announced an additional $75.5 million toward issues like democratic governance and agricultural development. But our investment in Haiti’s people will only be successful if Haitians also invest in their own democratic governance.
As living bridges between the United States and Haiti, you also have an important role to play in raising your voices to improve and strengthen Haiti’s democracy and economy. You can speak against violence. You can speak against corruption and impunity. You can speak against abuses of power and of civil and human rights. We also hope you will encourage Haiti’s political and civil society leaders to negotiate in good faith to find solutions toward a government that works for all Haitians.
The United States, too, will continue to raise our voice and join like-minded partners and international organizations to revive democracy in Haiti and around the world. We will unapologetically denounce authoritarianism, impunity, human rights violations, and corruption, and we will act against those responsible, as we did by sanctioning three former Haitian government officials in December 2020 under the Global Magnitsky Act. Haiti faces many obstacles on the long and arduous path to lasting stability and prosperity, but by joining together, we collectively make the work lighter and we come closer to reaching our shared goals. Thank you.