Haiti: deal fails, Martelly rules by decree

Haiti entered a long-threatened period of constitutional crisis on Jan. 12 when terms expired for all 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies and for 10 of the country's 30 senators; terms had already run out for another third of the senators. Since the government had failed to hold overdue elections for these seats, Parliament no longer had a quorum to pass laws and President Martelly was free to rule by decree in the absence of a viable legislature. He and the leaders of Parliament announced an agreement Dec. 29 that would extend the legislators' terms if Parliament met a Jan. 12 deadline to pass amendments to the electoral law, but the deal didn't win the agreement of the main opposition parties. The vote never took place.

The slide into direct presidential rule came on the day when Haitians were marking the fifth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and left tens or hundreds of thousands of people dead. (Radio-Canada, Jan. 11, from correspondents; Radio France Internationale, RFI, Jan. 13, from correspondent)

Martelly's opponents said they would continue with the anti-government demonstrations they have been sponsoring since the fall to demand Martelly's resignation. On Jan. 15 an opposition coalition announced plans for marches in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 16, Jan. 17, Jan. 20, Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. The coalition includes the Patriotic Movement of the Democratic Opposition (Mopod) and a new political party, Pitit Desalin ("Children of Dessalines," referring to the revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines). Pitit Desalin's leader is ex-senator Moïse Jean-Charles, who until late 2013 was associated with the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). FL itself has refrained from calling for Martelly's resignation, but according to former FL senator Louis Gérald Gilles, the party is demanding the resignation of Martelly's new prime minister, Evans Paul, a longtime Aristide opponent who hadn't been confirmed by Parliament before it lost its quorum. If Paul doesn't step down, Gilles said, FL will join the other opposition groups in demanding Martelly's resignation. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Jan. 15; Haïti Libre, Jan. 17)

As of Jan. 15 the so-called "Core Group"—the ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the US and the European Union (EU), along with the special representatives of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS)—had declared their countries' "support for the president of the republic in the exercise of his constitutional duties." The US had backed the failed agreement to extend the legislators' terms, and US ambassador Pamela White angered many Haitians by attending a meeting of Parliament the evening of Jan. 11 when the deal was being discussed. She apparently hadn't been invited. "You want to know what I think of Pamela White?" a passerby told an RFI correspondent the next day. "These people have long since been interfering in the country's affairs. They're the ones who chose Martelly, because he sold them the country." The speaker was referring to interference by foreign powers in the 2010-2011 elections. (RFI, Jan. 13; AlterPresse, Jan. 15)

In contrast to the Core Group, the center-left government of Uruguay may react to the situation by withdrawing its troops from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as it threatened in December. Uruguayan foreign minister Luis Almagro was reportedly planning an "emergency" visit to UN headquarters in New York to coordinate the withdrawal of his country's 605 MINUSTAH troops in the near future. (AlterPresse, Jan. 15)

It was unclear how much effect the dissolution of Parliament would have on the government's operations, already hampered by a longstanding stalemate between Martelly and the opposition. But an anti-mining coalition, the Mining Justice Collective (previously the "Collective Against Mining"), is concerned that the president may take advantage of the situation to impose a law to greatly expand the mining sector. The measure, stalled in Parliament, would change Haiti's 1976 mining code to allow the Bureau of Mines and Energy (BME) to sign directly with mining companies without having to win approval from Parliament, opening up northern Haiti to massive open-pit gold mining by foreign companies. The World Bank helped draft the law; six Haitian groups filed a formal complaint with the bank on Jan. 7, noting that the measure was written without the public consultation required by the bank's own policies. (Upside Down World, Jan. 13, from IPS)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 18.