The heads of the three branches of the Haitian government reached an accord late on Dec. 29 aimed at heading off a constitutional crisis when the terms of one-third of the country's senators expire on Jan. 12, leaving the Parliament without a quorum. The agreement—signed by President Michel Martelly, Senate president Simon Dieuseul Desras, Chamber of Deputies president Jacques Stevenson Thimoléon and Superior Council of the Judicial Branch president Arnel Alexis Joseph—extends terms to April for current members of the Chamber of Deputies and to September for current senators. The term extension will be inserted into legislation amending the electoral law and will only take effect if Parliament passes it by Jan. 12. In the event that the long-stalled election law is passed, the government can proceed to form a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and schedule legislative, municipal and local elections, which have been delayed since 2011. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Dec. 30)
The agreement is one of several efforts by President Martelly's government to counter a stream of militant opposition protests since the fall. On Dec. 25 Martelly nominated longtime politician Evans Paul to replace former prime minister Laurent Lamothe, a friend of the president's who was pressured into resigning on Dec. 12. Paul started his political career as a radio journalist under the dictatorship of the late "president for life" Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc,"1971-1986). Using the name K-Plim–short for "Konpè Plim," which is roughly equivalent to "Partner Pen" or "Brother Pen"–Paul was critical of the Duvalier regime and became an ally of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), then a left-leaning Catholic priest. Elected Port-au-Prince mayor in 1990 as an Aristide supporter, Paul eventually became a bitter enemy of the former priest. (Reuters, Dec. 15) In 2010, however, Paul joined an alliance some observers called "unnatural" because it brought together Aristide supporters and opponents in protests against then-president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011).
Also as part of the concessions to the opposition, Martelly has released some 40 prisoners who the opposition says were jailed for their political activities. The latest was Jean Robert Vincent, arrested in February 2012, reportedly for distributing materials against the Martelly administration; he was freed on Dec. 30. The brothers Enold and Josué Florestal were released about two weeks before Vincent. The Florestals faced a murder accusation, but the charge came after they started a suit in August 2012 alleging corruption and misuse of titles by Martelly's wife, Sophia Saint-Rémy, and his son, Olivier Martelly. The prisoner releases started in December, just one month after a Nov. 2 interview with TV5 Monde, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Le Monde in which Martelly said he wasn't aware that "there are demonstrators in prison" or that there were political prisoners in Haiti. (AlterPresse, Dec. 31)
In other news, Uruguay's General Assembly has decided to reduce its contingent in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) by about 60%–from 605 to 250—between Feb. 28 and Dec. 31, according to the Spanish wire service EFE. Adopted unanimously by the Senate, the troop reduction measure was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 29. Uruguay's center-left government has indicated that a complete withdrawal of the troops is also possible, depending on circumstances. Activists in a number of South American countries have been campaigning for an end to their militaries' participation in the mission, a military-police operation stationed in Haiti since June 2004. (AlterPresse, Dec. 30)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 4.