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U.S. Now Opposes Moïse's Constitutional Referendum In Haiti

Secretary of State Antony Blinken answers the House Foreign Affairs Committee's question on Haiti during a virtual hearing this week.
State Department
Secretary of State Antony Blinken answers the House Foreign Affairs Committee's question on Haiti during a virtual hearing this week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress the administration does not think a controversial Haitian plebiscite on constitutional reform should happen.

This week, Haiti again postponed a controversial constitutional referendum it had scheduled for this month — and now the Biden administration’s urging Haitian President Jovenel Moïse not to hold it at all.

Moïse wants to dramatically reform, if not replace, his country’s constitution — proposing to eliminate Haiti's prime minister position for a vice president, abolish the Senate, create a unicameral legislature and let Haitian expats run for president, among other changes.

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But critics and legal experts say the voter referendum he’s proposed to carry out the reform is itself an unconstitutional, authoritarian move.

So, a big U.S. foreign policy question has been — where does the Biden Administration stand? This week the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken if Haiti’s constitutional referendum should take place at any time, given not only the legal concerns but the widespread feeling that Haiti's public security situation has deteriorated too badly to allow any election to take place safely and fairly this summer.

“Our position is indeed that it should not," Blinken said during the virtual hearing. "That is the position of our government, we’re making that position known … to oppose the referendum for the reasons so many are citing."

Moïse was set to hold the plebiscite on June 27. But he’s had to postpone it because of a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Haiti — and perhaps because the U.S. is now officially against it.

Blinken said the U.S. still wants to help Haiti hold a fair presidential and parliamentary election this fall. He conceded that means helping Haiti make the vote safe by reining in its awful violent crime crisis, which includes a terrifying, nationwide ransom kidnapping wave. Haiti is also dealing with a severe economic collapse.

“Meanwhile we are trying to provide additional assistance," Blinken added, "including to the police, to more effectively do their jobs and deal with the profoundly, profoundly troubling insecurity that exists in Haiti.”

Moïse’s critics — who say he's become more authoritarian while ruling by decree for more than a year now, in the absence of long overdue parliamentary elections — also fear he may use the constitutional reform to let himself seek a second consecutive term, which is prohibited under the 1987 Constitution.