Haiti Reset 2017

Kenneth H. Merten
Special Coordinator for Haiti and Deputy Assistant Secretary 
Coral Gables, FL
November 22, 2016

Remarks as Prepared

This past Sunday, Haiti held the first round of elections to select a president and members of its legislature. These elections, started in 2015, are essential to the prosperity, governance, and future of Haiti. In order to address key issues facing Haiti, such as recovery from Hurricane Matthew, electoral and judicial reform, anti-corruption measures, and the urgent need to spur economic growth, Haiti must have political stability and a legitimate government with a five-year mandate. Yesterday’s election coincided with the closure of Global Entrepreneurship Week, and served as a reminder for the need for Haiti to fully participate within regional and global initiatives. Achieving political stability is a must, and this can only be completed through a credible electoral process. The Haitian people must have a voice in deciding who leads them.

The United States has long supported democracy, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights in Haiti. While we did not agree that the 2015 presidential elections needed to be re-run, we were encouraged by the process improvements implemented by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Among the many consequences of Hurricane Matthew was the first round of elections, scheduled for October 9. The CEP consulted broadly to set a new date that balanced the political imperative of holding elections as quickly as possible against what is technically possible. Despite the setback, the focus of the United States remains unwavering. The urgent need for elected representatives at all levels of government in Haiti, including at the most senior level, has not waned. Rather, the passage of time accentuates this critical necessity. Only through transparent and credible elections and the seating of an elected president can Haiti return to constitutional rule. What we saw Sunday, according to the preliminary report by the Organization of American States Observation Mission, was greater “ownership of the process” by Haiti and greater civil society engagement through national observers.

The United States does not support any specific candidate in this race; we support a fair, peaceful, and credible process, which we urge all participants to respect. Solving electoral problems through violence and destruction of property is in nobody’s interest and is unacceptable. If some candidates feel disadvantaged, or believe that they were a victim of fraud, there is a system of redress in place, which – as we did last year – we urge candidates to use. Between now and the announcement by the CEP of preliminary and definitive results from yesterday’s elections, we urge actors in Haiti to foster an atmosphere of calm. We continue to support the electoral process and look forward to a second round of transparent, credible, and fair elections on January 29.

In the interim, we remain committed to helping the people of Haiti recover from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. We continue to work with the Government of Haiti and local non-governmental organizations to ensure life-saving emergency relief reaches people in need. As the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance for Hurricane Matthew relief efforts, the U.S. government has contributed nearly $53 million, including over $40 million from USAID and more than $13 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The goals of the United States in Haiti include helping to build a strong civil society, which can contribute to the overall credibility of elections. Such an investment is well spent. Consequently, U.S. government assistance will continue to support the development of the Haitian National Police to enhance security throughout the country, as well as national election observation, and civic education. Consistent with our shared commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the U.S. government is also funding an international observer mission from the Organization of American States and local Haitian observers in an effort to strengthen transparency and bolster voter confidence in these elections. As before, we will engage across a wide range of sectors, including priority areas, such as health, food security, economic growth, and infrastructure to improve daily life for the Haitian people.

Once Haiti gets beyond this election cycle, we also should encourage our Haitian partners to take steps to chart a course that sees Haiti develop and create economic opportunities for its people. Haiti needs a vibrant private sector that can play its role in developing the country. We will encourage Haiti’s government to take steps to facilitate investment and the creation of jobs. Many countries around the world have shown how making it easier to create and register businesses empowers people and creates economic growth and generates revenue; revenue for people, revenue for businesses, and revenue for Haiti’s government which so desperately needs it. I hope moving forward that we can really develop our partnership with Haiti in creating this good sustainable economic growth and opportunity. In my view, it’s the way only to build a more resilient, prosperous Haiti, a Haiti that can truly chart its own destiny. But before we get to work together on that, we really need to see the democratic process run its course in a fair and transparent way.

We support the CEP and welcome the steadfast progress in organizing transparent, credible, and fair elections as scheduled. The Haitian people are waiting. The legitimacy of the forthcoming electoral process depends on their vote. The legitimacy of Haiti’s rightful place among democracies in the hemisphere depends on its return to constitutional authority.