Parliament Chiefs Hold Meetings to Scuttle Impeachment Process
by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
A second Special Commission of Inquiry into the Jul. 13 death of Investigating Judge Jean Serge Joseph, this one commissioned by Haiti’s Chamber of Deputies, released its report on Aug. 23, recommending that the lower house indict President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, and Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon for illegally intervening in a judicial investigation, threatening a judge thereby causing his death, and then publicly and repeatedly lying about the matter.
The findings of the report match almost exactly those of a Senate inquiry released on Aug. 8 (see Haïti Liberté, Vol. 7, No. 5, 8/14/2013). The Senate Commission also recommended that Parliament remove Martelly and Lamothe from office.
Judge Joseph was investigating charges of massive corruption against Martelly’s wife, Sophia St. Rémy Martelly, and their son, Olivier Martelly. After issuing subpoenas for several high government officials to testify before him, he had been pressured and threatened personally by Martelly and others. Finally, in a secret Jul. 11 meeting, Martelly, Lamothe, Sanon, and other officials told the judge to call off the investigation, according to both parliamentary reports. Two days later, the judge died from a brain hemorrhage caused by either stress or poison.
Martelly and Lamothe publicly claim that they had never met the judge and never attended the meeting, which took place at the office of Martelly’s legal counselor Garry Lissade, both reports say.
Whether the lower house will act on the report has taken on urgency since the Deputies, who under Haiti’s Constitution have the power to indict the President and Prime Minister, are scheduled to go on vacation on Sep. 9 and would not reconvene until Jan. 14, 2014, when Parliament is due to resume to its regular session... maybe.
On that date, another third (10 seats) of the Senate will have expired as one third did two years earlier, thereby reducing the body of 30 to less than its quorum and theoretically rendering Parliament non-functional.
Parliamentary critics have long argued that Martelly and Lamothe have purposefully delayed holding partial Senate elections for over two years to arrive at precisely this outcome. Some argue that remaining Senate seats won’t expire until January 2015.
As shock, outrage, and disgust raced through Haiti’s body politic in the wake of the two devastating reports, the Parliament’s two presidents, Sen. Simon Dieuseul Desras and Dep. Jean Tholbert Alexis, convened meetings at Pétionville’s Montana Hotel from Aug. 26-28 to meet with political parties on day one, civil society groups on day two, and Haiti’s diplomatic corps on day three.
“The meetings were essentially damage control,” Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles told Haïti Liberté. “They were organized after the Senate President’s visit to Washington, DC, where they pushed him to do it. The meetings with political parties, civil society, and the diplomats didn’t focus on the grave crimes detailed in two Parliamentary inquiry reports, which are now the top priority. We can’t have a president and his new Macoutes assassinate a judge, and we just ignore that.”
The three days of meetings ended with Sen. Desras issuing a bizarre ultimatum: if President Martelly does not show up to make his traditional address at Parliament’s opening session on Jan. 14 – an absence which would indicate that he considers Parliament dissolved – then Parliament would consider him as “having resigned.” In other words, if you accept us, we’ll accept you; if you reject us, we’ll reject you.
Sen. Moïse called it a message of weakness and compromise with Martelly, “who should be chased from power as quickly as possible.”
Moïse’s analysis is echoed by leading popular organizations who issued a statement on Sep. 3, warning against “hand-me-down democracy” (demokrasi pepe) and “monkey business” (magouy) aimed at excluding the Haitian masses from any role in resolving the crisis.
Saying that the Martelly/Lamothe regime was guilty of a host of crimes over the past two years and that the Parliament’s reports present “the last straw,” the groups said that the masses were now rising up but that Washington and its allies are using Parliament “to hold a series of dialogues with the supposedly opposition political parties, civil society and representatives of the diplomatic corps to impose their own solution in this political crisis.”
The eight signing groups, which include the Dessalines Coordination (KOD), the Heads Together of Popular Organizations, and the National Movement for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity of Haitians (MOLEGHAF), denounced that “the meetings did not address the most important question of the moment: the two special inquiry reports of the Parliament on the death of Judge Joseph, and how the country can immediately replace this criminal government which has been caught in the act of lying to the people.” Therefore the groups called on “all sectors of good faith, who are looking for a national solution to get the country out of the mess it is in, to force the Parliamentarians to take up their responsibility in the face of the brazen Martelly/Lamothe regime.”
To do so, according to the Haitian Constitution, the Deputies would have to vote to indict Martelly, and the Senate would then act as a High Court of Justice to put him on trial.
The latest report, which was prepared by Deputies Sadrac Dieudonné, Gluck Théophile and François Louytz Amiot, charges that Martelly and Lamothe “lied because they know very well that the encroachment of the Executive Branch into the field of sovereign powers of the judiciary - which they did - is arbitrary and illegal, and therefore unacceptable, because the Constitution calls for the effective separation of the three state powers. They lied because they know they had exerted strong pressure on the judge, sufficient to bring on the stroke which caused his death... For them, the best strategy is to deny that the meeting of July 11, 2013 ever took place.”
At the end of the 26-page report, the investigating deputies “recommend impeachment of the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of Justice for perjury, a crime against the Constitution and abuse of power, that shows the encroachment of the Executive Branch into the sovereign domain of the Judiciary.”
Getting the deputies to act on the report may prove challenging. Largely through the use of bribery, Martelly and Lamothe control a majority of the lower house through the Parliamentary block for Stability and Progress (PSP). However, many deputies have begun to question their allegiance to Martelly not only due to the reports but also following his week-long unexplained departure from the country last month. When he surfaced later in Suriname, Martelly worsened matters by calling his parliamentary critics “dumb.”
“Martelly is losing deputies, so anything is possible,” Sen. Jean-Charles said.
The Senate, with its fragile quorum, may also pose a problem. Sen. Edo Zenny, a close Martelly ally, told Le Nouvelliste that “I will vote against [any impeachment] and if it is me who has to block a quorum, I will do it.”
But Pierre Espérance of the National Network to Defend Human Rights (RNDDH) calculates that there would be enough votes in the Senate to impeach Martelly because even Senators who sometimes support Martelly “often take a distance from the regime’s illegal actions.”
The President has also alienated many by appointing a new hard-line Port-au-Prince District Attorney, who threatened to crack down on journalists and dissidents. “Playtime is over,” said Francisco René, using the same phrase uttered by former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier when he launched a crackdown on critics in November 1980. “The radio dramas are over. There will no longer be any question of characterizing the authorities any old way… Slander will be prosecuted. I will strengthen the system of criminal justice.”
Meanwhile, Haitian police arrested and severely beat the man who brought the original lawsuit against Martelly’s wife and son that Judge Joseph was investigating before his death. On Aug. 16, Enold Floréstal was arrested and held for two days in an apparent domestic dispute. Afterwards, Floréstal gave an interview to Radio Kiskeya claiming to have proof that on Jul. 10, the day before Judge Joseph’s fateful meeting at Lissade’s office, Prime Minister Lamothe offered him money and a diplomatic post if he would drop his case against Martelly’s wife and son.