Lawmakers threaten to cut aid to Haiti over delayed elections

{mosads}Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, has been facing a political crisis for the past year. A third of the country’s 30-member Senate has been vacant since 2012 because elections were delayed; and another 10 senators elected in 2009 may have to give up their seat next year – before their six-year term is up.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subpanel, told The Hill that Haitian lawmakers visited him about a month ago to raise concerns.

“They’re concerned that the president is trying to forestall the election and basically kind of take charge of everything,” Salmon said. “I don’t know that that is a fact. But the fact that a third of the legislative body and we’re not sure if the election next year is going to happen – it raises some real red flags for everybody.”

Salmon said it would be a “no brainer” that Congress would have to “revisit everything” if it looks like Haiti is moving toward a dictatorship.

Others are worried about the consequences.

“Let’s not pull the rug out from under our Haitian brothers and ssisters,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), whose Miami-Dade district includes many Haitian-Americans. “It would be devastating for Haiti to lose not only the money but also the prestige that comes with U.S. donor participation.”

She urged the State Department to use U.S. aid as leverage to demand that Haiti hold elections.

Martelly’s opponents also got to the Congressional Black Caucus.

Several members of the caucus sat in on Wednesday’s hearing, with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) taking the lead. She wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week asking him to press Martelly to allow the senators to serve out their terms.

“We are providing a lot of aid – and it has done a lot of good,” Waters said Wednesday. “But I also want us to have conditions. And part of those conditions have to do with the constitution.”

The State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, Thomas Adams, said the United States has offered $10 million to help Haiti hold elections next year, possibly as early as January. He said aid was conditioned on Haiti being a democracy, and “democracies have elections on time.”

The State Department however has avoided taking a position on Waters’ concern about the senators whose terms may expire early. While it is true that the constitution calls for Haitian senators six-year terms, they were elected under the aegis of a 2008 electoral law that calls for them to serve only until 2014.

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