Haiti’s parliament returns to work — minus two new senators

Haiti’s parliament returns to work — minus two new senators
  1. Haiti’s parliament returns to work — minus two new senators
    Haiti’s parliament returned to work Monday with a brand new problem: two newly elected senators who can’t take office because one has been charged with a crime and the other … Click to Continue »…
    Latin America

Haiti’s parliament returned to work Monday with a brand new problem: two newly elected senators who can’t take office because one has been charged with a crime and the other was allegedly convicted 34 years ago.

“Two senators were elected from the Grand’ Anse, and I am the only one who is here,” newly sworn-in Sen. Sorel Jacinthe told the chamber.

He was referring to Senator-elect Guy Philippe, a notorious ex-rebel leader who was arrested Thursday by Haiti’s anti-drug trafficking police and flown to Miami by federal agents later that night. He has been charged with drug trafficking after eluding police for more than a decade.

“I deplore what has happened,”Jacinthe said.

Philippe’s arrest sparked angry outbursts and accusations of a U.S.-orchestrated “kidnapping” during Monday’s gathering of the National Assembly. His absenceposes a dilemma for Haiti’s 30-member Senate, which must figure out what to do about his empty seat.

At the same time, the Senate also is waiting for the Provisional Electoral Council to decide on the fate of another senator-elect. Wilfrid Gelin has been accused of changing his name from Wilfred to Wilfrid in order to hide his guilty plea in 1982 for trying to smuggle undocumented individuals into the United States.

“This is unprecedented,” Senate President Ronald Lareche said told the Miami Herald about Philippe’s case. “There is no guidance for someone who has been arrested on drug charges, only if they were to die.”

He said Haiti’s elections body, the Provisional Electoral Council, would have to tell the Senate what the legal options are: “We don’t know yet what to do.”

Lemoine Bonneau, a journalist who has published a book on the Haitian parliament, said the law already offers some guidance. After establishing that Philippe has failed to show up in chambers, the Senate can request a new election to replace him and finish his six-year term, Bonneau said.

A member of the electoral council said it’s too early to decide what should happen to Philippe’s seat. The former cop faces up to life in prison in the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking and money laundering. He was ordered held without bond last week during an appearance in U.S. federal court in Miami. His arraignment is scheduled for Friday.

In the case of the other missing senator, what happens next is a lot foggier.

In late December, elections officials referred Gelin’s case to a commission to look into allegations that the newly elected senator had been sentenced to 90 days in U.S.federal prison and three years of probation.

Gelin’s detractors have circulated court records showing a conviction for aWilfred Gelin, and a Florida driver’s license bearing the Haitian politician’s likeness. The license is registered to a Wilfred Gelin, of Pembroke Pines, and a driving history shows him to be a U.S. citizen. If Gelin is indeed a U.S. citizen, that alone would disqualify him to hold public office in Haiti, which does not recognize dual nationality. Haiti’s electoral law also prevents individuals convicted of a crime to run for office, though some argue that a U.S. conviction doesn’t apply.

Gelin has dismissed the allegations, and supporters in the Central Plateau, who voted for him to represent the region, have protested the elections-body decision.

As lawmakers from both chambers gathered Monday, however, the question on the parliament floor wasn’t what to do about Philippe’s or Gelin’s seats. Instead, the focus was on Philippe’s arrest, and how it was possible for a Haitian citizen to “to be deported to the United States.”

One deputy in the 119-member Lower Chamber even likened Philippe’s arrest to the famous anti-Nazi poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller, “First They Came for the Socialists.” Others tried unsuccessfully to delay the opening of parliament by requesting a closed-door meeting to discuss Philippe’s arrest.

They said that Interim President Jocelerme Privert and Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles owed them an explanation.

“We were not well-informed…

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