HAITI has postponed a contentious vote on a new constitution after widespread pressure from the country’s Roman Catholic bishops and others.
The referendum had been due to take place on 27 June, and would have enhanced the powers of the President, Jovenel Moïse.
The bishops and opposition politicians had urged a delay in any vote because of the Covid-19 crisis and a continuing spiral of violence from armed gangs.
In their message, the bishops said that “in these difficult times in our history as a people, we hear the cries of our brothers and sisters, cries provoked by such terrible evils as the multiplication of heavily armed gangs that make the law and impose their diktats; violence in all its forms; kidnappings [News, 7 May]; insecurity that prevents free movement on the national territory; criminality; impunity; political instability; the deterioration of state structures; the high cost of living; the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The RC Bishops’ Conference of Haiti called on politicians of all parties to “avoid placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people that will have the consequence of slowing down or even blocking its path to full development”.
Reforming the constitution was not possible “in the midst of a political crisis in which it is difficult to reach an agreement”, and “persevering on this point will plunge the country into an even more serious crisis”, they warned.
A government minister announced on Monday that the referendum on the constitution had been postponed and no new date had yet been set.
Presidential elections have been scheduled for September. President Moïse has been ruling by decree for the past year, amid suggestions that his presidential term of office ran out this February. He says that he has another year to run. The disagreement stems from a disputed and inconclusive election in 2015, which was followed by a further election a year later.
The country is also experiencing a fresh wave of gang violence and a surge in kidnappings for ransom.
Ten RC clergy were kidnapped in April, and a gang demanded a $1-million (£722,000) ransom. They were released a few days later. The RC Church has described the situation in the country as “a descent into hell”.