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Haiti Ambassador Tells U.S. And Others Not To Meddle As Political Crisis Intensifies

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

From a coup in Myanmar to the jailing of a leading opposition figure in Russia, we've heard about some of the early foreign policy challenges for the Biden administration. And now there are troubles brewing closer to the U.S. There's a constitutional crisis in Haiti. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Opponents of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, say his mandate is up. He says he has another year in office because the start of his five-year term was delayed. And Haiti's ambassador to Washington, Bocchit Edmond, is standing firm.

BOCCHIT EDMOND: I don't think there should be any situation for him to leave because his term will expire in February 2022.

KELEMEN: While he says the international community could help facilitate talks, Ambassador Edmond warns against any steps to pressure Moise to leave office or to create some kind of transitional government.

EDMOND: What I will tell them - you make it, you own it.

KELEMEN: President Moise has been ruling by decree for over a year ever since the legislature was disbanded. State Department spokesperson Ned Price says the U.S. agrees that he's due to remain in power until next year, but it's also raising concerns about recent arrests of opposition figures and the dismissal of several Supreme Court judges.

NED PRICE: The Haitian government should exercise restraint in issuing decrees, only using that power to schedule legislative elections and for matters of immediate threats to life, health and safety until parliament is restored and can resume its constitutional responsibilities.

KELEMEN: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks goes further, saying the Haitian leader has lost credibility.

GREGORY MEEKS: You listen to the voices of the Haitian people, and you'll see that there are certain decisions that are hard to make sense of. But the key is the people want elections.

KELEMEN: Elections for a new parliament and a new president, Meeks says. Ambassador Edmond says Haiti's president is focusing on something else right now. He wants a referendum on a new constitution.

EDMOND: It is something that we've been discussing for the last 15 years. But Jovenel Moise, as a leader, had decided, OK, let us make it happen. I want to leave that as a legacy.

KELEMEN: Congressman Meeks warns that this will only delay elections, which he sees as the main way out of a political standoff in Haiti. And he says what happens there matters.

MEEKS: What takes place on this hemisphere, it should be extremely important to all of us. Standing for democracy and free and fair elections, you know, and human rights - those are the values that we have as Americans, and we need to make sure that we hold up those values.

KELEMEN: In the midst of all of this, the U.S. this week deported dozens of Haitians, including families with young children. Ambassador Edmond says the Biden administration has promised a 100-day moratorium on deportations. He'd like that to last longer as the country struggles with a political crisis, economic woes and COVID-19.

EDMOND: If that moratorium can be extended to more than 100 days, that will give us a little space.

KELEMEN: On that, Congressman Meeks agrees, saying he's getting in touch with Homeland Security officials to try to suspend all deportations to Haiti, a country in crisis. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE SONG, "DEBATE EXPOSES DOUBT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.