WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday stepped up pressure on Haiti to resolve its disputed presidential election, with a top U.S. diplomat suggesting that the country risks losing international support without a credible fix to its political crisis.
The call comes as some observers suggest this week's re-emergence of one-time despot Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier is clouding efforts to find a solution.
Duvalier's reason for returning to Haiti remains a mystery. Duvalier Thursday left the posh hotel he was living in for an undisclosed location. He remains in Haiti, where he's facing embezzlement, corruption and human rights abuse charges. The expired diplomatic passport he used to travel to Haiti after 25 years in exile has been seized by Haitian immigration authorities.
A number of human rights groups in Haiti called Thursday for his immediate detention, saying he "must indeed face justice for the numerous crimes that qualify as crimes against humanity."
In New York, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on Haiti to "outline a very clear way forward that will lead promptly to the inauguration of a legitimate and democratically elected government."
"Sustained support from the international community, including the United States, will require a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes," Rice told a U.N. Security Council briefing on Haiti.
The U.S. is urging Haiti to accept the findings of an Organization of American States report that said the Nov. 28 election was flawed, Rice said. Preliminary election results had government-backed candidate Jude Celestine headed into a runoff with former first lady Mirlande Manigat. But according to the OAS report, the runoff should be between Manigat and musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told McClatchy that Haiti is complying.
"We are following exactly the recommendations of the OAS mission," he said, adding that he doesn't "understand the pressure, unless somebody wants us to impose a specific result."
The Haitian government has disputed the OAS's findings as flawed, and Haitian electoral officials have said they're not bound by the OAS recommendation to drop the ruling party's candidate. The council has said it will publish final election results on Jan. 31.
The election process has been a point of contention between the Haitian government and some foreign diplomats who want to see the government immediately adopt the OAS recommendations. Some have questioned Washington's growing impatience, noting that electoral officials only received the OAS report this week.
The OAS has said privately and in public that Haiti should follow its electoral process. And the OAS report notes that the only way a change in candidates can take place is through the dispute phase. A second team of OAS experts is expected to arrive in Haiti this weekend to observe the dispute.
Regarding Duvalier, Rice noted that the U.S. is concerned about the "unpredictable impact" that his sudden return could have on Haiti's political situation.
The U.S. "is clear about Duvalier's notorious record of human rights abuses and corruption," she said. "It is now up to Haitians to decide what to do. The situation on the ground is obviously fluid, but the government of Haiti seems to be taking initial steps to hold Duvalier accountable for his actions during his time ruling Haiti."
Rice's push to accept the OAS findings — the hardest stance yet taken by the Obama administration — comes as members of Congress increasingly express worry about Haiti, which was already grappling with a grindingly slow post-earthquake reconstruction effort, a cholera outbreak and chaos over the election when Duvalier arrived Sunday on an Air France flight.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., is said to be following events "very closely," spokesman Frederick Jones said, and is "deeply concerned that Duvalier's return will aggravate the already serious tensions, particularly at the moment that the electoral council reportedly has rejected the OAS's proposed solution to the impasse over who will be in the runoff."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Thursday that she hopes for a briefing with State Department officials next week. She called the administration's response to Duvalier's return "quiet and muted," but she said she recognizes that "the U.S. can't impose our will on a government that has freely elected its leaders."
(Clark reported from Washington. Charles, of the Miami Herald, reported from Port-au-Prince.)
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