Image: OAS

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – A mission from the Organization of American States has arrived in Haiti amid concerns over what it called the country´s grave political, security and human rights situation.

The OAS said the three-day trip is aimed at securing free and fair elections scheduled for September and November as President Jovenel Moïse continues to rule by decree for more than a year.

The trip comes amid a sharp increase in coronavirus cases across Haiti and a resurgence in gang violence in the capital of Port-au-Prince that recently displaced hundreds of families, some of whom are living in public parks and outdoor sports fields.

Moïse said that he met with the mission and that their discussions centered on Haiti´s security and health situation.

“My administration has reaffirmed its commitment to frank dialogue that should lead to the organization of democratic elections,” he wrote.

The mission said it also planned to meet with civil society and opposition leaders, but some of those plans were rebuffed.

Customers wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, talk with a vendor in a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

Customers wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, talk with a vendor in a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

André Michel, one of Haiti´s top opposition leaders, issued a nine-page document criticizing Moïse and his administration as well as the OAS. He asked why the regional group has not demanded that the president hold long-delayed legislative elections or condemned him for Haiti’s violence.

“Its catastrophic governance, built on corruption and the systematic violation of human rights, has raised drastic discontent among the Haitian population,” Michel said.

The mission arrived just a day after Haitian officials announced that they were postponing, for a second time, a constitutional referendum that has been sharply criticized and spurred violent protests.

Haiti´s Citizen Protection Office decried the recent violence in a statement Sunday in which it called upon the government to protect the lives and property of people as it warned that gangs are growing stronger.

It noted that at least 10 killings have been reported in one community in recent days, including one police officer, with gangs attacking ambulances and setting homes and small businesses on fire.

“All this is happening under the eyes and silence of authorities,” it said. “The country´s security forces are on their knees.”

A hospital emplyee wearing protective gear as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, transports oxygen tanks, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

A hospital emplyee wearing protective gear as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, transports oxygen tanks, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

Customers wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, walk through a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

Customers wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, walk through a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, June 5, 2021. Haiti defied predictions and perplexed health officials by avoiding a COVID-19 crisis for more than a year, but the country of more than 11 million people that has not received a single vaccine is now battling a spike in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)


Constitutional  Referendum Postponed

The OAS mission comes after Haiti on Monday postponed a constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but did not give a new date for the vote in the latest twist in its political crisis.

President Jovenel Moise has been ruling Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, by decree after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed and following disputes on about when his own term ends.

In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections in September, Moise had wanted to submit a new draft of the island nation’s constitution to a popular vote on June 27.

Last month, he had vowed to go ahead despite international criticism that the process is not “inclusive, participatory or transparent” enough in a country plagued by political insecurity and criminal gangs.