Haitian president lays out terms for deal with opposition

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Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview at his home in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Moise said Friday he wanted a new constitution to stipulate that presidential proposals would automatically pass if the National Assembly did not vote them up or down within 60 days. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

PORT-AU-PRINCE – President Jovenel Moise said Friday that he is optimistic that negotiations with a coalition of his political opponents will succeed in forging a power-sharing deal to end months of deadlock that have left Haiti without a functioning government.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Moise laid out his bargaining position in the talks that began last week in the mission of the papal envoy to Haiti with political opponents and some civil society groups. He said he would accept an opposition prime minister and a shortened term in office, but only after adoption of a constitutional reform strengthening the presidency.

Moise said his efforts to improve living conditions for Haiti's 11 million people had been thwarted during his first three years in office by the constitutional requirement that the National Assembly must approve virtually all significant presidential actions.

He said he would serve only a single term in office so he would not personally benefit from the powers of a stronger presidency.

“It makes me optimistic to see my brothers and sisters from the political opposition, civil society and religious groups," he said. “I think we're at a crossroads.”

Moise is a former banana farmer who won 56% of the vote against three opponents in the 2016 election. He made some progress on rural infrastructure projects during his first two years in office. Then the end of subsidized Venezuelan oil aid to Haiti fueled chaos in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

Without the help, the economy shrank, and investigations found questionable spending of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years in aid from the Petrocaribe program run by Venezuela. Protests began over the Petrocaribe misspending and protests snowballed until Moise's opponents waged a near-total lockdown of Haiti's capital for three months last fall.

Protests were accompanied by a constant blocking of Moise's agenda in the National Assembly. A small group of opposition legislators blocked Moise proposals with tactics ranging from filibusters to throwing furniture inside the Senate chamber or calling supporters to block governing party senators access to the building.