Haiti’s new envoy to the United States has hired a former US adviser to ex-President Michel Martelly for lobbying and public relations help ahead of crucial elections next year.
The year-long contract with Damian Merlo and his Miami-based Latin America Advisory Group is for $8,000 per month. It was signed Nov. 17 by Ambassador Bocchit Edmond, whose appointment was announced earlier this month.
The scope of work includes outreach to US policymakers in the legislative and executive branch and the identification of “champions in Congress to highlight progress in Haiti and help with various initiatives.” Merlo is also tasked with handling international media relations and outreach to think-tanks.
“I am helping the new ambassador with some [communications] and meetings in Washington,” Merlo told Foreign Lobby Report. “They have a constitutional referendum coming up next year as well as presidential, legislative and local elections and I will be helping with [communications] for those events.”
Merlo previously managed Martelly’s 2011 presidential campaign while working for Spanish campaign strategist Antonio Sola‘s Ostos & Sola. He then served as Martelly’s adviser through 2014.
The contract comes as current President Jovenel Moise has been ruling by decree since the beginning of the year after Haiti failed to hold legislative elections scheduled for October 2019. The delay has created tensions with the United States, the largest international aid donor to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
“It is critical that Haiti schedule its overdue legislative elections, form an inclusive [electoral council] and strengthen rule of law and support for human rights,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet after meeting with Moise in August. “These are key elements of the democratic process.”
Congress has also put the country on notice. Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Western Hemisphere, held a hearing in December 2019 declaring the country to be “on the brink” after the electoral delay.
“This hearing is also about assessing US policy and foreign assistance programs,” Sires said at the time. “We need to think critically about how we can better support the Haitian people.”
In one of his first actions in his new role, Edmond reassured the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak about the country’s intent to hold elections next year.
Merlo’s Latin America Advisory Group joins two other teams working for the Haitian government.
Mercury Public Affairs has had a contract with its parent company Mercury International UK to represent the office of President Moise since 2018. And Johanna Leblanc, a former vice-chair of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s Commission on African Affairs, has served as a adviser to the Haitian government since March 2019.