Haitian businessman-turned-opposition figure Reginald Boulos is building a US lobbying team to garner financial support from the diaspora and political backing from the American government as he looks to replace President Jovenel Moise.
A former doctor who previously led the country’s powerful Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Boulos established his center-left MTV Ayiti party in 2019. He has called for Moise to step down and be replaced by a transitional government ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections slated for this September.
Boulos is paying former Colorado state lawmaker Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) $10,000 per month to help generate “public support” and “campaign awareness” from the million-strong Haitian diaspora in the United States, according to Miklosi’s new registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Miklosi also plans to reach out to the Joe Biden administration, Congress and the State Department to share the “urgent need for US support of a new political party in Haiti and the reforms that it will bring.”
“The four pillars of the MTV Ayiti political party include empowering women, farmers, youth, and the diaspora community,” he wrote in his filing. “Dr. Boulos is interested in building constructive partnerships with leaders in the United States government and the Haitian American diaspora community.”
The agreement was effective May 1 and lasts until November, when the second round of elections is scheduled to be held.
Miklosi served in the Colorado state house from 2009 to 2013.
From 2007 to 2015 he was the government relations director for Project CURE, a nonprofit organization that donates medical equipment to hospitals in Haiti and other developing nations. He also heads international business consulting firm Bridge Consulting.
While this is his first registration as a foreign agent, Miklosi also lobbies for an Ethiopian diaspora group that largely supports Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s response to the conflict in Tigray.
Miklosi’s filing says he is expected to work with Denver PR firm Novitas Communications as part of his engagement for Boulos (May 28 update: Novitas founder and CEO Michelle Lyng has now filed a FARA disclosure saying the firm is being paid $5,000 per month for the purpose of “supporting fundraising“). Miklosi may also soon have some extra lobbying help: Art Estopinan, the longtime chief of staff to former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), told Foreign Lobby Report that he’s considering joining the campaign.
The Estopinan Group has disclosed $120,000 in payments from Boulos since November 2019 for lobbying work bringing attention to human rights violations under President Moise to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. With Boulos now formally entering the political fray, Estopinan said he would terminate his human rights work and consider a new role.
“I’m evaluating the possibility of joining the political team,” Estopinan said. “Now that he’s looking at the possibility of running for president, there’s a new stage in his DC lobbying efforts.”
Meanwhile Allison Maria Llera of Florida registered as a foreign agent of MTV Ayiti (Movement for the Transformation and Valorization of Haiti) in the fall of 2019 to help with outreach to the Haitian diaspora in the United States but has not disclosed any lobbying activity since then.
The Haitian government has also been stepping up its lobbying.
Moise’s office has leveraged its main lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, to bat down arguments from the diaspora and their supporters in Congress that the president’s term ran out in February. The firm disclosed receiving $506,000 for its Haiti work in 2020.
Three other groups work for the Haitian government in Washington.
Damian Merlo, former US advisor to ex-President Michel Martelly, and his Miami-based Latin America Advisory Group signed a year-long $8,000 per month contract (since increased to $25,000) with Haitian Ambassador Bocchit Edmond on Nov. 17 for outreach to policymakers in the legislative and executive branch. The embassy also hired Florida law firm Patino & Associates in March for $37,000 per month. And Johanna Leblanc, a former vice-chair of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s Commission on African Affairs, has been paid $5,000 a month to serve as an adviser to the Haitian government since March 2019.
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The dueling lobbying push comes as the Biden administration, the diaspora and some members of Congress are butting heads over next steps in Haiti.
Some House Democrats with Haitian-American constituencies, including the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), have called on Moise to step down, arguing that he cannot be trusted to oversee free and fair elections. The Biden administration has so far resisted calls by Boulos and others for a political transition that it says will inevitably further delay elections that are already well past their October 2019 due date.
“The needs of the Haitian people are far too pressing for elections to be delayed further,” acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung said in a Haitian diaspora stakeholder call last week. “You do not hold elections when it’s convenient; you hold them when they are due.”
Update: This post was updated on May 28, 2021 to reflect Novitas Communications‘ work for Boulos.