Politico

Haitian opposition leader hired D.C. lobbyist two days before president's assassination


Haitian opposition leader Pierre Reginald Boulos has hired a lobbyist as part of an effort to build support for his political party and encourage President Joe Biden to support an interim Haitian government.

Art Estopinan, a former chief of staff to former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a onetime chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, registered on Thursday as a foreign agent working for Boulos.

Boulos hired Estopinan on Monday, Estopinan said, two days before Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, further destabilizing the impoverished Caribbean country, which has faced deepening political turmoil in recent months.

Boulos and his MTVAyiti party had been critical of Moïse for staying on as president past Feb. 7, which they argue was the end of his term. But Boulos has said the opposition had no role in his killing. “We condemn the killing strongly, very strongly,” he said in an interview. “It’s a sad time for Haiti. It’s a dark day for Haiti.”

Boulos, a wealthy businessman, said he hired Estopian to represent him in Washington “to give me access to the U.S. administration so I can promote my vision of the new Haiti.”

One of Estopinan’s first tasks will be encouraging the Biden administration to support what Boulos described as a newly signed agreement to create an interim Haitian government in which Joseph Lambert, the president of the Haitian Senate, would serve as provisional president. Boulos shared a copy of the signed agreement with POLITICO via WhatsApp.

The agreement backs Ariel Henry as prime minister over Claude Joseph, the current interim prime minister. Moïse appointed Henry as prime minister two days before he was assassinated, and both he and Joseph have claimed the office.

Boulos plans to urge Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support the plan, which he said would delay national elections scheduled for September until next year, with a new president taking office on Feb. 7, 2023.

Boulos himself has been considered a potential presidential candidate. But he warned against holding elections in only two months.

“It will be a massive failure and will lead to more instability,” he said.

Estopinan plans to lobby lawmakers, including members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Haiti Caucus, as well as the Biden administration. But he hasn’t started lobbying yet due to Moïse’s killing, which he compared to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

“He wants me to help him in Washington to promote a vision of his political party, which is to empower women, farmers, youth and the Haitian-American diaspora,” Estopinan said.

Boulos also plans to lobby the Biden administration for Covid vaccination aid and financial assistance for the Haitian government.

Estopinan has represented Boulos before.

He started lobbying Congress on Boulos’ behalf on human rights issues in 2019 but deregistered in May, according to domestic lobbying disclosure filings. He’s now registered to lobby for Boulos under the more stringent requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, under which lobbyists representing foreign governments and political parties must register.

Estopinan is now part of a team of advisers working for Boulos in the U.S. It includes Novitas Communications, which is handling public relations for Boulos, and the consultant Joe Miklosi, who’s heading up fundraising for Boulos in the U.S., according to Krista Crouch, a vice president at Novitas. Miklosi, a former Colorado state representative, organized a fundraiser for Boulos in Miami last month that Boulos himself headlined.

Estopinan, a Republican, has foreign lobbying experience. He previously represented the governments of Qatar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a partner at Avenue Strategies, the now-defunct lobbying firm started by Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett after the 2016 election.

He’s looking to hire a Democratic lobbyist — perhaps a former aide to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chair — to help with outreach to Democrats, he said.

While Boulos helped elect Moïse in 2016, he later had what he described as “a big fallout with him” and became one of his leading critics.

Nineteen people, including two Americans, have been arrested in connection with Moïse’s assassination, but it’s still unclear who was ultimately behind it.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Friday that the United States is sending senior law enforcement officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to help the Haitian government stabilize the situation there. The New York Times reported Friday that Haiti’s leaders have also requested the U.S. send troops to protect the country’s main airport, port and other critical infrastructure.

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