Haiti presidential council reverses decision on a prime minister, but crisis continues

Members of Haiti’s new transitional presidential council United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, May 2, 2024

A majority bloc within Haiti’s newly installed presidential council is doing an about-face on its selection of the country’s next prime minister, saying it will return to the original political agreement to choose the leader of the transitional government from a pool of applicants.

In a press statement issued late Wednesday, the newly emerged political alliance, which is calling itself “The Indissoluble Majority Bloc,” said its four members have resolved to return to the April 3 political agreement that expresses a common vision of the transition to a new government among the nine sectors and political parties that make up the transitional presidential council.

The accord outlines a roadmap for the transition and the governance of the nine-member council tasked with restoring security and staging general elections by Feb. 7, 2026. It also explains how the seven members with voting rights are to go about choosing a president to coordinate their affairs, select a new prime minister and form a new cabinet.

In a surprising and controversial move on Tuesday, four of the voting members decided to forgo a public vote on the presidency of the council. They said they had, instead, decided among themselves that former Sen. Edgard Leblanc Fils would serve in the role. They also said they had reached an agreement to designate Fritz Bélizaire, a former minister of youth and sports, as the next prime minister. Hours later, a document was leaked showing the names of the council’s four members who had signed onto the nomination: Smith Augustin, Louis Gérald Gilles, Emmanuel Vertilaire and Leblanc.

Bélizaire’s nomination immediately plunged the council into its first crisis and threatened its implosion. Members of the majority bloc, who represent sectors close to former President Michel Martelly’s Haitian Tèt Kale Parti, or PHTK, were accused of having already distributed key government ministries such as finance, interior and justice, and engaging in the kind of political horse-trading that has created political instability in the past.

“Unfortunately, the charade that took place on April 30, 2024 at the Presidential Council is a conspiracy aimed at guaranteeing power to PHTK and their allies during the transition period and thus perpetuating the tradition of corruption,” the political party Fanmi Lavalas said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the Montana Accord, a coalition of civil society groups whose representative on the council is among those with a vote, said that the four voting members had plotted against the population in the middle of the night.

“The political and economic mafia forces have decided to take control of the presidential council and the government so that they can continue to control the state,” the Montana group said.

The representatives of Fanmi Lavalas, the Montana Accord and the private sector currently make up the minority bloc of the council. They were engaged in separate discussions with Leblanc, an engineer and former president of the Haitian Senate, to take charge of the council through a rotating presidency divided among four members.

Under their political agreement, members of the transitional presidential council are encouraged to find consensus. But should they not be able to, it was also decided that a vote would take place and 4-3 would constitute a majority. The battle for the presidency wasn’t just a fight to name a coordinator but to also gain leverage over who should be the next prime minister, and which groups should control which ministries in the transition.

With the exception of the Organization of American States, which congratulated Leblanc but publicly raised concerns about Bélizaire’s designation, foreign governments have been silent. The 15-member regional Caribbean Community bloc known as CARICOM, however, which helped brokered the March 11 deal establishing the transition after forcing Prime MInister Ariel Henry to resign, called on council members to participate in a 4:30 p.m. Thursday over video conference to see where matters stand.

The three members in the minority, however, did not make the call, hosted by Guyana President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, who is also the current chairman of CARICOM, several sources said. Before sitting with CARICOM, minority bloc members wanted to reach a consensus among themselves to propose a new voting majority of five out of seven votes, rather than 4-3, on major decisions going forward.

CARICOM, the United States, Canada and France, have long called on Haiti’s political and civic leaders to find a broad consensus to help dig the country out from a crisis that has led to the suspension of international flights and cargo into Port-au-Prince since the first week in March. That’s when gangs began targeting the airport, seaport and other key infrastructure.

Two months into the ongoing insurgency, Haiti’s capital remains paralyzed by violence, while eight regions of the country were hit with landslides and flood warnings due to heavy rains that began on Wednesday and were triggering mudslides in the north of the country on Thursday. Gang members have also launched fresh attacks against Solino, a strategic neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that has been under the threat of a gang takeover since March. As homes were set ablaze late Wednesday, residents were forced to flee under the hail of bullets, adding to the 90,000-plus people already displaced by the recent wave of violence.

VITRIOL OVER HAITIAN RADIO

Despite the reversal on the choice of Bélizaire for prime minister, there is no indication that his nomination will eventually be dropped by the controlling majority. If anything, signs on Thursday pointed to the continued fracturing of the council as former prime minister and foreign minister Claude Joseph publicly accused the minority members of the panel and their supporters of engaging in racism and discrimination against his majority bloc.

Joseph said the three sectors now in the minority were involved with a powerful member of Haiti’s private sector to gain the majority on the council with Leblanc.

Joseph is one of the architects of the political alliance known as BMI along with former Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, who leads the Pitit Desalin party. Both have voting members on the council.

“When it was their majority it was good. But ours isn’t good,” Joseph said during an appearance on Radio Caraibes Thursday morning.

Singling out the private sector, Joseph continued. “The approach of this group…is not just anti-democratic but it’s an approach that is racist and discriminatory.”

He said that those with money in Haiti, the country’s economic elite, believe they are the only ones who are supposed to have the right and final word on everything.

A member of the private sector rejected Joseph’s accusation. Those involved in the talks from the sector were not trying to buy a consensus but were trying to build one among the council members while also trying to stop the council from imploding. He also criticized Joseph’s majority bloc accord as “an all-or-nothing” agreement that makes no sense.

As Joseph was speaking, Fritz Jean, the representative of the Montana Accord on the council, was appearing on another radio station, Magik 9. Jean took a much softer tone. He later told the Miami Herald that going forward, communication will be crucial to saving the transition.

“We must convey to the populace our strong disapproval of the current actions. It’s imperative that the population understand the council’s composition, comprising sectors from diverse backgrounds, each offering unique perspectives on the necessary changes in the country,” Jean said.

He called the endeavor a clash of two projects: one decaying and responsible for the current chaos, yet stubbornly refusing to fade, and the other, nascent but promising, still in its infancy.

“It’s vital that this message is crystal clear, emphasizing the urgency of embracing the emerging path for a better future,” Jean said.

During his radio interview, Jean said that one underlining problem is that some individuals view the new position of president as a traditional presidency when it is not. The president’s vote carries the same weight as the other six members, he said, and the president’s key role is to sign agreements, meeting with foreign leaders and carry out the majority’s decisions.

Jean, who was among four council members seeking the presidency, said he has no issue with Leblanc and the aborted vote. But the prime minister’s selection and the deal that sealed it, is another matter. “We cannot have something closed where four people are going to take decisions on behalf of nine people,” Jean said.

“What’s happened here needs to be revised so that we can work.” “We are in a situation of crisis, where the institutions have been destroyed. We cannot be in a situation where posts have already been distributed,” he added.

He also issued a warning to his fellow council members, saying the minority will not simply be a rubber stamp for an unbreakable majority.

 

Posted May 5, 2024