Political wrangling, a pause in Kenyan deployment complicate path out of Haiti’s crisis

Relatives of police officer Luciana Pierre mourn during her memorial in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. According to the family, Pierre was killed in an attack by armed gangs the previous week and her body has not been recovered. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph) Odelyn Joseph AP

 

By Jacqueline Charles & Michael Wilner, The Miami Herald, March 13, 2024

A day after an international coalition tasked a group of prominent Haitians with putting together a transitional presidential council that would create a functioning government for the gang-ridden nation, bickering among the Haitian leaders threatened to derail the political transition deal.

On Monday, a group of nations, led by the 15-member Caribbean Community bloc known as CARICOM and which included the United States and the United Nations, came together in Jamaica to discuss ways help a violence-torn Haiti figure out a way forward. After hearing on Zoom from Haitian leaders representing a broad section of society, the group gave the Haitians 24 hours to come up with names to form a council with seven voting members and two non-voting members serving as observers.

The council’s first task: Replace Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has announced his intentions to step down. The other key tasks: Ready the country for the arrival of a multinational security force. Prepare the way for elections.

As of late Tuesday night, no names had yet been transmitted.

Soon after agreeing to the proposal Monday evening, the Haitian leaders, who represent broad-based groups, started fighting among themselves. Among their concerns: the presidential council is too large. It is unclear who would be in charge. The composition gives some political factions more influence than others.

Gédéon Jean, who participated in the Kingston meeting as a representative of civil society, which has a role as an observer along with the interfaith community, agreed that, although not perfect, the Jamaica group’s proposal is workable. “A presidential college is not an ideal solution but it responds to a need,” said Jean, founder of the Center for Analysis and Research. But the disagreements on how to run Haiti with a more inclusive government, even before Tuesday, kept the groups from reaching an accord, he said: “We couldn’t.” Any delay carries serious risks. Powerful gangs control most of Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, and the U.S., among others, fears the country’s last remnants of a government could fall soon.

An international force to be fielded by Kenya won’t move, the country’s leadership made clear Monday, until Henry’s replacement is in position. And without any semblance of stability and security, Haiti, which doesn’t have a single elected official, cannot hold elections. The country last held general elections in 2016.

Although leaders of the seven groups did not make public announcements Tuesday about the infighting, sources involved in the discussions over names and others following the developments told the Miami Herald there were serious disagreements, especially among those aligned with civic groups who believed there was an over representation of political parties on the council.

Divisions were also reported among the supporters of a December 21, 2022, agreement who had backed Henry. Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, March.12, 2024. Kenya agreed in October to lead a U.N.-authorized international police force to Haiti, but the Kenyan High Court in January ruled the plan unconstitutional, in part because of a lack of reciprocal agreements between the two countries.

In a statement, former army colonel Himmler Rebu, who participated in an initial meeting in Jamaica nine months earlier over finding a way out of the crisis, said his party, the Grand Rally for the Evolution of Haiti, GREH, is ashamed and angry over “the negotiations for the search for positions of power,” which ignore the gang-plagued crisis confronting Haiti.

GREH is in the Collective of political parties of January 30 that’s among the seven voting members. Rebu suggested Haiti return to the model it used in 2004, when it found itself in another transition: pluck a judge from the Supreme Court to preside as president, Rebu said, adding his party “declares that it does not support any of the approaches dealing with presidential college.”

His party is part of the Collective of political parties The seven voting groups tasked with naming the presidential panel represent a cross-section of Haitian society, including political parties, civil leaders and the business community.

They are:

▪ Collective of political parties of January 30, an alliance of political parties that includes former Sen. Edgard LeBlanc Fils, former presidential candidate and journalist Clarens Renois, and Liné Balthazar, leader of Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale, PHTK, the party of former President Michel Martelly.

▪ December 21 Agreement, a coalition of 35 political parties, civic organizations, women’s and young people’s groups as well as churches and business leaders. They got their name after backing a Dec. 21, 2022, political accord that consolidated Henry’s grip on power. Some of its most notable personalities include former Sen. Edmonde Supplice Beauzile, head of Fusion Social Democrats politcal party and opposition leader and lawyer Andre Michel.

▪ EDE/RED/Compromis Historique, a coalition led by Claude Joseph, who served as foreign minister and prime minister in the government of former President Jovenel Moïse. Joseph is the founder of Engagés pour le développement — Creole for the party Committed to Development. Also in the alliance is former Chamber of Deputies member Antoine Rodon Bien-Aimé, founder of Compromis Historique. The alliance is often referred to as the Jovenelists, an ode to the supporters of the late president, who was assassinated in the middle of the night on July 7, 2021.

▪ Fanmi Lavalas, the political party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Fanmi Lavalas along with the party En Avant, founded by former lawmaker Jerry Tardieu, helped authored a March 9 proposal for moving Haiti forward that was sent to CARICOM, and helped influenced the final plan.

▪ Montana Accord, named after an Aug. 30, 2021, agreement signed at the Montana Hotel in Petionvillle, the wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince. Led by the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, the group is a coalition of political parties, civic organizations and the private sector that has found support among Haitians abroad, the U.S. Congress and Canada’s parliament. The group waged a campaign to lead a transition in Haiti and had named Fritz Alphonse Jean, the former governor of the country’s central bank, as president, and former Sen. Steven Benoit as prime minister.

▪ Pitit Desalin, the party of former senator and presidential candidate Jean-Charles Moïse, who is also known as Moïse Jean-Charles. The one-time lawmaker, who served as mayor of the northern town of Milot, recently joined an alliance with a former rebel leader, Guy Philippe, and has backed a three-person presidential transition council with Philippe as a member. Several sources say they are getting indications the party may not participate in the council, leaving a seat up for grab.

▪ The private sector, which includes various business associations and chambers. However, in a press release on Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti said while it remains “hopeful for a rapid and peaceful resolution” to the crisis, as the representative body of the country’s influential business community it had “not been contacted by the actors involved in the search for a solution.”

In Haitian political circles on Tuesday, some critics were calling the transitional plan “totally ungovernable.” The rules for membership on the presidential panel exclude anyone with a criminal conviction. One-time coup leader Guy Philippe, who served more than six years in a U.S. federal prison on drug-trafficking conviction, wasted no time in publicly accusing the Caribbean Community and other countries of destroying Haiti.

“They destroyed all of the structures we could have put in place to help our people and they took total control of all that is being decided in Haiti,” Philippe said. “Their only objective is to drop Haiti in a hole.”

Haitians, he said, cannot accept what the group of nations that met in Jamaica has proposed. 

One of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, who had warned civil war if Henry did not resign, dismissed the Jamaica proposal as well.

Despite their objections, the capital was relatively calm on Tuesday, although the night before there were reports of looting at businesses not far from the U.S. embassy in Tabarre.

THE CRITERIA

Each group must submit a name to members of the 15-member Caribbean Community and each person selected must meet certain criteria, that include: the person cannot run in the next election, cannot be under U.N. sanctions and must support the multinational security support mission to Haiti. The criteria does not ban people who have been sanctioned by the U.S., Canada or another country.

Paul Namphy, an activist in Miami, said the criteria do not go far enough. Even with the disqualification of those with convictions or indictments, Namphy, head of the activist arm of Miami-based Family Action Network Movement, said, “There are a lot of the actors who are able to be part of this council who have connections to the gangs.”

In a statement, the organization said that parties “are now obliged to negotiate for power-sharing and an emergency solution while a gun is pointed at the head of the Haitian people.”’ Caribbean leaders said they considered various proposals from the Haitian groups before settling on the presidential panel of seven members plus two non-voting observers. “You can’t have absolute purity and politics doesn’t come to an end with the transitional presidential council,”

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told the Miami Herald. “It’s a body to provide some framework for governance.” Gonsalves was among the Caribbean leaders who flew to Kingston for the meetings. He said he hopes that Haitians understand what is at stake: The potential rise of a dictator and a society where “everybody who’s squabbling now will be behind closed doors or in jail. T

hey must be mature and they must learn how to think carefully politically and comprise.” A senior State Department official praised the Jamaica negotiations, saying 39 Haitians had been part of conversations in the days leading up to the Kingston meeting. “I think this is an incredibly important milestone in broadening Haitian governance, and addressing the concerns of the Haitian people going forward,” he said.

In his briefing with reporters at the White House on Monday, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, would not predict success for the new political effort. “What we are driving toward is a transitional council that can pave the way to elections and the restoration of calm on the streets of Haiti, and then a new government that can come in alongside this multinational security support mission, enable security, and then build from there. That is what we are driving towards,” he said.

“Can I confidently predict that will happen?” he added. “I cannot.”

 

Posted March 20, 2024