Transitional Presidential Council Is Sworn in, a President Is Selected, but Disagreements Ensue

By Jake Johnston & Chris Francois, Center for Economic & Policy Research (CEPR), May 8, 2024

After weeks of waiting, the transitional presidential council (TPC) was sworn in on April 25 at the National Palace. De facto prime minister Ariel Henry’s official resignation letter, signed from Los Angeles, California, was made public immediately after. Former minister of finance Michel Patrick Boisvert, who had been serving as head of government in Henry’s absence for the last two months, was named interim prime minister pending the council’s formation of a new government. For more details on the parties represented on the transitional council and its members, see this explainer by Le Nouvelliste and this previous CEPR post.

As a first step toward forming a new government, the group selected one of its seven voting members as TPC president last week. On paper, the role of president is supposed to be like a coordinator, with no additional powers than the rest of the council. Nonetheless, there were four candidates for the post and days of intense backroom negotiations ahead of the selection. On April 30, it was announced that Edgard Leblanc Fils had secured the support of four voting members and been named the TPC’s president. Controversially, however, in his initial remarks, Fils announced that the same four TPC members had also chosen a prime minister: a former minister of youth and sports, Fritz Bélizaire, who is close to Moïse Jean Charles.

Representatives Smith Augustin, Louis Gerard Gilles, and Leblanc — of coalitions from the Moïse, Henry, and Martelly administrations respectively — joined with the Pitit Dessalines party to form an “Indissoluble Majority Bloc” within the council. According to a document signed by the four council members, they agreed to reach consensus positions within their bloc “or failing that, by a majority of three out of four.” In effect, the group formed a council within the council that would appear to permanently remove the three minority representatives from participating in the decision-making process.

Though most TPC members seem to have accepted the appointment of Leblanc as president, the three minority representatives rejected the choice of prime minister, with Leslie Voltaire from Fanmi Lavalas arguing that Bélizaire’s nomination violated the council members’ April 3 agreement outlining the selection process for the prime minister. Lavalas also criticized the decision in a press release: “Unfortunately, the farce that took place on April 30, 2024 within the presidential council is a conspiracy aiming to secure power for the PHTK party and their allies during the transition period, as well as to perpetuate the tradition of corruption.”

The Monitoring Office of the Montana Accord echoed Fanmi Lavalas’s sentiments, denouncing a “conspiracy” by “mafia forces” to “take control of the presidential council and the government so that they can continue to control the state.”

Notably, the international community, which had energetically cheered on the TPC’s installation the week prior, remained silent. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS, noted Leblanc’s appointment but added, “the transparent and rule-compliant appointment of a Prime Minister, as well as the rapid formation of a new government, are vital for the stability of the country.”

On May 1, the majority bloc released a statement reversing its prime ministerial appointment and pledging to follow the agreed-upon procedures, the Miami Herald reported. However, the paper added, “there is no indication that his nomination would eventually be dropped by the controlling majority.” On May 2, CARICOM leaders met with the TPC for the first time. Lavalas, Montana, and the private sector did not participate in the meeting.

The crisis within the council, in the first week of its formal existence, threatens to undermine what little credibility it had to begin with. Critics, who have referred to the TPC as a “seven (or nine) headed serpent,” alleged it would quickly degenerate into politics as usual as the same forces that have governed the country for the last 15 years work to again divvy up the spoils of the state. In a May 3 interview with Radio Magik 9, Gilles, one of the majority bloc members, revealed that his group had already distributed ministries among its political coalitions.

On May 7, however, the council members reportedly reached an agreement to resolve the conflict, raising the voting threshold from a simple majority to a qualified majority of five out of seven. They also agreed that the head of the council would rotate among four different representatives, with each serving in the position for five months. Leblanc will serve first, followed by Fritz Jean from the Montana Accord, Voltaire, and then Gilles.

Without any real constitutional or popular legitimacy, the only hope council members have is convincing an overwhelmingly skeptical population that they can put their differences aside and govern effectively.

 

New Date Expected for Arrival of the Multinational Security Support Mission

After putting deployment on hold pending installation of a new government, the United States and Kenya “plan to have the first troops in Haiti by the time President Ruto arrives in Washington, DC for his May 23 state visit,” according to CEPR Senior Research Associate Jake Johnston. POLITICO confirmed the information, noting that the US-constructed base for the MSS had yet to be completed.

That is not the only barrier, however. The mission is expected to cost between $250 and $600 million, but thus far the UN-managed fund for the mission has received just $18 million, including $8.7 million from Canada, $6 million from the United States, and $3.2 million from France. On May 4, POLITICO reported that the Biden administration was providing up to $60 million in equipment for countries contributing to the MSS and to the Haitian police. “The package, the second the U.S. has approved for the Haiti crisis this year, includes mostly small arms but also some armored vehicles. The notification lists at least 80 Humvees, 35 MaxxPro infantry carriers, sniper rifles, riot control gear, firearms, ammunition and surveillance drones,” POLITICO reported.

Recruitment for the mission is progressing, as the UN Spokesperson’s Office recently announced that the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad, Jamaica, and Kenya had officially notified Secretary-General António Guterres that they intend to provide personnel. According to the spokesperson, other countries are interested but have not yet made their commitment official. Recently the Canadian Armed Forces wrapped up training for soldiers from the Bahamas, Belize, and Jamaica. Bahamian foreign minister Keith Mitchell told a local news outlet that Kenya would begin deploying troops on May 26.

“I don’t think personnel is going to be our problem. I think resources, financial resources are going to be our problem,” Todd Robinson, director of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told the Miami Herald. Robinson said the deployment “will happen sometime around” Ruto’s visit, and noted that civilian contractors had arrived in Port-au-Prince to work on the base construction.

“We don’t want to send them into a situation where they’re not securely housed and have a place to sleep, plan and do all of that,” he told the paper.

A key first step will be opening the international airport in Port-au-Prince, which has been closed since early March. In recent weeks, at least seven US military planes were able to land, bringing humanitarian relief supplies, equipment for the local police, and contractors working on the MSS. The pace of such flights has been increasing, with three landing on May 7 alone. The Miami Herald previously reported that American Airlines had expected to resume service on May 9, but has now pushed that date back a week. JetBlue, which also flies to Port-au-Prince, said it tentatively plans to resume service on May 15. One condition for resuming flights, the destruction of some homes surrounding the airport, was recently met, with over 180 homes destroyed.

Though many officers welcome international support, some have raised concerns about the resources available to foreign police. “It’s quite frustrating to hear that they are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a multinational mission, while the Haitian police officer receives a few hundred dollars,” an officer told Ayibopost.

The outgoing government has also made changes to police officers’ benefits and has created new ones for members of the military in an attempt to bolster morale in the beleaguered security forces. In a special decree published in Le Moniteur, the government’s official publication, 36 months of salary will be granted as severance to police officers after they retire, and military service members who suffer a major accident or die during the course of their duties will receive various allowances, determined by rank.

The members of the TPC agreed to support the MSS as a precondition of their participation in the new governing structure. On May 7, the council wrote to Kenyan president Ruto, noting that they had “taken charge of the file” relating to the MSS. Still, some have questioned the international community’s strategy. “We don’t need the Kenyans, we need support for our police, like equipment, additional training,” council member Leslie Voltaire told the Wall Street Journal. “We can handle it, provided we get the aid from the international community to back us up.”

The police have had a number of successes in recent weeks, belying the impression that they lack capacity. The TPC was able to be sworn in at the National Palace, despite the intense fighting there in recent weeks. Police were also able to secure the airport perimeter, and last week successfully reopened the Varreux fuel terminal after a two-week closure.

In an Al Jazeera op-ed, Doudou Pierre Festile and Micherline Islanda Aduel, two Haitian peasant leaders associated with La Via Campesina, argue against another foreign intervention and raise concerns with the TPC, noting: “civil society, rural communities and grassroots political movements find themselves sidelined in the current transition plan, with just one seat in the presidential council” posing “a serious threat to the credibility of the interim administration.”

“The plight of the Haitian people cannot be ignored or trivialised. It necessitates immediate and concerted action, but the answer is not another foreign intervention. Western powers ought to honour Haitian sovereignty and endorse local solutions instead of imposing their own preferences. The will of the people who are bearing the brunt of this catastrophe must be upheld,” Festile and Islanda Aduel conclude.

 

Armed Group Leaders Push for Negotiations, Amnesty as Attacks Continue

When disparate armed groups announced they were forming the Viv Ansanm coalition in late February, their leaders pledged to cease kidnappings, urged displaced residents to return to their homes, and apologized for past abuses. With the suspension of territorial fights, residents of certain neighborhoods even experienced a slight reprieve from years of violence. “We want the civilian population to know that we are not in a fight against them,” Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, a former police officer and self-described spokesperson for Viv Ansanm, said in early March.

But a little more than two months later, violent attacks have increased and the leaders’ rhetoric has again shifted, suggesting the population has been unconvinced by the talk of “revolution.” Neighborhoods in lower Delmas, for example, which are under Cherizier’s control, have again experienced repeated incursions by armed groups over the last month following years of relative security.

In early April, Cherizier accused residents of Delmas 3 and Delmas 5 of collaborating with the police to have four of his men killed. In leaked audio from April 21, Cherizier allegedly can be heard telling an associate, “I don’t care whose house it is, burn all of the homes, set them on fire!”

In another recording, from April 27, published on Facebook, Barbecue says: “I want the Haitian people to know that everything that is being done is in the name of peace. All the bullets you see being shot are for peace. Even the people who are dying, are dying for peace. Even the homes that are burning, are burning for peace. The reason? When you want peace, you go to war.”

Though much of the media coverage has depicted the armed groups as attempting to take control of the state, there is little indication this is the case — if it ever was their goal. Rather, Cherizier has repeatedly stated his desire to participate in negotiations with the government. “It’s either we’re all at the table, it’s either we’re ALL at the table, or none of us are there,” he said in late April.

Christ Roy Chery, aka “Krisla,” who has held sway in the Ti Bwa neighborhood for many years, launched a series of attacks in the Carrefour neighborhood, where schools and businesses had largely remained open. In a recording posted on April 18, Krisla said, “The same way everyone else can’t go to school, we must paralyze Carrefour so they can’t go to school either.” Seven people were killed in the assaults and multiple police stations were emptied of prisoners and supplies.

“Today, if the population knew what it was doing, it would stand with us,” Krisla said, an implicit acknowledgement that citizens have largely rejected the “revolution” led by Viv Ansanm.

In an interview with CNN, Vitel’homme Innocent, who remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, was explicit that armed groups like his were seeking amnesty, while describing the violence as “collateral damage.” Innocent, however, claimed that the coalition was working to “get rid of the oligarchs who prevent the country from progressing.”

“How can they say they are fighting for the poor, when they are using their guns to kick us out of our homes?” a resident of lower Delmas, whose house was burned, asked a journalist from Ayibopost. The local news outlet has done extensive reporting on the Viv Ansanm coalition and the contradiction between its rhetoric and its actions.

While few seem to trust the armed groups’ motivations, the question of negotiations remains.

In March, staff from the Kenyan first lady’s office traveled to the United States to meet with policymakers, security officials, business leaders, and religious organizations. Serge Musasilwa, a member of the delegation, told the press that they had also participated in a Zoom meeting with Cherizier. The delegation, Musasilwa said, is offering recommendations to the Kenyan government for the MSS’s operations.

“Among the recommendations in his report, for instance, will be that Kenya help Haiti facilitate a peace and reconciliation conference to bring as many Haitians as possible into conversations about its future—including gangs,” Christianity Today reported. The TPC has not directly addressed the issue, but in the political accord signed by all members, it called for the formation of a Truth, Justice, and Reparations commission.

In the CNN interview, Innocent said that, while wanting amnesty, “we are ready too to answer the justice system of our country, so that we can see where the worst evil was hidden.” Innocent’s testimony, as well as that of other armed group members, could be instrumental in holding accountable members of the political and economic elite who have facilitated and funded the violence.

Innocent has called in to local radio stations on multiple occasions to name prominent government officials and politicians he claims have worked with him. A former political activist and businessman, he has hosted political meetings at one of his properties in the Tabarre neighborhood. Local human rights groups have denounced his long-standing relationship with current police chief Frantz Elbe. Innocent told CNN his one regret was getting involved in politics.

Without naming names, Innocent accused politicians of directing kidnappings and facilitating the trafficking of weapons. “If you choose to block them, they’ll call us and say: ‘I have such and such a job … Fix it for us.’ And then you hear so-and-so has been kidnapped. Or so-and-so has been taken hostage,” he said.

“Let’s take a clear example. We aren’t able to travel. We aren’t able to import. We aren’t able to export. Yet there are always weapons coming in. There are always bullets. And we don’t have any representatives at the border. We don’t have any representatives at customs. Yet all these materials go through exactly these channels. How do they get to us?” he said.

Armed group leaders have also repeatedly raised the issue of police violence in their public comments, claiming that civilians in areas under the control of armed groups have been indiscriminately shot at and killed. “If you’re from Village de Dieu, you’re a dead man walking,” Cherizier said in late April. “Because if the police catches you, they will shoot you, they’ll say you’re part of Izo 5 Segond’s gang.” On May 6, residents in the Delmas 6 neighborhood took to the streets to protest against police violence, with some holding signs calling for negotiations with Viv Ansanm. The next day, an armored police vehicle opened fire on a bus transporting civilians, according to a transport union leader.

 

Colombian President Says Missing Equipment and Ammunition Could Have Been Smuggled to Haiti

At a May Day rally, Colombian president Gustavo Petro suggested that weapons and ammunition stolen from military stockpiles may have made their way to Haiti, noting the country is just seven hours by speedboat from the Colombian coast.

Petro has taken an increasing interest in Haiti. On April 18, in a joint press conference with President Lula of Brazil, Petro acknowledged that Colombia’s illicit economies had caused significant damage to Haiti and that he and Lula had discussed “a peaceful solution” to Haiti’s crises.

 

Haitian and International Civil Society Groups Call on France to Pay Reparations to Haiti

During the third session of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, a group of Haitian civil society representatives called on France to pay reparations to Haiti for the billions in “double debt” that France forced Haiti to pay in exchange for recognition of its independence. Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief, echoed the calls during his closing speech. The topic has gained greater awareness in the 20 years since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a US- and France-backed coup motivated in part by Aristide’s call for restitution. In 2022, for example, the New York Times published a series examining how Haitians had been forced to pay reparations to their former enslavers.

The France-based Foundation for the Memory of Slavery also called on French authorities to make 2025, the 200th anniversary of King Charles X’s ordinance calling on Haiti to pay the indemnity, an opportunity to take action. “As for reparations, it is time today to open this question, as urged by a global movement in which other European democracies have already engaged, such as Germany and the Netherlands,” the Foundation said in a press release on its website.

 

Posted May 18, 2024