Haiti News Round-Up No. 15: Presidential Council Awaits Installation After Weeks of Delays

Haiti’s transitional presidential council is expected to be formally established as early as this week, following weeks of internal discussions and delays. On March 27, the council, which is set to replace outgoing de facto prime minister Ariel Henry, made its first public statement in which members committed themselves to naming a new prime minister with whom they would “form a government of national unity to put Haiti back on the road to democratic legitimacy, stability and dignity.”

Nevertheless, the de facto authorities refused to publish the council members’ names in Le Moniteur, the government’s official newspaper, and said it was necessary for council members to finalize a political accord in order to legitimize the council. On April 8, the council did just that, and transmitted the relevant documents to CARICOM, which has insisted on working through the outgoing Henry government. The de facto authorities, however, had continued to block the decree establishing the council. On April 12, the Miami Herald reported that it had finally been published but that the de facto authorities had made changes from the draft. “Under the decree published by his council of ministers, Henry and his government will remain in power until a new prime minister is named,” the Herald reported. The timeline for the council’s installation and the choice of a new prime minister remains unclear. 

The political accord sets a hard deadline for the presidential council’s mandate, calling for handing power to an elected government in February 2026. The accord, a copy of which was obtained by HRRW, contains five main priorities for the new transitional government:

a) public and national security; b) economic recovery, infrastructure rehabilitation, food and health security; c) the national conference and the constitutional question; d) the rule of law and justice; e) elections for the renewal of political personnel

In addition to the presidential council and the prime minister, the accord calls for the formation of a control body that would provide oversight — the Government Action Control Body or OCAG by its French acronym. The entity would be composed of 15 members, including representatives of each department.

Upon its formation, the council would establish a national dialogue process to address the question of constitutional reform and work toward “the development of a new social project for Haiti and the establishment of new relations between the State and society.” A truth, justice, and reparations committee would also be formed.

With regard to security, the accord calls for a national security council (CNS) to be responsible for defining “the modalities of cooperation with international partners with a view to improving security, in particular technical assistance to the national security forces and the judicial system.” While acceptance of the Kenyan-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission — approved by the UN Security Council in October — was a precondition for participation in the council, the accord empowers the CNS to “define” and “supervise” any international security assistance.

In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, council member Leslie Voltaire said:

I always thought that the Multinational Mission was not a good idea and that we had to work bilaterally with all the countries to assist the PNH [Haitian National Police]. I continue to advocate for the enhancement of the careers of police officers, to increase their salaries, to carry out programs in partnership with the private sector for scholarships and health insurance cards for their children.

Voltaire added that negotiations within the council had been “cordial,” and praised the effort as “the first time that so many members of political parties, civil society, adversaries or allies have started to work together and produced a consensual agreement for better management of the transition.” He said the council would be sworn in at the National Palace a few days after the publication of the text in Le Moniteur.

Nevertheless, many have continued to question the council, and especially the role that international actors have played in its formation.

“Caricom, having never been an important player in previous Haitian crises and acting today as a proxy of the US, does not inspire confidence,” wrote Jacky Lumarque, the rector of Université Quisqueya. “Even today, despite discourse to the contrary, the solution proposed is not a Haitian-led one. Haiti is a very complex society. Those who seek solutions for us need humility, nuance and historical depth if they are to come up with appropriate answers.” Lumarque, among others, has proposed that a judge from the court of cassation serve as interim president, rather than a “Snake of Seven Heads.”

Armed Groups Continue Attacks on Port-au-Prince Following PM’s Pending Resignation

Despite outgoing prime minister Ariel Henry’s promise to resign following the installation of a transitional presidential council on March 11, the Viv Ansanm coalition of armed groups has continued its attacks on various neighborhoods and institutions across Port-au-Prince. Champ de Mars, where several government buildings including the National Palace are located, has been the site of ongoing fights between armed groups and law enforcement. Public cultural and historical institutions, such as the National Library and the National Archives, have also been attacked, putting Haiti’s historical records at risk.

Businesses in downtown Port-au-Prince and Croix-des-Bouquets have suffered heavily from recent attacks. Several manufacturing warehouses, hospitals, and pharmacies have been looted and burned down. Supermarkets are closing their doors, and the few still open have had to significantly raise prices, particularly on essential products. Medical institutions across Port-au-Prince have not been spared from the violence, further endangering those with chronic illnesses and those seeking health care in a country with limited access to treatment. More than 18 health care centers have been reported as nonoperational due to gang violence and vandalism, with major hospitals such as HUEH, the country’s largest, and the Saint-François de Sales Hospital shutting down.

Educational institutions in the capital continue to be targeted as well. Petit Séminaire Collège Saint Martial, a nearly 159-year-old Catholic institution for young men, was set on fire and looted during an assault by bandits, forcing it to indefinitely suspend activities. Several other schools, including the National School for the Arts, École Normale Supérieure, and the public vocational school JB Damier have also been vandalized. UNESCO criticized the attacks, saying they will “have devastating consequences for the future of Haitian society.”

The National Network of Haitian Public Higher Education, a network of several state universities, characterized the assaults as driving “the pure and simple extinction of Haitian intelligence.” With schools shut down for weeks, the Ministry of Education decided to revise the academic calendar once again — an annual occurrence since armed groups started encroaching on territory in the capital. Although schools and universities are functioning in other parts of the country, the dysfunction in Port-au-Prince from the security crisis is affecting the scheduling and content of the yearly state examinations evaluating public and private school students who will graduate from Grade 9, the final year of primary school, and NS4, the final year of secondary school.

Despite promises from Jimmy Chérizier (a.k.a. “Barbecue”), Viv Ansanm’s spokesperson, that its member groups will only attack businesses and not residential buildings, armed groups have resumed attacks against residents of the capital and surrounding communes. In Lower Delmas, Tabarre, Bon Repos, Croix-des-Bouquets, and various other areas, attacks on police stations have led to law enforcement’s withdrawal, with residents left to fend for themselves as armed men looted and burned their homes and committed widespread human rights abuses. In Pétion-Ville, a wealthier city near Port-au-Prince that had mostly evaded the bouts of violence, various neighborhoods were besieged by armed men, with several homes and businesses attacked in Laboule, Thomassin, Péguy-Ville, and other neighborhoods.

As a result of the violence, more than 90,000 Haitians fled the capital last month, according to UN reports. More than 360,000 have been displaced by violence nationwide in recent years. More than 123,000 who have left for the US through the Biden administration’s Humanitarian Parole program. The solutions touted by the international community to deal with the security crisis have yet to bear fruit. The UN sanctions in place since 2022 were recently described in a UN report as having an “extremely limited” effect. The arms embargo has been poorly enforced, with raids such as an April 5 seizure of weapons and ammunition at the Port of Cap-Haïtien highlighting gaps in the inspection of Haiti-bound shipments at US ports.

It remains unclear what the armed groups’ ultimate goals are. Romain Lecour of the Global Initiative Against Organized Crime wrote:

Rather than all-out war, the gangs seem to be pursuing a strategy of maximum pressure, consisting of attacks interspersed with lulls. Rather than a decision taken solely by the gang leaders, our research suggests this may be the result of the relationships that still bind them to their political bosses, who could be setting (fluid) red lines without renouncing the use of violence for political ends. … Violence, therefore, is still a tool, not an obstacle, to gaining or maintaining power. The crisis allows for the rise — or return — of key violent brokers. To establish oneself as a broker, a future political ally, or to remain in place as a ‘legal bandit’, one must appear reliable, indispensable and powerful.

Striking a similar note, UN Independent Human Rights Expert Bill O’Neill told The Guardian: “I don’t think they want to take over … This is not like the Maoists in Nepal or [Colombia’s] Farc. There’s no ideology here to take over the state and run things. I think they want to keep a very weak, ineffective and largely absent state so that they can fill the void and keep control.”

Calls for Direct US Military Engagement Grow as Kenyan Force Stalls

Amid the general insecurity in Port-au-Prince, calls for direct US military engagement are growing. “The situation has deteriorated to the point that Washington might have no choice but to mount an abbreviated operation to supplant the gangs and facilitate a political transition,” wrote former US ambassador to Haiti James Foley.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission continues to stall. “This is a very complicated mission[;] it is not a UN peacekeeping mission. It is a different kind of mission so the police need to be trained, vetted and the department of defense needs to set up a camp in Haiti where the police force will go,” the US Ambassador in Kenya told the press in late March.

Last month, POLITICO obtained the 33-page planning document for the MSS, which describes the goals for the force as reestablishing security, strengthening local police, and clearing the way for elections. However, “the document provides few details on how these objectives would be achieved, including when the multinational force would arrive on the island, whether it would be engaged directly in combat with the gangs and how much money it would require,” POLITICO reports.

Republicans have continued to block some MSS-designated funding. However, as we have explained in the previous Round-Up, this does not appear to be the main barrier to the MSS’s deployment — despite rhetoric from some Democratic members of Congress and administration officials.

There are also concerns over the mission’s duration. Though not discussed publicly, many have acknowledged behind closed doors in Washington that the MSS would likely buy time for the deployment of a longer-term UN peacekeeping operation. When POLITICO asked about long-term deployment, the State Department responded: “I don’t think at any point have we envisioned that … I don’t think there’s a concrete answer as to how long this would last.”

There has also been growing concern in Kenya over deployment. “The [Kenyan] public is much more concerned now given the meltdown in the security situation,” Murithi Mutiga, Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, told The Guardian. “The context is much more forbidding.”

“There is no military solution to institutional collapse, which is what we are seeing,” Mutiga added. “The solution has to begin with building domestic political consensus — it would be unfair to send the police in [otherwise].”

Activist Emmanuela Douyon argued to The Guardian that a preferable approach to another costly foreign intervention would be to “support the Haitians by giving them what they need to ensure peace and stability in the country themselves.”

The US did recently authorize $10 million in stockpiled equipment to the Haitian National Police (PNH, by its French acronym), representing a significant change from the past. Though the US has spent tens of millions in support of the PNH, this has not previously included weapons or ammunition.

While a timeline for the MSS remains incredibly vague, at the end of March Canada sent a contingent of troops to Jamaica to train forces from Belize, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, which have all agreed to contribute to the mission.

Haitian Provinces Reeling from the Violence in the Capital

Despite the Port-au-Prince focus in much of the reporting on Haiti’s security situation, some cities in the provinces are dealing with the impact of the country’s humanitarian crisis and bandits’ chokehold. Although schools and businesses are still operational in cities like Port-de-Paix, Miragoâne, Gonaïves, and Les Cayes, residents have been dealing with scarcity of fuel, essential food items, and medications due to gang attacks on supermarkets and the main port in Port-au-Prince.

Since shortly after the capital’s descent into violence on February 29, no container ship has docked at the Caribbean Port Services in Port-au-Prince, where the majority of imports arrive, due to fears of looting, and the National Port Authority’s main port faces a similar situation. With Haiti relying heavily on imports for food, pharmaceuticals, and fuel — most of which is brought into Port-au-Prince via maritime traffic, the effects of the crises in the capital reverberate throughout the country. While the police were recently able to recover a hijacked cargo ship carrying rice headed to Cap-Haïtien from Port-au-Prince, these recoveries are rare as the police are outgunned and underfunded.

Some provincial towns are dealing with their own humanitarian and security crises. In Drouet, in the department of Artibonite, armed members of the Gran Grif de Savien gang attacked several families,reportedly killing four, kidnapping five, and injuring six. In Liancourt, Petite-Rivière, and Verrettes, Ayibopost reports that sexual abuse “has become commonplace,” with the Platform of Women Organized for the Development of Artibonite finding over 1,370 cases of rape in the department.

Alliance Between Guy Philippe and Jean-Charles Moïse Falls Apart

The opposition alliance between ex-coup leader Guy Philippe and former senator Jean-Charles Moïse (also known as Moïse Jean-Charles), appears to have collapsed. This came after Moïse, whose Pitit Dessalines party had declined to join the CARICOM-proposed transitional presidential council, reversed course and sent a representative at the last minute.

In leaked audio posted to YouTube, Philippe and Moïse can be heard arguing over Russia’s alleged support for Pitit Dessalines’s participation in the transitional council. Philippe shared a video message on social media on March 22, criticizing his former ally without mentioning him by name: “It’s a shame that some men and women have sold out, knowing that the CARICOM Accord will not and cannot change anything in the crisis.”

Although Philippe initially gained some popularity following his return from the US, support for his “revolution” quickly dropped after he proposed amnesty for armed groups and appealed to the gangs in his speeches. His calls for people to take to the streets have fallen flat, and with Moïse’s party sending a representative to the CARICOM-backed council, Philippe’s alternative proposal appears to have lost steam.

Countries Continue to Deport Haitian Migrants as Foreign Citizens Are Evacuated from Port-au-Prince

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 13,000 Haitians were deported back home from neighboring countries in March 2024, despite Haiti’s security crisis. The Dominican Republic alone expelled more than 7,000 Haitians in February and March. As recently as last month, the Biden administration floated the idea of processing Haitian migrants at Guantanamo Bay, in case of a mass exodus.

Meanwhile, the US government has been chartering evacuation flights for more than 300 US citizens, as all other international flights out of Port-au-Prince have been canceled since March 4. Similarly, the Canadian government — which shuttered its humanitarian program for Haitians, Venezuelans, and Colombians after accepting only 11,000 people from the three countries — has evacuated its own citizens, even expanding evacuation flights to permanent residents stuck in Port-au-Prince.

Other countries, including France, Mexico, China, South Korea, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, have evacuated many of their citizens and from Port-au-Prince. In response to the chilly reception that Haitians have received from neighboring countries, the UNHCR issued a reminder to UN members reiterating that it is “imperative to ensure that Haitians receive international refugee protection they may need.” The refugee agency also called on “all states not to forcibly return people to Haiti, including those whose asylum claims have been rejected.”

US Senate Confirms New Ambassador to Haiti

On March 14, the US Senate voted to confirm President Biden’s pick for US ambassador to Haiti. Dennis Hankins, a longtime foreign service member, will be the first US ambassador to Haiti since Michele Sison stepped down in October 2021. Since arriving in Port-au-Prince on March 26, Hankins has met with members of the outgoing government, and with the director general of the Haitian National Police, Frantz Elbé.

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