Haiti News Round-Up No. 17: Transitional Presidential Council Selects Prime Minister

May 30, 2024

More than a month after its installation, Haiti’s transitional presidential council (TPC) has selected a prime minister. In a consensus choice, council members picked Gary Conille, regional director of UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean, for the position. The council received dossiers from more than 60 individuals aspiring for the job of prime minister before interviewing five finalists on May 28. The choice of Conille was made public shortly thereafter.

The council has faced criticism for its handling of the selection process. There was little transparency in how the list was reduced from over 60 to just five, while rumors about efforts made by members of the economic elite to influence the vote swirled. On May 24, the US Embassy in Haiti issued a statement noting that the US was looking “forward to a transparent process that gives Haiti a Prime Minister and transitional government selected on the basis of technical merit and impartiality.”

On May 27, the Montana Accord and Fanmi Lavalas, two sectors represented on the council, released statements urging transparency in the selection process. They both called for the publication of the political accord agreed to by council members, which has been repeatedly delayed, prior to any decision on the choice of PM. Two decrees, one with the text of the political accord and the other requiring a 5/7 majority for key decisions, were published in Le Moniteur just hours before the announcement of Conille.

While Conille’s nomination has been welcomed by myriad political and civil society actors in Haiti, all of those interviewed for the job by the council, whose seven voting members are all men, were themselves men. “The rejection of the only woman in the last stage of this process is a disappointment for the women’s sector,” said Marie Denise Claude, a former minister for the status of women.

With some two decades of experience working inside the UN system, Conille is a choice that will be sure to please the international community. He worked for former US President Bill Clinton following the 2010 earthquake and was named prime minister by Haitian President Michel Martelly in late 2011. However, he resigned just months later after clashing with Martelly over an investigation into corruption in post-quake government contracts.

The council, together with the new prime minister, will now move forward with forming a new government.

MSS, With No Clear Ground Rules, Faces Delays as Kenyan President Travels to Washington, DC

On May 22, just a day ahead of President William Ruto’s arrival in Washington, DC, for a formal state visit, the Miami Herald reported that the planned deployment of Kenyan police to Haiti as part of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission had been delayed. Officials from both governments had previously indicated that the initial deployment would coincide with Ruto’s visit. However, an advance team that traveled to Haiti found that the base, which is being constructed by the US military, was not yet complete and that equipment was still inadequate. “The latest we’ve heard is that’s not possible,” a congressional aide told the paper. “They are running into some stark realities in terms of equipment logistics.”

The delay, however, was not simply due to equipment. As the Miami Herald reported, the Kenyans had “yet to provide the U.N. Security Council with the necessary paperwork before the mission is allowed to begin.” The mission was authorized by the Security Council in October 2023, and while it is explicitly not a UN mission, the council did request that Kenya provide certain documents about the intervention.

“The council said that the mission could not deploy until its leaders provide them with key details. Council members want the mission to adhere to international law and that rules are in place to address issues such as human rights violations and past problems that have arisen with previous foreign interventions into Haiti,” the Miami Herald reported. “The delay in delivering a documented plan reflects broad skepticism that the mission is ready to go.”

“We know specifically that they do not have rules of engagement established,” a congressional aide said. Furthermore, there is no clear timetable or end goals, the paper reported.

Speaking alongside President Biden, however, Ruto assured the media that all documents had been completed and that the mission would move forward within a matter of weeks. A court challenge in Kenya seeking to stop the deployment is still ongoing, but Ruto has previously pledged to move forward regardless of its outcome.

Biden also promised continued US support for the mission. In recent weeks, the Pentagon has flown dozens of planeloads of equipment into the country, is actively building a base and medical facility for the MSS, and has begun procurement for basic supplies, including food services, bulk water, and even toiletries in anticipation of the force’s arrival. The Pentagon also awarded a no-bid contract to GardaWorld to provide armed security to protect the new facilities.

The US has been a vocal proponent of the intervention since October 2022. However, it has refused to directly contribute troops and instead has sought to find another country to lead. “We concluded that for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do,” the US president said. “So we set out to find a partner or partners who would lead the effort that we would participate in.”

“We want to do all we can, without us looking like America once again is stepping over and deciding this is what must be done,” Biden declared. Laura Richardson, the head of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), previously noted that there would be a limited number of US military personnel on the ground in Haiti.

Officials have claimed that the initial deployment would now take place sometime in mid-June.

On the same day as the meeting between Biden and Ruto, two US missionaries were killed in Haiti, prompting the White House and State Department to issue public statements stressing the urgency of deploying the MSS as soon as possible. “The security situation in Haiti cannot wait. That is why yesterday, President Biden reiterated our commitment to support the expedited the [sic] deployment of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission to bolster the Haitian National Police’s capabilities to protect civilians, restore the rule of law, and pave the way to democratic governance,” the White House said the following day.

The looming intervention was also the subject of a Quincy Institute event with former US Special Envoy to Haiti Dan Foote; Samar Al-Bulushi, a Quincy Institute Non-Resident Fellow and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine; and me.

Congressional Fight Over MSS Funding Continues

As previous round-ups have detailed, there remains a political fight in the US over tens of millions in State Department funding for the MSS, which Republicans have held up over questions regarding how the funds would be used. In early May, through the presidential drawdown authority (PDA), the Biden administration authorized the transfer of $60 million in military equipment to Haiti to support the MSS. On May 17, House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) wrote to Secretary of State Blinken criticizing the action and again questioning the administration’s support for the MSS.

“The president’s unprecedented use of PDA in this context is extremely questionable,” they wrote. “Plainly stated, the administration is rushing to fund an undefined and indefinite engagement in Haiti without Congressional approval.”

“Prior international interventions over a long period of time in Haiti have been dismal failures, leaving the Haitian people worse off than before. We cannot use U.S. taxpayer dollars to support an open-ended, poorly conceived mission,” Risch said during a congressional hearing with Blinken last week.

The Biden administration has repeatedly pushed back on Republican criticism, claiming that it had provided all necessary information on the MSS. The Miami Herald report on the lack of clear planning documents, however, indicates that key questions remain unanswered.

Nevertheless, many Democrats have targeted their focus on Republican opposition. On May 22, the same day as the Herald report, 42 House Democrats and 10 Democratic Senators wrote to McCaul and Risch, urging them to unblock the funding for the MSS.

“As Members of Congress, we have a shared responsibility—to assess how U.S. taxpayer dollars will be used to support the MSS. After more than 90 briefings by the State Department on the proposed use of funds, we believe that the burden of persuasion has been met,” the members wrote.

However, as the Miami Herald report makes clear and as previous round-ups have explained, the congressional funding for the MSS is not a primary factor in the deployment delay. Further, the questions asked by Republicans appear to be remarkably similar to those raised by the UN Security Council — the body that authorized the MSS in the first place.

The deaths of the two American missionaries has further propelled Haiti into domestic politics. Natalie Lloyd, who was killed along with her husband and a Haitian colleague near the orphanage where they all worked, was the daughter of Republican Missouri state legislator Ben Baker. “Haiti is totally out of control. Find the killers NOW!!!,” former president Donald Trump posted on social media. He later spoke on the phone with Baker.

US Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) wrote a letter to the Biden administration blaming the US Embassy in Haiti for not doing more to protect the slain couple. “On the night they were besieged by gangs, my office urgently requested help from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. The Embassy informed us it was ‘too dangerous’ to send police to aid the Lloyds. Now they are dead,” he wrote.

TPC Tries to Take Charge of MSS, but Who Will Ultimately Call the Shots?

On May 21, the TPC met with the high command of the Haitian National Police (HNP) to discuss preparations for the MSS. “Haiti, through the Haitian National Police, will have overall control over the operation of this mission on the ground,” it said. “Whether it concerns the composition, objectives, rules of engagement and health control of the troops, everything will be coordinated and supervised by the Haitian police authorities.”

The political accord signed by TPC members calls for the creation of a National Security Council that will define and oversee international support, including the MSS. On May 22, the TPC announced that it had held a meeting to move forward with the new entity, although it does not yet formally exist.

Despite the rhetoric, it is clear that the main power behind the MSS has been and continues to be the United States. “The real country backing the Kenyans with materials and support is the United States,” Louis Gerard Gilles, a member of the TPC, told the Washington Post.

“If we’re saying this is to support the Haitian authorities but the Haitian authorities are not fully empowered or functional, how can we be moving forward with this deployment and surging resources on the ground?,” I am quoted as asking in the Post article. “Nobody knows who is ultimately calling the shots.”

During his remarks with President Biden, Ruto declared that the Kenyan forces would “break the back” of the gangs. This assertion seemed to contradict a statement made days earlier by TPC member Leslie Voltaire, who had stated that the Kenyan forces would “not fight against gangs unless they are attacked.”

“Nobody favors amnesty,” Voltaire told the Washington Post. However, the paper reported, “he plans to suggest the creation of a truth and justice committee and a system that would encourage gang members to demobilize, appear before victims ‘and repent.’” This plan is in line with the text of the political accord agreed to by the TPC, which includes the creation of a truth, justice, and reparations commission.

After the killing of the two Americans, US Ambassador to Haiti Dennis Hankins gave an interview on local radio declaring that gangs would have a choice between the “cemetery or jail.”

PNH Leadership Questioned

Amid the ongoing debates about the MSS, its deployment, and how it will interact with local police, various organizations have called for a change in the police hierarchy, AlterPresse reports.

The Office of Citizen Protection called for “changes at the high command level of the police institution,” noting numerous allegations of complicity between police and armed groups. This call follows statements from two major police unions, the National Union of Haitian Police Officers (SYNAPOHA) and Haitian National Police Union (SPNH-17), urging changes in HNP leadership, specifically the director general, Frantz Elbe.

SPNH-17 also criticized the MSS. “What we’re seeing is the international community working with a few sectors with no clear plans on what they’ll do and how,” the union said in a statement. “We believe only the Haitian police can provide long term security for Haiti.”

Speaking to NPR, a police officer said that there had been little communication with the Kenyans and that the police were receiving inadequate support from the state. He also claimed that politicians and business owners had been directly arming certain police units.

“When the gangs attacked the rich areas of Port-au-Prince, the business owners gave us ammunition to fight them,” the officer claimed.

“The gangs, he says, were created by the powerful to protect their business interests,” NPR’s Eyder Peralta reported. “On many occasions, he says, he has witnessed police commanders giving gangs a heads-up on their operations. And now that the powerful have lost control of the gangs, he says, they are using the police as their new armed wing.”

Asked if the MSS would be able to take on the armed groups, the officer said, “No, because you first have to deal with the people who gave them the guns to begin with.”

Allegations of private sector financing of police operations have focused on the Temporary Anti-Gang Unit (UTAG), an elite, French-trained police unit. A France24 reporter recently embedded with the unit on a patrol of downtown Port-au-Prince.

“Most people have fled. So we don’t need to know if they’re armed or not … we just fire,” an officer told the reporter, who later in the segment interviewed civilians still living in the neighborhood.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch questioned whether, with regard to the MSS, enough was being done to ensure compliance with human rights obligations. “Members of the UN Security Council should demand on all troop-contributing countries to implement a robust human rights due diligence policy, including an independent oversight mechanism, involving Haitian civil society, to monitor and report on the conduct of the Haitian National Police and MSS personnel,” the organization said.

“Haitians deserve robust measures to ensure full compliance with international law and respect for their human rights, and transparency about them,” HRW concluded.

Armed Groups Increasingly Involved in Drug Trade, Preparing for MSS Arrival

In a feature article and accompanying multimedia piece, the New York Times detailed how one of the capital’s most powerful armed groups “5 Segonn,” led by Johnson Andrè a.k.a. “Izo,” was trying to transform itself into a cartel-like militia.

“Haitian gangs appear to be using weapons also used by the Gulf Clan, a Colombian cartel, which operates along the country’s Caribbean coastline and uses neighboring countries to traffic cocaine. President Gustavo Petro of Colombia said last month that thousands of military weapons had been stolen and sold to armed groups, like cartels, and may have gone to Haiti,” the Times reported.

The article noted that Dimitri Hérard, a former high-ranking member of the presidential guard under Jovenel Moïse and Michel Martelly who had been jailed over his alleged role in the assassination of Moïse, had recently started working directly with Izo. “Mr. Hérard is now helping organize and advise Izo’s gang and may be providing connections to larger criminal organizations in the region, including drug cartels, according to a senior regional intelligence official and the two Western diplomats.”

Hérard was implicated in a major 2015 drug bust, with witnesses reporting that he had helped remove drugs from the port prior to the arrival of police. The New York Times reported that Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, the self-declared spokesperson of the Viv Ansanm coalition of armed groups, was also involved in that case.

“Most of the drugs in the case disappeared. Witnesses were intimidated by Haitian government officials, including by Jimmy Chérizier, a police officer, according to Keith McNichols, a former Drug Enforcement Administration officer who worked on the case,” the paper reported.

Separately, AyiboPost reported on how various armed groups are preparing for the deployment of the MSS. Images obtained by the Haitian news outlet show the construction of a wharf in territory controlled by Izo. “Having a greater maritime capacity gives the gang more options to move its soldiers, weapons and drugs,” someone familiar with the group’s operations, told the outlet.


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