Haiti News Round-Up No. 2: Calls for Foreign Intervention Continue

In the aftermath of Kingston meeting, no political agreement reached

Following up on the previous round-up’s lead story, no official agreement was reached between stakeholders at the Kingston meeting earlier this month. Competing visions for Haiti’s future were put forward by the de facto government and its allies in the December 21 accord on the one hand, and by leaders from civil society and the political opposition on the other. The December 21 accord, a governing agreement that no major political party signed, has been criticized for further empowering de facto prime minister Ariel Henry (see here for more). 

In Kingston, Henry made a verbal commitment to increase inclusivity in the governing coalition and to discuss the possibility of expanding the High Transition Council, an entity created as part of the December 21 agreement but that only plays an advisory role. Meanwhile, many of the other stakeholders present focused on implementation of a governance structure with power shared between a presidential body and prime minister, following the spirit of the 1987 Haitian constitution. 

A group of political parties and civil society groups signed the “Joint Declaration of Kingston,” which calls for the establishment of a presidential college and a national unity government headed by a prime minister. The signatories include Fanmi Lavalas, PHTK, Ede, En Avant, and the Montana Accord among others.

Following the meeting, the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group released a statement highlighting the various proposals and declaring its commitment to visit Haiti and to continue the dialogue in the coming weeks. No specific date has yet been made public for such a visit. 

Calls for foreign security intervention continue

In early June, Henry wrote another letter to the secretary-general of the United Nations reiterating his request for “robust support” for the Haitian National Police (PNH) in the form of “a specialized international force,” according to Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste, which obtained a copy of the letter. 

After the conclusion of the Kingston talks, Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness, one of the few who has publicly stated a willingness to contribute to such a force, called for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor in Haiti. (A similar call from Canada in the fall of 2022 precipitated discussion of a foreign military intervention.)

On June 15, Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly hosted another meeting on Haiti that included representatives of CARICOM, the UN mission in Haiti, the US, and members of the de facto Haitian government. Joly pledged additional Canadian assistance to the Haitian police. 

In a taped address, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Henry to engage in a serious dialogue so that Haiti may find a way out of its crisis. While he reiterated the United States’ support for a multinational force in Haiti, he noted that “a multinational force is not and must not be a substitute for political dialogue.” 

Last week, the Organization of American States General Assembly adopted a resolution concerning the situation in Haiti, which calls on member states to provide additional resources for the PNH and to formalize “the commitment of police and/or other security contributions.” A footnote adds: “Mexico states that, in accordance with Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the establishment of an international armed force, or the like, with enforcement functions is the exclusive purview of the United Nations Security Council.” 

On June 25, after a trip to participate in the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris, Henry gave a press conference expressing optimism over prospects for a foreign military intervention. “We have clear signals, which show us that the robust support we expect to combat insecurity is not too far away,” Henry told reporters. He specifically mentioned his meeting with Brazilian president Lula da Silva. 

Brazil, which led the last UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, has thus far rejected overtures from the US and others asking them to lead a new mission. Contradicting Henry’s comments, Folha de Sao Paulo reported that “the consensus is that a new [UN mission] is completely out of the question” and that Lula only intended to listen to Henry during their meeting in Paris. “Brasilia, after all, wants to distance itself from a new role in [Haiti],” Folha reported. 

Nevertheless, after meeting with Henry, Lula criticized rich countries for their “indifference” toward the situation in Haiti. The Brazilian president pledged to raise the issue of Haiti at the G20 and with the BRICs nations. “This country pays the price of being the first country to gain independence, the first country where Blacks were freed,” he said. 

Human rights leader questions police leadership

After a brief reprieve from the seemingly ever-increasing levels of violence, kidnappings, and attacks from armed groups, it appears to once again be on the rise. The drop had been attributed to the “Bwa Kale” citizen justice movement, which has seen the population work with segments of the police to target and kill alleged criminals. According to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a local human rights group, the “Bwa Kale” movement has resulted in at least 204 deaths of alleged members of armed groups since April. 

In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, Pierre Esperance, director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, blamed police leadership for the recent uptick in violence. “From the beginning of May to May 17, we … spoke to 21 police officers who came from several units of the PNH, they told us that they had received the order not to continue operations,” Esperance claimed. 

He added that, for about two weeks, an armed group led by Vitel’homme — who is wanted by the FBI — has wreaked havoc on certain neighborhoods of the capital. Those attacks have targeted former Haitian senators Évalière Beauplan and Carl Murat Cantave, and included an assault on the Jamaican consulate during the Kingston meetings. 

“The hierarchy of the PNH is in collusion with bandits; they protect them, that’s why the situation is degenerating. Whatever means we would give to the current hierarchy of the PNH, the results would be the same,” Esperance said, throwing cold water on international efforts to fight insecurity through increased financial support to the police. 

On June 20, Pierre Louis Opont, the head of a Haitian radio station and the former president of the electoral council, was kidnapped. That took place a week after his wife, another journalist, was briefly detained. Marie Lucie Bonhomme, a long-time reporter at Vision 2000, was abducted on June 13 and then released. “I believe I was deliberately targeted. It was clear that Vitel’homme knew who I was. Sadly, I don’t know why he chose to abduct me; just to send a message perhaps,” she told the Committee to Protect Journalists, which called on authorities to promptly investigate the case. 

Bonhomme told CPJ that the man she believed to be Vitel’homme did not express anger toward her but complained about “the people he collaborated with and who today want to destroy him.” Vitel’homme has frequently taken to the radio to denounce prominent politicians and business leaders whom he claims to have worked with in the past, including Ariel Henry and some of the de facto prime minister’s closest advisors. 

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti publishes latest Update on Human Rights Situation in Haiti

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) published the latest in its series of biannual Updates on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Haiti, covering developments from December 2022 through May 2023. 

“We have been sounding the alarm on a catastrophic human rights and security crisis for over two years,” Sasha Filippova, a senior staff attorney at IJDH, told Marcela Garcia of the Boston Globe. “There’s a tendency, especially outside the Haitian press, to date the crisis in Haiti to the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in July of 2021. But that’s incorrect in many ways. So many drivers of the current crisis were already in place: impunity, the use of gangs for political violence, state capture, corruption, etc.”

The Update reports that Haiti’s catastrophic governance, insecurity, and humanitarian crises have deepened further, with armed groups employing increasingly brutal tactics against a population that is experiencing unprecedented hunger, navigating a devastating economic decline, and lacks access to fundamental goods and services. IJDH also identifies the structural drivers of these challenges, which include international support for the current regime. 

According to the Update, the persistent international support for de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry — and the December 21 Accord — enables him to avoid engaging meaningfully with political and civil society actors on Haiti’s path forward. 

“Sometimes there are efforts by [Haitian Prime Minister Ariel] Henry, the US government, and others to focus on insecurity as if you could address it in isolation, and the reality is you cannot,” Filippova said.

Some of Haiti’s most respected human rights and civil society organizations, joined by IJDH, released a joint statement on June 12 sharing this assessment and calling for robust corrective action, for which the “essential first step is to stop propping up the set of actors who created the crises facing the country, including those currently in power.”

Writing in the Globe and citing the statement from human rights and civil society groups, Garcia concludes: “Above all, Haitians deserve — and desperately want — true empowerment and self-determination. Why is that so hard for the international community to understand?”

Canada announces more sanctions

Last week, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly announced the addition of several other names to the government’s list of sanctioned Haitian individuals. 

The sanctioned are: businessman André Apaid, gang leaders Joseph Wilson (alias Lanmò Sanjou), Vitel’homme Innocent, and Johnson André (alias Izo). These sanctions involve a prohibition on transactions and a freeze on any assets the individuals hold in Canada. The sanctioned are also now barred from entering Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

On June 15, Joly also announced sanctions against former senator Gracia Delva and former deputy Prophane Victor. Since November 2022, Canada has announced sanctions against 25-plus individuals, including various members of the Haitian elite, for their alleged involvement in significant acts of corruption and for the country’s worsening security crisis.

Apaid, a Haitian-American businessman and one of the leading players in Haiti’s textile industry, was a leader of the Group of 184, which helped to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. In a statement after the sanctions were announced, Apaid denied the accusations against him and claimed that the sanctions would cost Haiti thousands of jobs. 

The Miami Herald reported: “In the case of Canada, the lack of details about what individuals are accused of, has raised concerns in diplomatic circles. The Canadian government has been asked to provide more details but so far has rejected the request.”

Two of the politicians previously sanctioned by Canada, Youri Latortue and Joseph Lambert, have had an order sent out for their arrest by an investigating judge for “misappropriation of public funds and illegal conflict of interest.”

Martine Moïse, widow of assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, files a lawsuit in the United States 

Lawyers for Martine Moïse have filed a lawsuit in Florida against those accused of her husband’s murder. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for President Moïse’s family and a jury trial to hold the defendants accountable for the president’s death. The suit levies many charges against the accused, including assault, battery, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In Haiti, the judge presiding over the case has continued to interview several individuals in relation to the assassination, including noted Haitian businessman Edouard Baussan. The judge had asked Martine Moïse to answer questions, but she refused. 

Moïse’s lawyer told the Miami Herald, “if [Martine] Moïse was to go be interviewed, go give statements or whatever, it is possible that those could be used against her somehow in the U.S. government’s case.” The lawyer, who works for a firm that has previously represented some of Haiti’s most well-known political and business leaders, such as former president Michel Martelly, former prime minister Laurent Lamothe, and businessman Gilbert Bigio, said that US authorities “are doing an amazing job of keeping the family informed of what’s going on in the investigation and the criminal proceedings.” 

Recently, Haitian businessman Rodolphe Jaar was sentenced to life in prison in the United States for his role in the assassination. He is the only one of 11 defendants to have pled guilty, and has pledged to cooperate with authorities. In an interview with the New York Times prior to his arrest, he implicated both de facto prime minister Ariel Henry and Haiti’s current police chief, Frantz Elbe, in the conspiracy. 

Haitian banks face weeks-long payment outages, adding to economic woes

On June 12, several Haitian commercial banks announced their inability to process both national and international transactions due to malfunctions by SPIH, the Haitian interbank payment system, and PRONAP, the national payment processor. On June 14, the Haitian central bank (BRH) announced on its Twitter account that it was facing technical difficulties, impeding provision of services related to SPIH and PRONAP.

Although much of the Haitian economy is informal, many people and businesses rely on online and mobile transactions in order to facilitate payment processing. The outage is also causing issues in the processing of direct deposits for paychecks, affecting many households reliant on the income. The causes of the technical difficulty are not yet known.

According to the International Monetary Fund, year-on-year inflation reached almost 50 percent in March (although now appears to be decelerating), while the local currency has depreciated by over 30 percent (against the US dollar) since fall 2022. The IMF projects 0.1 percent growth in fiscal year 2023 following a decline of 1.7 percent in 2022. Haiti’s per capita GDP in 2023 is projected to decrease by one percent — the fifth straight year of negative per capita growth. The result is that Haiti’s per capita GDP will fall to its lowest level since 1994.

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