Haiti News Round-Up No. 12: US Backs De Facto Prime Minister Amid Increasing Protests Calling for His Resignation

February 09, 2024

Around 1 a.m. on February 8, de facto prime minister Ariel Henry addressed the nation, calling for calm and making clear that he would not resign. Henry’s remarks came after several weeks of demonstrations calling for the leader to relinquish power, which culminated in large protests in Port-au-Prince and across the country this week.

Various sectors had called for three days of mobilizations in the lead up to February 7, a key date in Haiti’s history. On this date in 1986, Haitians rose up and forced Jean-Claude Duvalier into exile; five years later, Haiti swore its first democratically elected president into office. The date is enshrined in the constitution as the day in which a newly elected leader takes office. Though elections have not been held since 2016, this year it was also a key date for Henry’s continued rule.

(CEPR research associate Jake Johnston discussed this history, this week’s protests, and ongoing foreign interference in Haiti with NPR’s 1A program earlier this week).

Facing a crisis of legitimacy, Henry signed a narrow political accord in late 2022 that committed the authorities to holding elections in 2023 and for Henry to hand power over to an elected successor by February 7, 2024.

With a seemingly ever-worsening situation on the ground, many are calling on Henry to live up to this commitment despite the fact that elections have yet to be scheduled. In addition to the large protests, the Protestant Federation, Conference of Catholic Bishops, and representatives from the Vodou sector all released statements indicating the need for Henry to resign. “Make a wise decision for the good of the whole Nation,” the bishops wrote.

The United States has insisted that it has “no political bias” in Haiti and is not supporting any specific actor. However, that is belied by recent statements. On February 6, the Miami Herald reported that “U.S. officials and others in the international community say they consider the [February 7] deadline to be an artificial one. It was premised, a senior Biden official said, on elections taking place.”

“[Henry] is serving his country under very difficult circumstances but we need an elected president and an elected Congress and all the other elected officials in Haiti,” the Biden official told the paper. “Ariel Henry will leave after the elections,” US chargé d’affaires Eric Stromayer told a local radio station on February 6.

While Haitians are increasingly unified in their opposition to Henry and the need for a transitional government to bring about free and fair elections, the international community is making clear that it is Henry who they want to organize the vote — a prospect that is likely to only generate further political instability.

Eight US senators released a statement on February 7, calling on “the de facto government of Ariel Henry to take serious and concrete steps, alongside major opposition actors, to lay the groundwork for the creation of a transition consensus government capable of holding free and fair elections.” Senator Markey (D-MA) released a separate statement, denouncing Henry’s efforts “to evade a democratic, peaceful transition of power” and calling on the de facto leader to “take immediate action so that Haiti has a peaceful, democratic transition.”

Guy Philippe and BSAP Clash with Police

On February 7, Haitian police and armed individuals wearing uniforms of the Protected Areas Security Brigade (BSAP) exchanged gunfire in the Laboule neighborhood outside the capital. Five individuals were reportedly killed. The Office of Citizen Protection has condemned the killings and called for an investigation.

(For background on BSAP, see this New York Times article and the last Round-Up.)

Henry fired the head of the agency that oversees BSAP, Jeantel Joseph, after Joseph publicly allied with Guy Philippe earlier this year. The de facto authorities also asked BSAP agents to hand over their weapons and not wear their uniforms in public.

Far from complying, BSAP has only hardened its opposition to the de facto authorities. On February 6, Guy Philippe entered the capital, Port-au-Prince, pledging to overthrow the Henry government. In an interview on February 8 with a local radio station, he pledged to continue the fight against Henry.

Though BSAP has a relatively small presence inside the capital, agents have been involved in protests throughout the country in recent days and weeks. In Ouanaminthe, BSAP agents flanked thousands of protesters who took to the streets. BSAP also marched directly in the cities of Miragoâne and Mirebalais.

Philippe and BSAP’s increasing presence is not simply a threat to the de facto authorities; it appears to be shifting the political dynamics as well. Former senator — and onetime supporter of Henry — Jean-Charles Moïse has openly aligned with Philippe and also participated in the protests this week. He ended up fleeing and hiding in a local resident’s home after several gunshots could be heard. Former prime minister Claude Joseph, while not formally supporting Philippe, echoed the calls for protest and was himself tear gassed by police earlier this week.

But things are shifting in other ways as well. For many months the focus has been on reaching a consensus on a new governing accord, one that can provide checks and balances on whoever occupies the post of de facto prime minister. However, with Philippe pledging to lead an armed revolt, many feel as though it has only hardened international support for Henry.

Multinational Security Support Mission to Haiti Faces New Roadblocks

The verdict in the Kenyan High Court case deciding the fate of Haiti’s multinational security support mission was handed down last month, with the judge ruling that the country could not deploy its police officers to Haiti. According to judge Enock Chacha Mwita, the Kenyan government requires a police-sharing agreement to be in place with Haiti in order to deploy its police officers to the country. The government said it would appeal the ruling, and Kenyan president William Ruto announced he would still proceed with the plan to lead the security mission.

On January 30, Ruto told Reuters, “So that mission can go ahead as soon as next week, if all the paperwork is done between Kenya and Haiti on the bilateral route that has been suggested by the court.”

In the US, the force is also facing further roadblocks, as the Biden administration is also facing pushback from Republican Congress members over the costs associated with the mission. The Miami Herald reported:

The U.S. has pledged up to $200 million to fund the Multinational Security Support mission, which is meant to be led by Kenyan police with contributions from Jamaica, The Bahamas and other Caribbean and African nations. Of that amount, the administration has already made a request from Congress for $17 million. But only $10 million has been released, according to sources familiar with the effort.

The US intends to reallocate funds from other programs to fulfill the rest of its commitment, but that process has been held up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Herald reported.

“The administration has yet to deliver on specific commitments it promised to Congress as part of the review process,” Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the paper.

“I’m not ruling out a multinational force, but at this point there simply needs to be more information, along with further explanation to how much of a cost burden the Biden administration wants to assume. Haiti’s instability has repercussions beyond its borders to neighboring countries like the Dominican Republic, and of course the United States,” said Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), who sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee.

Kenya has previously indicated that the mission could cost upwards of $600 million — and that they would not deploy to Haiti until the necessary funding was secured. That amount is equivalent to three times the annual budget of the Haitian National Police.

400 Mawozo Leader Pleads Guilty in Washington, DC, Court

Germine “Yonyon” Joly, the leader of the notorious 400 Mawozo gang, which was behind the kidnapping of 16 missionaries in Haiti, pleaded guilty to 48 charges in connection to his federal weapons smuggling trial in Washington, DC. His codefendant, Eliande Tunis, who was responsible for helping him smuggle weapons and munitions and launder the funds from the kidnappings, also pleaded guilty to the same charges. Both face life in prison, the Miami Herald reported. The gang they once led has continued to cause chaos in Haiti, with 400 Mawozo being involved in clashes with the Kraze Baryè gang that forced hundreds of residents of various sectors of the capital to flee their homes. The US Embassy even advised its employees to avoid the gang’s local area. Gang activity in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area has also intensified over the last few weeks.

More Arrest Warrants by Investigating Judges in Haiti Leaked on Social Media

An arrest warrant for former first lady Martine Moïse from last fall was leaked on social media, with pictures of the warrant circulating on X. Judge Walther Wesser Voltaire, whose mandate as investigating judge in the assassination case of Haiti’s slain president Jovenel Moïse recently expired along with that of five other judges, had issued the warrant over Moïse failing to appear before him for further questioning. Although it generated speculation, the warrant did not mention her involvement with the assassination.

However, on February 6 The New York Times reported that a Haitian prosecutor has recommended charging Martine Moïse with complicity in the assassination of her husband. The ultimate decision on whether or not to bring formal charges rests with the judge. The evidence against the former first lady, however, is scant.

“Some legal analysts said the complaint raised concerns that the country’s judicial system was being weaponized to deflect attention from accusations that some senior government officials, including the prime minister, have been implicated in the assassination,” the Times reported.

“It’s a system that is very subject to political manipulation,” Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, told the paper. “You have a prime minister who already fired a previous prosecutor who asked too many awkward questions.”

Sources close to Le Nouvelliste have stated that Voltaire is ready to render his ruling in the case, but he cannot do so until his mandate is renewed — which gives the current authorities significant leverage over the judge’s future at an especially critical juncture in the case.

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