Haiti News Round-Up No. 3: Two Years Since the Assassination of Haiti’s President

July 7 marked two years since President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination. The Office of Civil Protection in Haiti denounced the “unacceptable slowness” of the investigation in Haiti, while calling for greater protection for Judge Walter Wesser Voltaire. He is the fifth judge to oversee the case after others resigned for personal reasons, or were replaced. 

The Associated Press reported that a previous judge said “that his family asked him not to investigate the case because they feared he would be killed, while another judge stepped down after his assistant died under murky circumstances.”

Currently, some 40 alleged suspects remain in abysmal prison conditions in Haiti, while 11 individuals are in US custody and have been charged for their respective roles in the conspiracy. The US-based trial was once again delayed, and is scheduled to begin in May 2024. 

As the Miami Herald reported on the two-year anniversary, the investigations in Haiti and the US have different purposes. The US-based case has focused narrowly on the role of US citizens and actors in South Florida, but, the Herald noted, “The question of who masterminded the attack remains one for Haiti to solve.”

The article continued:

Initially, FBI agents wanted to investigate who masterminded the assassination, but federal prosecutors nixed the idea, wanting a more focused probe. Now a gag order by a Miami federal judge prevents defense attorneys from sharing evidence with any third parties including Haitian authorities, stymieing efforts by Voltaire, the fifth investigative judge in Haiti assigned to the inquiry, to get to the bottom of the slaying.

On July 13, The New York Times published a piece by CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, detailing the ties between Haiti’s de facto prime minister Ariel Henry and those suspected of involvement in the assassination. But, as the piece notes, it is not just the authorities in Haiti who appear to have something to hide. Some of the suspects in US custody have documented ties to US government agencies.

In 2021, the US Congress mandated the State Department to provide a report on the assassination, including details on any US informants or contractors that may have been involved. The report, submitted months later than required, did not substantively respond to any of Congress’s inquiries. This month, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would request an updated report on the assassination. It was not included in the final legislation that passed the House.

Blinken Meets with Henry, Reiterates US Support for Security Intervention

On July 5, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Haiti’s de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry, and reiterated Washington’s support for a foreign security intervention. The meeting, held on the sidelines of a CARICOM heads of government summit, highlighted a whirlwind period of diplomatic maneuvering in support of deploying forces to Haiti.

In late June, the UN’s independent human rights expert on Haiti, William O’Neill, concluded a 10-day visit to the country. In a press conference, O’Neill called the deployment of an international force to work alongside the Haitian national police an “essential” step in restoring security. Just days later, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Haiti’s capital

“I repeat: We are not calling for a military or political mission of the United Nations. We are calling for a robust security force deployed by Member States to work hand-in-hand with the Haitian National Police to defeat and dismantle the gangs and restore security across the country” Guterres said. The Miami Herald obtained a copy of a confidential UN document with more details on the scope and mandate of a possible force. 

After leaving Port-au-Prince, Guterres traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to participate in the CARICOM summit, where discussions concerning Haiti continued. Though CARICOM governments had previously expressed skepticism over such a deployment, the body appears to have changed course after pressure from the US and UN. 

CARICOM Chair  and Dominica prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit told journalists that the regional body’s thinking had changed since their earlier meeting and that a security deployment would be necessary to provide “a safe corridor to be able to bring in humanitarian support, which Haiti desperately needs.” Skerrit also noted that Rwanda, whose president traveled to the summit with Secretary of State Blinken, had “indicated its willingness to provide peacekeeping and security personnel.” 

Earlier this year, the government of Kenya made a similar commitment. Yet, the planned force still lacks a lead country, with the US insisting it has no interest in doing so. Both Brazil and Canada, which played instrumental roles in the last UN security mission to Haiti, have previously declined requests from the United States to lead the multinational force, though the foreign ministers of both countries met late last month to discuss the situation in Haiti. Though CARICOM’s position has changed, Skerrit added that any deployment would need the authorization of the UN Security Council — something far from guaranteed. 

The day after the summit’s conclusion in Trinidad, the UN Security Council met to once again discuss Haiti. Ahead of the meeting, Guterres called on member countries “to act now to create the conditions for the deployment of a multinational force to assist the Haitian National Police.” Though many countries expressed their support for a multinational security force, no concrete resolution on the deployment came out of the meeting, with representatives from China and Russia expressing concern at the viability of such an option in the long term. China’s representative noted that any foreign action would have little effect without greater progress on the domestic political front.

At the conclusion of their meeting, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) for another year. Its resolution also asks Secretary-General António Guterres to

submit a written report to the Council, in consultation with Haiti, within 30 days, outlining the full range of support options the United Nations can provide to enhance the security situation, including support for combating illicit trafficking and diversion of arms and related materiel, additional training for the Haitian National Police, support for a non-United Nations multinational force, or a possible peacekeeping operation, in the context of supporting a political settlement in Haiti.

Though the US Congress has been relatively quiet on the question of a force deployment to Haiti, Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that prohibits funds from being “used to provide for armed unilateral or multilateral intervention in Haiti, unless Congress first enacts a joint resolution authorizing the specific use of such funds.”

Civil Society Responds

Commenting on the secretary-general’s renewed push for a force deployment, Jacques Ted Saint-Dic, a member of the Montana Accord Monitoring Office, made clear the group’s position: “… if the country is offered adequate technical assistance, and if we are allowed to purchase arms and munitions, to conduct a certification and depoliticization process inside the Haitian National Police, and to sever the ties between the state and the gangs, we can put an end to the country’s security crisis.” 

Building on the argument, Pierre Espérance, director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, wrote in Foreign Policy to argue that more police would alone not be enough to resolve the security situation. “In Haiti, gang members are not independent warlords operating apart from the state. They are part of the way the state functions — and how political leaders assert power,” he wrote.

In the article, Espérance detailed how anti-gang police operations were sabotaged or aborted by high-ranking officials, many of whom are linked directly with the armed groups themselves:

Bolstering the police force will not bring change absent a broader political agreement. The Haitian National Police is split between brave and committed officers fighting gangs and officers who are aiding gangs. If the international community trains and supplies the department now, crooked cops will continue to share tactical information, vehicles, arms, and ammunition with gangs. The hamstrung police force will not make any more headway.

Rather than focusing narrowly on deploying a security force, US officials should “create and execute a clear and consistent policy on Haiti that puts democracy at its center and supports advocates seeking to break the stranglehold of an undemocratic regime,” he concluded. 

Echoing Espérance’s analysis, the human rights clinics at New York University School of Law and the Harvard School of Law released a letter sent to Secretary of State Blinken and Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for the Western Hemisphere. “Progress on human rights and security and a return to constitutional order will only be possible if Haitian people have the opportunity to change their government, and that will only come if the United States ceases to support the illegitimate administration,” the groups wrote. 

“U.S. officials say that they are not picking political winners or losers in Haiti, and yet their thumb is on the scale in favor of Dr. Henry. This must end. The U.S. government and other foreign actors must create space for Haitian people to return to constitutional order and to build their own democracy.”

CARICOM Travels to Haiti for Continued Political Negotiations

On July 12, the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group arrived in Port-au-Prince to continue the political dialogue initiated in Kingston last month. Henry has pledged to increase the “inclusiveness” of his de facto government, but most other participants in the Kingston meeting had pushed for an agreement that disperses power between a prime minister and a presidential college

UN Secretary-General Guterres, in his visit to Haiti, voiced support for the CARICOM-facilitated dialogue process. However, at the Security Council briefing last week, the head of the UN political mission in Haiti spoke in support of Henry’s proposal for expanding the existing High Transition Council and his plans to move forward with the formation of a new provisional electoral council. 

Upon returning to Haiti from the CARICOM summit, Henry spoke to the press, reiterating his pledge to form a provisional electoral council and reshuffle the ministerial cabinet. Those efforts, however, are unlikely to significantly expand the breadth of the transitional government. In fact, efforts to push forward with an electoral council prior to a broader political agreement are likely to exacerbate political tensions, and threaten to undermine the ongoing CARICOM-facilitated negotiations. 

After three days of meetings in Port-au-Prince, the results were again inconclusive, with no political agreement reached between the signatories of the Kingston declaration and those of the December 21 Accord. In a statement to Le Nouvelliste, André Michel, a signatory of the December 21 Accord, denounced the “excessive ambitions” of the Kingston signatories, arguing that they have rejected the proposals of his coalition to instead focus on their advocacy of a presidential college.  

However, Liné Balthazar, president of the PHTK party and a signatory of the Kingston declaration, paints a different picture: “As of now, the only written proposal presented to CARICOM is that of the signatories of the Kingston declaration.” He argues that the discussions failed because the other parties did not put forward concrete proposals, only verbal declarations. The parties have set the goal to continue engaging in discussion in order to reach a decision by July 31, but the details of their future negotiations remain unknown.

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