Haiti News Round-Up No. 9: Transition Council at Odds with De Facto PM

November 06, 2023

A simmering conflict between the High Council for the Transition (HCT) and de facto prime minister Ariel Henry has burst into the open. Led by former presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat, the three-member HCT was created as part of the December 21 accord, a political agreement signed by Henry and members of the governing coalition in late 2022. In addition to the creation of the HCT, an ostensible check on the prime minister’s power, the agreement called for elections to be held in 2023 and for a new president to take office in February 2024. 

Speaking to Radio Kiskeya yesterday, Manigat lamented the myriad delays in implementation of the accord’s provisions and explained that it would be difficult for the HCT and Henry to remain in power beyond the February 2024 deadline. She laid the blame squarely on Henry, who did not adhere to the accord’s deadlines and “trampled” on its requirements. 

The conflict, however, has been building for some time. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste in March, Manigat complained that the HCT was barely functional. “We can’t even find a single sheet of paper. We are facing difficulties in functioning as an institution. We cannot recruit any personnel because we don’t have a budget. We have had to protest, arguing that we cannot be treated this way. We hope that the people we are speaking with will show good faith and we will be able to function like any other state institution.”

From the beginning, the HCT faced criticism from civil society and political actors, who argued that the body only provided the appearance of legitimacy to the de facto prime minister — while having no actual ability to check Henry’s power. Nevertheless, the HCT and the December 21 accord have repeatedly been praised by international actors as the basis for progress on the political front. 

At an early October press conference, intended to communicate the government’s response to the Security Council authorization of the Kenya-led intervention, Manigat took the mic and said she hadn’t even been told she was going to speak. The HCT had been invited to participate in a meeting of the council of ministers, but described their involvement as nothing more than a facade. “We didn’t really have any speaking time,” Manigat said. “The HCT is housed in a small space just so it can exist. This is not the real seat we need,” she added, repeating her criticism from earlier in the year. 

The HCT’s public frustration with Henry reached a peak late last month, after its secretary-general, Anthony Virginie Saint-Pierre, was kidnapped. Speaking at the United Nations on October 23, Manigat offered a cryptic comment in relation to her colleague’s kidnapping. “We do not wish to name anyone, let alone a particular group, but his kidnapping is certainly not a coincidence,” she told the audience. Saint-Pierre was kidnapped at a health clinic reportedly by men wearing police uniforms. 

Three days later, two members of the HCT, including Manigat, sent a letter to Henry condemning his continued silence on the case. “Nine days have passed since the secretary general of the High Council of the Transition (HCT), Mr. Anthony Virginie Saint-Pierre, was sequestered. We are stunned to the core that the government does not seem concerned about this, let alone the fate that has befallen him,” they wrote, before going on to denounce the “ineffectiveness” of the government in dealing with the country’s insecurity. 

“If the State remains indifferent to the kidnapping of a minister, the message sent to the Haitian people is that they are completely on their own! What are you saying to the other members of the HCT and to the members of your government?” the letter concluded. 

On October 30, after 12 days in captivity, Saint-Pierre was released. Though the HCT celebrated the news, it does not appear to have resolved the underlying conflict between the de facto prime minister and the HCT. 

Foreign actors have pushed for an expanded HCT as part of a broader political accord. But the ongoing public conflict and Manigat’s comments that both the HCT and Henry would struggle to remain in power beyond February 2024 raise significant questions about the viability of that path forward. 

CARICOM Mediators Delay Return to Haiti

According to sources cited by Le Nouvelliste, the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group has indefinitely postponed a planned trip to Haiti that would have taken place between October 29 and November 6. “The United States suggested to them to wait for things to move on the ground before attempting anything,” a source told the paper. 

In the meantime, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, who has been sporadically engaged in Haiti’s political negotiations for over a year, has apparently been brought back into the fold. 

“Jonathan Powell is trying to pave the way,” a source told the paper. “He is trying to get concessions from each party before a much more formal discussion,” the source explained. 

“There are several parties who are directly engaging with the prime minister.… By the second week of November, these parties should reach an agreement with the head of government. The Caricom mediators are waiting for a resolution before coming.”

Kenya Court Extends Temporary Order Barring Deployment to Haiti

The court order restricting Kenya’s deployment of police officers to Haiti was extended beyond the previous October 24 expiry date “until the petition is determined,” noted Ekuru Aukot, a lawyer involved in the case. It is expected that proceedings to determine how to move forward with the mission will continue on November 9.

Haitian Civil Society Organizations Write Letter to UN Sanctions Committee

A group of Haitian civil society organizations wrote a letter to Michel Xavier Biang, president of the UN Sanctions Committee, arguing that the sanctions list is incomplete and that it should “equally take into account the lists already published by the United States and Canada,” who have sanctioned dozens of individuals from the Haitian political and economic elite. The UN sanctions regime has thus far only listed one individual. 

The letter also requests that the frozen assets from the sanctioned individuals be made available to Haiti for use in its reconstruction and development. The organizations also decry the concerning silence in the UN Experts Panel report over allegations by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) of links between de facto prime minister Ariel Henry and various armed groups. The full letter is available here.

Haitian-Dominican Relations Remain at a Standoff

A delegation from the Organization of American States (OAS) arrived in Haiti on Monday, October 30, in an attempt to mediate the ongoing dispute over the Massacre River canal project. 

The Haitian government has publicly supported the canal construction. On October 26, a governmental delegation met with the canal’s construction committee to discuss the details of financial and technical support that the government has offered to provide. Some involved with the work have expressed skepticism over the government’s offer of support, however. 

“We don’t need people who will betray us in secret,” a worker who participated in the meeting told the Haitian Times. “The canal would be a deliverance for us in the Maribahoux plain and if the government had supported us from the beginning we would have gone further with the work.”

The Haitian authorities also sent a letter to the Dominican Ministry of External Relations expressing a desire to restart discussions on the issue — which have been formally stopped since mid-September. The Haitian side, however, rejected the partial border reopenings by the Dominican authorities. 

Writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Haitian peasant leader Milostène Castin explained the significance of the canal project and provided important context on the unfolding conflict. 

“Dominican President Luis Abinader is doubling down on his decision to seal off the border with Haiti by banning Haitians indefinitely in retaliation for Haitian farmers building a canal on the Massacre River. But don’t be fooled. It is merely a ploy. Abinader is running for re-election and using the same playbook Dominican politicians have used for decades — stoking fear and hatred of Haitians,” Castin writes. 

But for Castin and the communities affected, the canal is a matter of life and death. “This canal would irrigate the Maribaroux Plain, a very fertile zone capable of growing rice, sugar cane, beans, plantain and corn. And these waters would bring more than 7,000 acres of drought-affected land back into production to feed our communities.”

“Our peasant farmers are simply trying to get water so they can survive. Without the canal, thousands of families will suffer. Abinader conceded that shuttering the border was a ‘drastic’ move, but he refuses to back down. Neither will we. Already, we are discussing how to equitably distribute the water across the region. We will continue to build because we must. And we will not ask permission to exist,” Castin concludes. 

On November 2, Abinader met with President Biden at the White House to discuss “the U.S. and the Dominican Republic’s close partnership on a host of shared priorities, including … addressing the security situation in Haiti.” The statement from the White House made no mention of the canal. 

Haiti Suspends Charter Flights to Nicaragua

Many Haitians have been taking advantage of relaxed visa rules in Nicaragua to use the country as a pathway to the United States. Charter flights from Haiti to Nicaragua began in August and have grown “to as many as 15 daily,” reported the Miami Herald. Passengers on the flights have reported paying as much as $4,000 to secure a seat. Critics have accused Daniel Ortega’s administration of “weaponizing” migration to pressure the United States into lifting sanctions lodged against his government. 

The Associated Press reported that, since early August, there have been 268 charter flights between Haiti and Nicaragua, transporting an estimated 31,000 individuals. 

Despite the suspension of flights by the Haitian government, the director general for the National Office of Civil Aviation (OFNAC) announced that flights to Nicaragua would resume soon, with a task force having been set up to develop recommendations to better organize the charter flights and mitigate concerns about migration.

De facto prime minister Henry recently attended a migration summit hosted by Mexico, to which several Latin American and Caribbean leaders were invited to discuss the record number of migrants traveling through the region. Noticeably, the United States was missing from the summit.

Retired Colombian Army Officer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Role in Haiti Assassination

Germán Alejandro Rivera Garcia, one of the 11 suspects in custody in the US case on the assassination of former Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to “conspiring and supporting a plot to kill the Haitian president,” The Guardian reported. John Joël Joseph, the former Haitian senator who recently pleaded guilty, awaits sentencing in December.

Five Individuals in Custody After Being Arrested at the Home of Joseph Badio

On October 22, the Haitian police arrested five individuals at the Fort-Jacques residence of Joseph Félix Badio, one of the alleged masterminds behind the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse, who was arrested himself just days earlier. Those arrested include three lawyers. According to the head of the Mirebalais bar association, of which the lawyers are members, the arrested lawyers stated they were at Badio’s house “to retrieve certain personal effects” of their client. The head of the firm where the lawyers worked has distanced himself from their actions. 

The Miami Herald identified one of the other individuals as Andre Junior Cherisier, who reportedly identified himself to authorities as a journalist. A source told the Herald that Cherisier was a “close confidante” of Badio. The fifth individual remains unidentified. The Herald report contains new details about the circumstances surrounding Badio’s arrest last month. 

Since his arrest, Badio has been interviewed by the judge presiding over the case multiple times, reportedly with the involvement of the FBI. He is being held in the National Penitentiary, along with dozens of other suspects who, two years after the assassination, have yet to be formally charged. 

Haitian Gang Leader Vitel’homme Innocent Indicted by US Prosecutors … Again

One of Haiti’s most notorious gang leaders, Vitel’homme Innocent, has been indicted by US prosecutors for the kidnapping of US citizens Jean Franklin and Marie Odette Franklin, during which the latter was killed. Authorities are offering a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Innocent was previously sanctioned by the Canadian government for gross and systematic human rights violations in Haiti. He was also indicted by federal prosecutors in 2022 for his role in the kidnapping of 16 Christian missionaries the year prior.

RNDDH has previously alleged close connections between Innocent and high-ranking police and government officials. Further, the Miami Herald reported that Badio “was believed to have been under the protection of one of the country’s more powerful gang leaders, Vitel’homme Innocent, and moved around with policemen as his bodyguards.”

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