Biden and the deadly stalemate in Haiti

Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his “September 11th” coalition met with representatives of the Montana Accord last week to discuss how to end the country’s political stalemate. The Montana Accord is a civil society-led transition proposal negotiated last year at the Montana Hotel that hundreds of national and local organizations have endorsed. A coalition of political parties referred to as the PEN joined the Montana group earlier this year. Close allies of Henry quickly assembled his September 11th coalition last year after the Montana proposal was announced. This latest meeting between the two coalitions ended without agreement.

The main sticking point is the composition of the executive that would oversee a new electoral process. The Montana/PEN accord calls for a presidential committee to work alongside a prime minister, to be elected out of a National Transition Council. This modified dual executive would organize new elections, and provide interim governance. Henry’s coalition says there is no constitutional provision for such a move, and no practical means for selecting a president prior to new elections. The “September 11” position therefore leaves Henry, as acting prime minister, in charge of a new electoral process. This is exactly what the Montana/PEN folks do not want.

Henry’s appeal to constitutionality is interesting. The constitution has long been inoperative, at least in terms of giving form to a functioning government. Moïse was ruling by decree his last 18 months in office after repeatedly blocking parliamentary elections. Henry is in power now largely at the behest of the United States. There was no confirmation process, and no functioning parliament to conduct one. In place of constitutional processes, the “Core Group” (a group of diplomats from the US, Canada, France, Brazil, others, alongside representatives of the UN and OAS) invited Henry to form a government after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, in a letter announced via Tweet from the US State Department.  

Cité Soleil

Outside the Hotel Karibe where the discussions are happening, Port au Prince is on fire. The latest conflict is in Cite Soleil, home to 300,000 people.  From the Miami Herald

The National Human Rights Defense Network said its investigation shows that the clash was triggered by a 3 a.m. Thursday [July 7] attack against the Brooklyn area of Cité Soleil by the G-9 gang federation with the objective of dislodging leader Jean Pierre, also known as Ti Gabriel or Gabo, and putting the area under G-9’s control. To achieve this, other gang members agreed to combine forces with Chérizier, and use heavy machinery to destroy homes on behalf of his federation.

OCHA’s July 14th update confirmed 99 people killed, 135 injured, and a minimum of 2,500 people displaced as a result of the fighting in Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince has seen repeated gang warfare over the last few years. Nearly 1,000 people have been murdered in Port-au-Prince since January, with thousands displaced and 650 documented kidnappings. As gangs fight to control commerce into and out of Port-au-Prince, the results are periodic disruptions of trade, creating further shortages of fuel and other necessities around the country. 

Last week the police seized cargo containers at the port in La Saline that contained automatic weapons and ammunition destined for the streets. The gun trade between the United States and Haiti is supposed to be highly restricted. Clearly this has been a failure of enforcement. The guns fueling the violence in Haiti all come from the United States, either directly or through the Dominican Republic. The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on July 15th that calls on all countries “to stop the transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to any party in crisis-torn Haiti supporting gang violence and criminal activity.” The United States voted for the resolution. What steps will it take?  

Where is the United States? 

A political cartoon in La Nouvellist this week shows Henry sitting atop an ice cube while men with guns walk in the background and the streets are on fire. He says, “the country is not hot…the press, the church, the UN, [Doctors without Borders] all just give the bad news.” The ice cube (shielding Henry from the local heat) is stamped “Made in the USA.” 

With US patronage behind him, Henry has a virtual veto over any process that would marginalize him and his allies. At the same time, Henry does not seem to have a large enough political base inside Haiti to move forward on his own. The result is the ongoing stalemate, which is deadly for the majority of Haitians who are simply trying to survive.  

The Quixote Center has joined with other organizations in challenging the Biden administration to change course in Haiti. A current effort is an organizational sign on letter to the Biden administration in which, “We call on the US government to stop supporting de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the PHTK party and its political affiliates, so that a Haitian solution to the crisis can emerge.” You can read and sign the letter here

There is also a petition for individuals to sign here.

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