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What Forces Will Determine What Happens in Haiti?

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry wants elections in the Caribbean nation, but the prospect for that is uncertain. // File Photo: Haitian Government. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry wants elections in the Caribbean nation, but the prospect for that is uncertain. // File Photo: Haitian Government.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has called for a new round of elections, saying that a vote is the only way to solve the country’s political stalemate, although he rejected proposals to transfer power to an interim government that would be in place for two years. Henry’s critics say he is no longer the country’s legitimate leader because the term of assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, whom Henry replaced, was to have expired on Feb. 7. Some accuse Henry of involvement in Moïse’s assassination, allegations that he denies. Is Haiti more likely to hold elections, or is the installation of an interim government more plausible? What forces will determine how the controversy plays out? How likely is it that free and fair elections could take place anytime soon, and what would need to occur before then to hold a nationwide vote?

Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States: “The only way forward is democratic, free and fair elections, which should take place as soon as conditions are met. Prime Minister Henry is working toward elections by bringing as many political party and civil society representatives together, aiming to put in place the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Additionally, he is working day and night with the Haitian National Police to restore a peaceful and stable security environment, not only for elections, but also for the well-being of the Haitian people. The Haitian prime minister’s time in office is in no way tied to presidential terms, but rather to the mission he was given, which is to hold free and fair elections in order to put Haiti back on the democratic map. This is the reason why most recent presidents had to govern with the previous president’s prime minister and ministerial cabinet for up to a year before Parliament could name and ratify a new prime minister. Hence, another argument for a new constitution. Only the Parliament can ratify or remove a prime minister—in case of a dysfunctional Parliament as we have now, the president governs by executive order to ensure continuity of government. This is how Prime Minister Henry was named by late President Moïse, the last democratically elected president. Upon a new president being sworn into office following elections, he or she will have the ability to name a new prime minister, and at that time a newly installed Parliament will be able to ratify or reject the new president’s pick. Until that time, Prime Minister Henry will continue to constitutionally lead the Haitian government. Prime Minister Henry, while having an obligation to carry out his daily business of the state understands that what is really at stake in Haiti’s future. Therefore, he will continue to invite and engage fellow citizens, regardless of their political creed, in continuous dialogue that will lead to a national consensus.”

Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada and steering committee member of Think Tank Haiti, a joint project of the Inter-American Dialogue and Quisqueya University: “Ariel Henry’s legitimacy is seriously undermined in the eyes of the Haitian people. He was appointed prime minister by President Jovenel Moïse who, wanting to govern by decree, dismantled all the institutions guaranteeing the rule of law, broke apart the National Assembly and prevented legislative elections. The political clan with which Henry is associated has been heavily involved in the Petrocaribe scandal, the most serious corruption case that Haiti has known in recent decades. The regime from which he comes allows total impunity for the mafia forces who have looted, ruined and delivered the country to banditry and insecurity. The influence of gangs is real throughout the country, and it poses a serious risk during elections. Moïse was assassinated the day Henry was supposed to take office as prime minister last July. Due to a lack of constitutional provisions and a democratic formula to fill this presidential vacancy, a core group of ambassadors, under the leadership of the United States, the United Nations, France and Canada, selected Henry as head of government. For the Haitian people, it is an offense of interference. And now the international community is trumpeting that the solution to the crisis must come from the Haitians. The international community also has not fully acknowledged the ‘Commission for a Haitian Solution,’ which since July, in the face of extreme urgency, has brought together citizen forces and carried the Montana Accord in favor of a transitional government and a two-year interim government, which would ensure the return to constitutional order and the organization of democratic elections. At the Jan. 22 conference that the Canadian government organized, and which included the foreign affairs ministers of 20 countries, Henry received firm instructions to initiate an electoral process and establish a pact with civil society. The signatories of the Montana Accord, which several political parties have joined, were not invited. If the solution must come from the Haitians, then they should be the ones to choose and decide.”

Cécile Accilien, vice president of the Haitian Studies Association: “Whether or not Haiti holds elections depends on what the national and international players acting behind the scenes have decided. There is a historical pattern of U.S. and international meddling in Haiti. We must also consider the ways in which the majority of individuals in Haiti live in spaces where economic, political, criminal, food and social instability have been a way of life for the past two decades. I do not believe Haiti is ready to hold elections. The forces that will determine how the controversy plays out are the same ones that support the kidnapping and the instability because it benefits the vultures, the parasites and the 2 percent who are controlling the country and stealing the people’s wealth. To hold a nationwide vote that is truly democratic, free and fair and not just a farce and a sham, there would need to be concrete and sustainable actions from the government to curtail the ongoing gang violence. The country is being ruled by gangs. The question is: who and where are the players who are paying and controlling the gangs? Follow the money, and we will see who has the true power. Those with the power have already decided if, where and when there will be elections in Haiti.” 

Raymond A. Joseph, former ambassador of Haiti to the United States: “When President Jovenel Moïse’s constitutional mandate ended on Feb. 7, 2021, he held on to power, with international support that the United States led, despite widespread opposition from leading Haitian organizations and reputable personalities, including constitutional experts. Due to the actions of President Moïse, Haiti was devoid of an institutional infrastructure for succession, and after two weeks of uncertainty, the Core Group of Western diplomats imposed the will of the slain leader, who had chosen Ariel Henry as prime minister. On Feb. 7, 2022, when Moïse’s mandate ended, Henry refused to resign, saying that his mandate was not ‘linked’ to that of the slain president. Again, ignoring leading Haitian voices, the international community supports him. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said the sooner ‘Haitians are able to go to the polls and select a new democratic government, the better it will be for the Haitian people.’ But with ‘adequate security,’ he added. With violent gangs in control of about half of the country, who would dare organize elections anytime soon? Moreover, in his seven months at the helm, Henry failed to quell the gangs. On the contrary, the situation has worsened. With credible suspicion of his implication in the assassination of President Moïse, Henry is damaged goods. He must resign. Only an interim government of honest and determined patriots, with Haitian civil society, yes with international support, as happened following the upheaval of February 2004, will help get Haiti back on a path toward democracy.”

James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project: “Article 149 of Haiti’s Constitution says that if a president dies in office, the prime minister stays until the next presidential election. No provision ends the prime minister’s term with the president’s. So Ariel Henry has constitutional authority, the last remaining in Haiti. That doesn’t mean he is his own man. A former president and former prime minister are violently feuding over who will be the next president, and Henry is in the former president’s camp. The objective is, as always, the spoils of office. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated because he tried to horn in on the lucre. The investigation has gone nowhere because the assassin-masters belong to the class of ‘untouchables,’ an exalted group that enjoys immunity. Nor is Henry pushing an investigation that might implicate his camp. Each camp has gangs that have taken over half of the capital. Elections are impossible amid this armed feud. For starters, Henry could stack the electoral commission, now in precarious formation, in favor of his camp. That would mean the same arbitrary disqualification of candidates from the other side as occurred in 2015. On election day, the contenders would send their gangs into the voting-center courtyards to rush the doors of the polling rooms, as they did here and there in 2015. The only solution is to resend the U.N. mission, this time with executive authority, namely the power to put the top contenders in a room and not let them out until they have agreed to share power. This mission would not usurp Haitian state sovereignty. The gangs have already done that. The other course, the Biden administration’s ‘Haitian-led solution,’ is too dreadful to contemplate. This is a scorched-earth policy hoping that the contenders will finally agree when they realize there is nothing left to fight over.”

Georges Fauriol, fellow at the Caribbean Policy Consortium and senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS): “The fact that interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry is digging in his heels—pushing for elections later this year—underscores the absence of any signals from Washington for the alternative Montana Accord scenario. The latter has already put in motion a core transition leadership with a somewhat risky two-year timeline but begs the question of how this translates into national governance with Henry still clinging to his office. Calls for dialogue appear anchored to the hope of a compromise path forward between Montana’s longer-term transition concluding with elections and Henry’s push for early elections under his tenure. Although talks are taking place (the latest last Friday), public bickering over the basics—transition governance structure, its duration, the restructuring of a credible CEP (electoral council), the actual mechanics of elections and notions of constitutional reform—is not encouraging. Perhaps the most constructive role that the international community can play is to impress upon Henry that holding national elections this year without a lot of preparation is a suicidal enterprise. It will in fact further reduce his political survival. In practice, elections cannot be held without significant international material support and security commitments. With that issue off the table, the concept of a transitional political leadership as rolled out by the Montana Accord might then have greater political bandwidth to develop further, particularly if it includes some role for Henry. Critically, Washington needs a clearer, not dominating nor as is presently the case, passive, strategy expressed in coordination with a coherent international community voice.”

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