Viewpoint by P.I. Gomes
The writer is the former Secretary-General of The Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS)
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago (IDN) — Haiti’s history of horror and resolute self-determination is once again a subject of controversy and confusion in much of the world’s media.
Since the brutal assassination of her last President, Jovenel Moise, on July 7, 2021, the ensuing sixteen months have witnessed a spate of violence, street protests, loss of lives and rampage of armed gangs, expressing periodic disruption in Haiti’s capital and several neighbourhoods, engaging the national police, ill-equipped, overwhelmed and containing members heavily compromised.
Sad as it is, the near-tragic state in which the great majority of Haiti’s 12 million persons face oppression, injustice and endemic poverty is a situation of great complexity, often misinformed by established western mainstream media. Commentary demands caution, and national civil society initiatives warrant more attention.
Following the assassination of President Moise, questions persist on the failure of investigations to lead to an arrest, so far, of the suspected foreign mercenaries alleged to be responsible for that tragic slaying of the elected President. Following President Moise’s assassination, Prime Minister Ariel Henry was banned from leaving the country due to his alleged involvement in the President’s slaying. (https://www.bbc.com September 14, 2021). Response to Moise’s demise sparked protests in many parts of the country, which were fuelled by the increase in the price of fuel by Prime Minister Henry due to IMF austerity measures.
The upsurge and growing power of armed gangs cannot be explained unrelated to the anger and growing rage of broad masses in various communities who suspect collusion of the long-standing business elites and accomplices in foreign countries against a popular President Moise, who was widely perceived as working for the welfare of the great majority of young unemployed in ghettoes and rural areas.
Continuing communal outbursts stemmed from a widely held view of the present government’s illegitimacy and absence of popular support but mainly backed by the wealthy business class, some army personnel and Haitians in the US and other countries. There is the prevailing view that the current Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, assumed the role of Head of State with no legal or constitutional authority, save endorsement by the USA Biden administration.
This vacuum of legitimate authority has provided fertile ground for the wanton spread of armed gangs, adept at robberies, murder and kidnapping, even the sealing off and capture of a major fuel terminal, that gave rise to power failures in essential health and transport services. A cholera outbreak is estimated to have taken150 or more lives, and some 7,000 persons have been hospitalised, according to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
Anxious for recognition by the international community, Prime Minister Henry, addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2021, claimed that his major concern was to have the democratic institutions of the country function properly and, a primary element of this was the conduct of elections as soon as possible. To achieve this, the Prime Minister set up a mechanism of his choosing to supervise the transition.
Contrary to this position has been the influential civil society movement based on the Montana Accord.
Mobilising Civil society for a Haitian-led Solution
The Montana Accord is an approach proposed in August 2021 by the Commission for a Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, a group of civic, religious and political organizations and leaders that assembled after the assassination of President Moise. (Cf https://haitiantimes.com October 2022). The group currently includes the signatures of 418 civil society organizations, 105 popular organizations, 85 political parties and groups and 313 personalities.
Just four months later by Sunday, December 12, 2021, in Pétionville, as part of the Montana Accord signed on August 30, 2021, the Montana Accord Monitoring Office (BSA) was established. With this in place and in the presence of business representatives, civilian parliamentarians, including Senator Joseph Lambert and members of diplomatic missions, a National Transitional Council (CNT) was announced.
This Council, made up of 52 members appointed by parties, political groups and civil society organizations, will have the task of electing a provisional President and a Prime Minister, and then validating the Government’s roadmap.
While the Haitian-led initiative has continued to gain momentum in Port-au-Prince and outlying districts, political rivalries, economic hardship and long-standing competing interests within the commercial class have intensified political tensions. At the centre of this is interim PM Ariel Henry, anxious to pursue a contrived electoral event under his control and thereby gain legitimacy. But strongly resisting that attempt of an autocratic, US-backed imposition has been the popular, civil society mobilising process inspired by the Montana Accord.
A growing consensus within and among the Haitian diaspora favours the approach aimed at strengthening the transitional Council (CNT) and its road map with the following elements:
First, the continuation of the ongoing tactical support to the Haitian National Police (HNP). Even limited successes have a positive psychological effect on the HNP itself and provide a more positive sense at the community level that all is not lost.
Second, diplomatic, economic, and security-related support to energize and sustain a Haitian transitional governing structure, and in doing so, also lay out the technical, staffing, and security-related needs for elections to be held at some point in this uncertain timeline.
Third, what ultimately will amount to a more credible execution of the “building back better” concept that emerged after the 2010 earthquake, ensuring this time that it meaningfully improves the country’s debilitated public infrastructure, delivers an effective community jobs program, and reenergizes Haiti’s productive capacity.
And fourth, with some creativity, lay the foundations for an apparatus able to tackle Haiti’s lack of accountability and transparency in most aspects of public governance. This basket goes beyond strengthening existing judicial and the rule of law institutional arrangements to address what amounts to a regime of impunity and widespread human rights violations.
Engaging the United Nations Security Council
The heightened state of a precarious future to realise a “Haiti-led solution” and months of diplomatic exchanges at the United Nations (UN) resulted in Ambassador Helen La Lime, the UN Special Representative for Haiti and head of the UN Mission in Haiti briefing the Security Council on October 17, 2022.
According to PassBlue.com, extensive debate in the UN Security Council (SC) centred on two broad issues, viz. sanctions and intervention. These entailed arguments on the nature, type, purpose and who should be the subject of sanctions and, secondly, what kind of intervention, if any, were to be made by external sources—military, humanitarian and resources for a police task force.
The SC unanimously approved resolution (2653) of October 21, 2022 that established a sanctions regime to be adhered to by all UN member states. Specifically, the resolution imposed a travel ban on Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier, the ruthless former officer of the HNP and leader of a coalition of gangs, applicable also to other gang leaders and entities perpetrating or financing criminal activities in Haiti. Assets were to be frozen, and a ban imposed to prevent the supply of illicit arms into the country.
This targeted resolution marked a positive contribution of effective multilateral action in practice. It was supportive of the broadly-based Haitian initiative and strongly commended by several member states, not as an externally imposed sanctions regime of dubious value but a commitment that was intended to send “a strong message of Security Council support to the Haitian people in their fight against criminal gangs.” (www.securitycouncilreport.org)
Moreover, “some members—including Ireland, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—recognised that sanctions alone will not solve all of Haiti’s problems and emphasised the need to promote a Haitian-led political solution.” (Ibid. emphasis added). As a positive outcome, it buttressed the Montana Accord and countered those countries leaning towards another military intervention.
This concern to ensure that space and a clear understanding favourable to the promotion of a Haitian-led political solution served as a genuine step forward by a nuanced functioning of the UNSC. One could also welcome the output of the SC resolution as strongly demonstrating the value of multilateralism in a context of complex, competing interests.
That outcome of the UNSC was arrived at in favour of “targeted” sanctions and against the call by Mexico and the USA for external military intervention. No doubt this achievement was able to benefit from SC member countries recalling the woeful consequences that accompanied previous military intervention and occupation of Haiti. Institutional memory had conveyed, for instance, the deplorable consequences of the previous UN Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) of 14 years from 2004-2017, which included lamentable results.
Far from stabilising and humanitarian, according to available records, that mission was known to have helped “police terrorise Haitians, incurred a host of human rights violations, including rape of Haitian children and was attributed as responsible for a deadly cholera outbreak. (cf https://peacekeeping.un.org).
Glimmers of hope for a Haiti-led solution
These last few weeks, following the Security Council’s sanctions and travel bans accompanied by a supply from the Canadian government of enhanced armoured equipment for the National Police, there has been less sporadic gang violence in the capital.
The Montana Accord process inspiring a Haiti-led solution gives a glimmer of hope that Haiti’s historic self-determination, once freed of external military intervention, will achieve a rendezvous of victory for the country’s full and lasting emancipation. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 November 2022]
Photo: Demonstrators protest against fuel price hikes and to demand that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on September 19, 2022. Courtesy of AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph
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