Foreign community scrambling to stave off Haiti crisis

Hoping to stave off a political crisis in Haiti, the country’s leaders and foreign diplomats have been working to get the country’s executive and legislative branches to resolve their differences.

By Jacqueline Charles

Foreign diplomats, influential business leaders and top Haitian politicians have been scrambling this week to prevent a political confrontation that could lead to the ouster of Prime Minister Garry Conille just four months after he took office.

All have been urging parliamentarians and advisers close to both Conille and President Michel Martelly to solve the political crisis that threatens to leave Haiti without a functioning government just as the post-quake country appears to be emerging as a nation of promise.

The urgent appeals come as Haiti prepares to wrap up a successful three-day pre-Lenten carnival in the southern city of Les Cayes, and on the heels of last week’s public plea by Susan Rice, the U.S.’s top envoy to the United Nations, for leaders to stop the political infighting and put their country’s interests above their own.

Conille and Martelly have been at loggerheads over nationality issues, an investigation of $300 million in post-quake contracts and who controls government ministers.

“We are hoping for political stability and that they find an agreement among themselves,” said Sauveur Pierre Etienne, newly elected leader of the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), an opposition party with lawmakers in both chambers of parliament. “Now is not the time to try and reverse the political situation. It will unleash a political and economic catastrophe.”

Etienne, who opposes Conille’s ouster, said opposition leaders are not the ones pressuring the former United Nations official to either resign or face a no confidence vote in the Senate, possibly as early as Thursday.

“The people who are in power, are the ones who are destabilizing themselves,” Etienne said. “The president says ‘Haiti is opened for business.’ And we agree. But when you create a crisis, will capitalists come and invest in the country? Their actions do not fit their words. This group in power is being irresponsible.”

The infighting comes as Haiti replaces Colombia as the top recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America, according to the U.S. State Department, and it has been the beneficiary of efforts to create jobs. The United States and other international donors are investing more than $300 million to build a new industrial park in the north that could create 60,000 new permanent jobs.

“You’re looking at a country where we’re putting in a lot of attention,” Jose Fernandez, asst. U.S. secretary of state in the bureau of economic and business affairs, said this week while visiting Miami. “I have a lot of colleagues in the State Department and USAID who spend a lot of time promoting Haiti and working on investments, electricity issues, health issues and prioritizing investments in Haiti.’’

But all of that could be at risk should the government fall and Haiti once more spend months in political deadlock without a prime minister.

Observers say a political vacuum would impact aid as donors refuse to turn over funds until a prime minister is in office. They also fear the void could lead to further instability. Already concerns are mounting over hundreds of former military officers and young men — some of them armed — who have taken over former army barracks throughout the country. Some have even posted themselves in slums once controlled by gangs loyal to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party.

In recent months, international organizations and foreign diplomats in Port-au-Prince have complained privately that tensions between Conille and Martelly have hindered progress as the country struggles to come back from the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Over the past few weeks, the relationship between the two have deteriorated further as their private disagreements have become public and government ministers side with the president.

Adding to the tensions is an ongoing Senate Commission charged with investigating the nationality of government officials, including Conille and Martelly. Both have denied holding other nationalities, which would make then ineligible to hold office. Further complicating the situation was Conille’s decision to name a commission to audit $300 million in contracts awarded by his predecessor, former Prime Minister and Martelly’s cousin, Jean-Max Bellerive, during the 18-month emergency period after the earthquake. The contracts were financed by a Venezuelan fund.

Martelly’s supporters say the country is facing a governance crisis.

Sen. Joseph Lambert, who once led a majority in the Senate until his party publicly rebuked him last week for his supporting of Martelly, said the votes exist for Conille’s ouster.

Lambert said he is undecided about whether to support Conille’s ouster, but “it is possible.”

Sen. Edmonde Beauzile said while Conille doesn’t appear to have control over his Cabinet, the answer is not to fire him. Whether he goes or stays should not be parliament’s decision, she noted..

“The two heads of the executive should find a modus operandi to contain the crisis,” she said. “The government is still at the starting bloc. It should be given time to assess itself. I may be in a minority but I am guided by the voice of wisdom.”

Sen. Steven Benoit said he believes the move against Conille is linked to his audit of the post-quake contracts.

“You know how Haiti is, when you are trying to do things, some Haitian politicians want to get rid of you.,’’ said Benoit, who’s opposed to the ouster. “That’s why he’s losing support among a lot of senators and deputies.”

Said Etienne: “It has made him vulnerable. They are panicking. They don’t want an investigation.”


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