Council to govern Haiti, prepare for foreign force and elections, is almost complete


More than a week after groups were tasked by an international coalition to name a presidential transition council that will create a new government in Haiti and plan for elections, all but one of the panel members have been named.

Eight names have been forwarded to Haiti’s outgoing prime minister, Ariel Henry, a member of the Caribbean Community bloc known as CARICOM told the Miami Herald. Henry has said he will step down once the council is officially installed.

The CARICOM official, who is not authorized to speak to the media, told the Herald that the formation of the council was delayed because one of the Haitian groups tasked with naming one of the council members, the December 21 Agreement coalition, had not been able to agree on a representative. The group backs Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The coalition has selected Louis Gerald Gilles, a former senator with the Fanmi Lavalas political party, founded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A source close to the outgoing prime minister, who remains locked out of Haiti, said he has yet to receive the names.

On March 11, CARICOM leaders, along with high-level representatives of the United Nations, the United States and several other countries, met in Jamaica to help Haiti create a new government. The proposed solution: A presidential council, with seven voting members and two non-voting observers, to name a new prime minister, prepare the country for elections and welcome a multinational force that would help Haitian police fight gangs that have taken over most the capital. Each sector of Haitian society would be entitled to name one member of the panel, which will also include two non-voting members representing the religious community and civil society.

But the negotiations to name the panel members have been intense and difficult, marred by infighting and disagreements.

Jean-Charles Moïse, the leader of the Pitit Desalin party, one of the groups originally tasked with selecting a panel member, announced last week that he would not join the U.S.-backed transition council, so his group’s seat came up for grabs. Among the proposed solutions: To allow either the religious community or civil society, which includes human-rights advocates, to name the seventh voting member.

In each case, names were suggested, with opponents and supporters on each side lobbying hard behind the scenes, which further delayed the process. In the end, the Pitit Desalin seat has remained vacant — for now, with discussions still ongoing late Tuesday about how to settle the issue.

“The creation of the presidential council is the ‘easy’ part; installing the council will be difficult and then the real problems will come with the selection of a prime minister and president,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born political scientist at the University of Virginia who has been closely following developments. “If that is not complicated enough, this body will have to govern and decide how to deal with the gangs. And that will be the most difficult and divisive issue. The road will be at best, long and arduous.”

The U.S. and Caribbean leaders have placed a lot of stock on the council, hoping that it will temper down the volatile situation that has led to diplomatic missions pulling staff out of Haiti and had the head of the U.N. children’s agency chief describing the unfolding situation to a lawless post-apocalyptic scene out of a famous 1979 post-apocalyptic movie.

“Haiti is a horrific situation,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell told CBS talk show “Face the Nation.”“Many, many people there are suffering from serious hunger and malnutrition and we’re not able to get enough aid to them. It’s almost like it’s like a scene out of ‘Mad Max.’”

Supporters of the transition plan say it is needed in order to create an inclusive government to prepare for the arrival of a Multinational Security Support mission and, eventually, elections.

Leslie Voltaire, a former government minister who has been designated to represent the Fanmi Lavalas political party on the presidential council, said there were reasons the namings have taken so long.

The groups were waiting for the December 21 group to name its panel member, but was also looking for guidance from CARICOM and the United States on the final makeup of the presidential transition council.

On Monday, the December 21 group, which had helped Henry consolidate his grip on power while the U.S. pushed for him to resign, issued a media statement saying it had reached a consensus.

There was another wrinkle Monday when Haiti’s Conference of Catholic Bishops distanced itself from the designee who is supposed to represent the interfaith community. The candidate was being pushed by two Catholic priests and a supporter of the church, sources said. The bishops, in a statement, refuted claims that the conference had named a representative to the presidential panel or was involved in the selection.

Voltaire said even now there are questions about whether the composition of the presidential panel is final.

“We have all of the documents, elaborated ready to go,” he said. “But we are not sure of the definitive composition that CARICOM and the U.S. wants.”

And the gang problem remains. They have continued to target key government installations. On Monday, while a band of armed men sowed chaos in the wealthy enclaves of Port-au-Prince, another group attacked the central bank, not far from the presidential palace. Several of the attackers were killed by police, who successfully thwarted a takeover of the bank.

Voltaire said while the international community is anxious to announce the formation of the presidential transition council, they must take into account the “very difficult” situation Haitians find themselves in.

“I need security from my house to go to the presidential palace to work for eight hours and to go back,” he said.

Analysts say the delay in forming the transition council while armed gangs continue to hold the country hostage underscores the challenges of trying to help a nation where institutions are weak or nonexistent, and the emphasis placed on self-interest to the detriment of the general interest of the population.

Fatton agreed that any grand compromise will be difficult to achieve. The groups and coalitions, he said, are divided among themselves along ideological and personality lines. And he criticized the foreign involvement in Haitian affairs, especially the U.S.

“The U.S. and CARICOM have imposed a framework, [and] the Haitian parties have committed to it. This is an old pattern of Haitian politics: Claim your sovereignty and a Haitian solution to Haitian problems, but not stand firmly against foreign interference,” Fatton said. “So as usual there is an opportunistic convergence between the Haitian political class and foreign powers, mainly the U.S., which is hiding behind CARICOM and yet pulling the strings and financing the outcome. New wine in very old bottles.”

But Voltaire was more optimistic, insisting the process will now proceed quickly despite the obstacles.

“We still have not tried this,” he said of having Haiti be governed by a presidential panel. The new plan, he added, “has a chance to work.”


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