Haiti's tragedy in headline news & online news

As Their People Starve and Die, Haiti’s Politicians Continue to Fight Over Titles, Power

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By Jacqueline Charles
Miami Herald

(Miami Herald) Children are on the brink of starvation and death. Foreigners are being evacuated out of the country. Multimillion-dollar investments are going up in flames, along with schools, hospitals and police precincts. online news

But while Port-au-Prince is burning, Haiti’s political parties and power brokers are engulfed in a raging struggle of their own over names, titles and control of government ministries. The battle is rooted in a centuries-old thirst for power that has defined the country’s troubled history of political instability.

A month into the ongoing siege of the capital by armed gangs, Haiti’s warring politicians and influential civil leaders remain paralyzed over who should head a proposed presidential council — and over details such as whether to call the panel’s leader “president” or “chairman,” the constitutionality of the panel, and who should decree its official formation, the outgoing prime minister, who is out of the country, or his substitute.

Amid the delays in forming a new government and a deadly surge in violence, a former rebel leader is ratcheting up calls for a national uprising that would put him in charge of the country. The rebel leader, Guy Philippe, appealed Tuesday to the “young armed young men” — who this year have killed more than 1,500 Haitians — “to let the people pass, do not intimidate them, protect the people so that they can take over the streets.”

”The situation is very severe and unfortunately the politics aren’t facilitating a solution,” said Roger Carrié, an investor in Haiti’s once-thriving garment apparel sector, whose investment became the latest victim of the gangs’ mayhem. “There needs to be a crisis of consciousness here for everyone to realize it’s now a question of life or death for the population.”

On Friday, one of four buildings inside the Digneron Industrial Park, a 96,000-square-foot warehouse, was torched. The park is located east of the capital in the Croix-des-Bouquets suburb. It is part of an investment of more than $15 million by Palms Apparel Group SA, whose investors include Carrié and others.

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Gunmen also destroyed administrative offices inside a 200,000-square-foot production building in the industrial park, which was slated to provide upwards of 15,000 jobs in Haiti. It is now among countless businesses that have been looted and burned by an alliance of armed groups. The group’s unrelenting coordinated attacks began on February 29 against police stations, prisons, key government infrastructure and other facilities with the goal of deposing the current government.

Even before the latest flare-up, businesses were being affected by armed groups, now controlling more than 80% of the capital. In 2022, after roads to Carrié’s park were blocked with shipping containers and gangs kidnapped 29 employees, the operation was shuttered. Despite the financial hardships of having a closed industrial park, Carrié said, he and other investors were hopeful for a brighter day to come.

“With each passing day, things are getting more and more complicated and no one understands what is at the base of the destruction, what is the objective,” Carrié said. “Up until now, no one can tell me.”

Haiti, he said, needs jobs, and it’s incomprehensible that job-creating industries like his are being destroyed along with hospitals, schools, pharmacies and police stations. On Tuesday, Haiti’s National Library, Bibliothèque Nationale, which holds rare historical books and manuscripts, issued an SOS as armed gunmen surrounded the building for a second day.

The unceasing posturing by Haiti’s political class, observers say, is delaying any solution to help Haitians confront the unprecedented level of violence that has led to a month-long shutdown of the country’s main seaport and the international and domestic airports in the capital. With neither goods nor visitors coming in and out of gang-plagued Port-au-Prince, Haiti faces the possible collapse of what’s left of its government.

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“When you have all of these members … in a battle for power, I don’t think the way the country currently is, this scenario helps the country,” Carrié said of the presidential council. “Maybe they are not thinking about the situation that exists in the country. I will tell you honestly, it’s catastrophic right now. A lot of people are dying from hunger. It’s not normal for us to be where we are and if something isn’t done in the near future, things could further degenerate.”

Late Monday, Haiti’s government said in a communique that Prime Minister Ariel Henry had received the names of those who have been named to the transitional presidential council. But during a meeting of the cabinet over the matter, government ministers “stumbled over” constitutional and legal questions.

“The Constitution and Haitian laws nowhere provide for this institution,” the communique said, adding that faced with the legal questions, the council of ministers wants to create a commission of legal experts to address the matter.

For weeks now, momentum has been building to abandon the presidential council’s formation and call on a justice from Haiti’s Supreme Court to step into the presidential void, left vacant by the 2021 assassination of Jovenel Moïse. Moïse’s death plunged Haiti deeper into political chaos.

Supporters of the proposal to do away with the presidential panel include jurists, former prime ministers and political parties that support Henry. Party leaders sent a letter this week to the 15-member Caribbean Community, CARICOM, whose input, along with Haitian leaders, led to the proposal for the creation of the panel a month ago. In the letter, Henry’s supporters objected to his ouster, and though they’ve already designated a representative of their own to be among the council’s voting members, they told Caribbean leaders a judge from the court would be the better option.

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The problem with that suggestion: It’s as potentially unconstitutional as the proposed presidential council. In 2011, Haiti’s parliament adopted changes to the country’s 1987 constitution to remove the Supreme Court as an option to fill a presidential void. Instead, the void should be filled through an indirect parliamentary election — impossible right now because there is no Parliament.

Supporters of the Supreme Court option, however, have chosen to ignore the 1987 amended French version of the country’s ruling charter and instead refer to its original, unamended version.

“Today, no matter what formula we use, we will not be in the constitution,” said Hérold Jean-Francois, a journalist and political analyst who recently described Haitian leaders’ lust for dominance in an essay titled “Haiti, the disease of power.” Only a political accord “with actors of goodwill can help us get out” of the crisis, he added.

“When it comes to Haitian politicians, when it’s good for them they are in the amended Constitution of 1987, and when it’s not good for them, they return to the original, unamended Constitution,” Jean-Francois said.

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Lack of urgency
The lack of urgency among Haiti’s political class, Jean-Francois added, is something Haiti can’t afford right now. However, it doesn’t surprise him, given the country’s tortuous history over more than two centuries, which includes conspiracies,

assassinations, plots and uprisings.

On Monday, as armed gangs made a third attempt to overtake the presidential palace, injuring four Haiti National Police officers nearby and then burning their armored vehicles, Philippe, the rebel leader, dropped a six-minute video on social media. He announced he had “heard the cry” and demands for change from the Haitian people, and decided to heed their call for him to lead a transition.

Philippe called on Haitians “to take to the streets to force the thing, demand it and demonstrate that we are willing to make all the sacrifices so that what the people want happens.” He asked Haitians to launch the effort to “not only to debunk the system but to impose the choice of the Haitian people.”

A convicted felon in the U.S. who served time in a federal prison, Philippe was deported to Haiti in November after pleading guilty to drug-trafficking related charges. He led a 2004 rebellion that forced out a sitting president and ushered in the transition that was led by a Supreme Court justice and a former South Florida resident, the late Gérard Latortue, as prime minister.

Philippe accused the members of the presidential council of betraying Haiti and said they should withdraw their names. He also lashed out at the international community and called on Henry’s government not to sign the executive order creating the panel.
“Don’t push the country any further. Do not accept, do not sign. The international community and CARICOM have no authority to ask, to require you to take such an act,” Philippe said.

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On Tuesday, as the United Nations Human Rights Council met in Geneva to discuss the latest report on the repeated flagrant human rights violations in Haiti and the country’s “alarming” security crisis, the U.S. representative called on Haitians “to reach consensus on power sharing and inclusive governance.”

The U.S. State Department said late Monday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with Guyanese President and current chair of CARICOM Irfaan Ali about Haiti. Blinken, who is in France and is expected to discuss Haiti with President Emmanuel Macron, talked with Ali about efforts to support the transitional presidential council and a Multinational Security Support mission led by Kenya to help Haiti’s beleaguered police.

“The Secretary reiterated the United States values CARICOM’s support of Haitian efforts to promote inclusive and representative governance,” a State Department statement said.

‘Haiti is never on the agenda’

Henry has said he will resign from his post as prime minister when the presidential council is installed. Members of his government, however, are accused of stalling the transition to prevent themselves from being left out of a job. Meantime, concerns within the council are growing that some of the political blocs that named each member are positioning themselves to wield undue power and influence after they are officially installed.

The delay in the council’s formation and the persistent doubts about its viability are slowing down other initiatives. Kenya, which has offered to deploy at least 1,000 of its police officers as part of the security mission it has volunteered to lead, halted its plans after Henry announced his pending resignation.

Henry was in Nairobi finalizing an agreement for the mission when violence broke out in Port-au-Prince, and he was unable to return to Haiti. As he prepared to land in Puerto Rico, he was pressured by Washington to resign.

“Haiti is never on the agenda of the politicians,” said Jean-Francois. “If Haiti were on the agenda of politicians, it would have 220 years advancement on all of the countries on the American continent, because we’re the second country to achieve our independence after the United States.”

Instead, Haiti is the hemisphere’s most unstable country and its poorest. Nearly 60% of Haitians live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, and today at least 5.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

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“The big problem in Haiti is our incapacity to compromise, to arrive at a consensus,” Jean-Francois said.

Last month, an international coalition led by Caribbean Community leaders, with input from the U.S., helped broker the creation of the presidential panel after Haiti’s political parties and civic organizations were unable to decide on a unified proposal.

The council, once installed, is supposed to select a prime minister to replace Henry. That person will then need to form a new government. Together, the council and prime minister are supposed to prepare Haiti for the arrival of the foreign force and eventual elections, which last took place in 2016.

The composition of the presidential council, which consists of seven voting members and two non-voting observers, has been criticized as an unmanageable “seven-headed serpent” that was forced on Haitians by outsiders and is contrary to the country’s political culture.

“Everything suggests a rapid bursting or blocking of this structure which seems more to be a formula imposed by guardians, than a consensual choice negotiated between Haitian actors of good will,” members of the December 21 coalition of political parties backing Henry wrote in its letter to CARICOM, suggesting that “Haiti cannot be a testing ground” and advocating instead for a Supreme Court judge to lead a transition.

One of the Caribbean leaders told the Miami Herald that the proposal for a presidential council with multiple members was first put on the table by Haitians in June 2023 when political and civic leaders traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, at the invitation of CARICOM to negotiate with Henry. A key supporter of that governance structure: the “Montana Accord,” a group of civil society leaders who had been pushing for a three-year transition and had elected their own prime minister and president, and pushed for Henry’s ouster.
Jean-Francois said there was nothing stopping today’s critics of the presidential council from revising it to address their concerns.

“Why did we need to go to CARICOM as a mediator? We couldn’t do that among ourselves?” he said. It’s ironic, he added, that a country that achieved independence in 1804 “to ensure foreigners can never determine what happens in Haiti, that this is where we turned for help — to foreigners, whether it’s CARICOM or Kenya.”

“It’s a waste” of Haitians’ talents and abilities to be forced to look abroad for a decision, Jean-Francois added, but “everyone has been fed up with us for a long time.”

©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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