Days before the June 14 end of provisional president Jocelerme Privert’s mandate, a coalition of political parties close to former president Michel Martelly formalized an alliance and began advocating for Privert’s removal. Led by former de facto prime minister under Marelly, Evans Paul, the “Entente Democratique” (ED) or “democratic agreement” as they have called themselves, have denounced the “totalitarian tendencies” of Privert and categorized the possible extension of his mandate as an illegal power grab.
Haitian parliamentarians were expected to vote earlier this week on extending or replacing Privert, who was appointed provisional president in early February after Martelly’s term ended with no elected replacement. The vote was delayed, as it has been previously.
The creation of ED has formalized an alliance between Martelly’s political movement, PHTK, and Guy Philippe, a notorious paramilitary leader who is running for a seat in the Senate. Philippe was the head of a paramilitary force that helped destabilize the country in the run-up to the 2004 coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From its bases in the Dominican Republic, the group mounted numerous attacks targeting police stations and government supporters. According to Human Rights Watch, Philippe also oversaw extrajudicial killings while a police chief in the late 90s. Facing a sealed indictment in the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking ties and money laundering, Philippe remains a DEA most wanted fugitive.
Philippe appeared alongside Martelly’s chosen successor Jovenel Moïse at a December political rally and has voiced his support for Moïse’s candidacy in radio broadcasts, but the formal alliance is an indication that those ties are now deepening. Philippe, a former police chief who received training from U.S. military forces in Ecuador, found an ally in Martelly, who made the army’s restoration a central plank of his presidency and his party. The army was disbanded under Aristide after a long history of human rights abuses and involvement in coup d’états. “The army has always been a part of our policy…There is no way to have Haiti without an army,” Roudy Chute, a PHTK party representative, stated during an August interview.
In February, Philippe warned of a “civil war” if Privert did not hold elections in April. The political accord that brought Privert to office called for elections in April, but after an electoral verification commission recommended scrapping the entire first round due to fraud, new presidential elections have been scheduled for October.
Last month, Philippe was allegedly tied to a paramilitary attack on a police station in the rural town of Cayes that killed 6, though he has denied involvement and refused to appear for questioning. Philippe had previously been prevented from running for office due to his ties to drug trafficking, but certain regulations were removed last year, allowing a number of candidates with criminal pasts to register. In 2006 Philippe ran for president, garnering less than two percent of the vote.
A DEA spokesperson confirmed that Philippe remains a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. A spokesperson for the Marshalls contested this, saying the DEA has “solid information about the subject’s whereabouts,” so there was no need for them to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its responsibility for apprehending Philippe, but would not confirm if any active efforts to do so were underway.
Though the DEA has been involved in a number of high profile arrests in Haiti during the last five years, Philippe remains free.
In the meantime, the ED has called for an uprising against Privert. In a June 12 letter, the group called on Haitian National Police director-general Michel Ange Gédéon to disobey “any illegal order coming from a person stripped of legality and legitimacy,” referring to Privert. The ED also called on the international community to withhold recognition of Privert’s government after June 14.
These calls have largely fallen on deaf ears. The international community has urged parliament to meet to decide Privert’s future and U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten offered a tepid recognition of Privert on a call with reporters last week. Anti-Privert protests planned for last week failed to materialize.
A former political advisor to Martelly, who requested anonymity, was critical of the ED, pointing out that “their own political ineptitude made [Privert] president.” They believe “international support for a second round…is all [Jovenel Moïse] needs, as if public opinion, or the ability of his detractors to ensure this does not happen, matters very little or not at all.”
Pelegrín Castillo, a Dominican lawmaker with the Fuerza Nacional Progresista (FNP), claimed last week: “In Haiti [groups] are arming in anticipation of an insurrectional conflict, around a well-known figure and the international organizations, and the United States in particular, know this.”
As the vote on Privert’s future looms, PHTK and its allies have indicated that elections may not be possible if Privert’s term is extended or if parliament fails to meet. An unstated but implicit part of the ED agenda has been reversing implementation of the verification commission recommendations. The U.S. and Spain have both expressed “regret” at the electoral council’s decision to rerun the first round and European Union election observers pulled out of the country after the electoral council’s decision.
But in a move seen as giving legitimacy to the October election rerun, Moïse registered his candidacy yesterday with the electoral council.
After protests in January were held in opposition to the holding of second-round presidential elections because of allegations of fraud on behalf of the government, the U.S. called for those involved with “electoral intimidation and violence” to be held accountable. But the U.S. has been conspicuously silent on Philippe.
Asked if the U.S. had any reaction to Philippe’s candidacy and his comments about disrupting the electoral process given his status as a DEA fugitive, U.S. Special Coordinator Ken Merten responded, “Haiti’s authorities must hold its own citizens accountable for any kind of election-related intimidation, violence, or threat to the stability of the country.” He dismissed questions about Philippe likely taking a seat in the Senate as “hypothetical positing.”
The U.S. has been involved in at least two prior attempts to capture Philippe. Some former Haitian government officials have, however, questioned the U.S. commitment to apprehending Philippe, describing the previous efforts involving helicopters and large shows of force as “theater.”
“If Philippe is in the Senate it will send a terrible signal,” one former Haitian government official said, requesting anonymity, “but Haiti cannot act. We don’t have the evidence; it’s all with the DEA.”