CARICOM and Foreign Diplomats Set Haiti Election Timetable, Undermining Their Own Calls for Dialogue

February 29, 2024

On Sunday, speaking after the start of a summit of CARICOM leaders, the foreign minister of the Bahamas called de facto Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry a barrier to progress. The next day, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda called on Henry to “step aside.” On Wednesday, at the close of the meeting, CARICOM leaders announced that Henry would remain prime minister until after elections held in August, 2025.

The announcement — which would indicate an elected government taking office in early 2026 — followed “more than 25 hours over three days discussing the Haitian crisis” at the summit in Guyana, according to the Miami Herald. Alongside the CARICOM leaders were diplomats from the United Nations, US, Canada, and France, as well as Brazilian president Lula da Silva.

“We had a frank and in-depth discussions [sic] on the situation in Haiti,” Philip Davis, the Bahamian prime minister, said, while calling on “political leaders, the private sector, the religious sector” in Haiti to reach an agreement with Henry in support of the electoral timetable. Henry, the leader said, had made “concessions … to move the political process forward.”

But concessions to whom? Not to stakeholders in Haiti, who were notably absent from the marathon Haiti-related negotiations, held exclusively with foreign diplomats and representatives of the de facto authorities. Rather, Haitians were simply alerted, after two-plus years of progress-resistant political negotiations, that Henry would be sticking around another two years through the long-delayed electoral process.

The problem is not necessarily the timetable. There is no serious chance to hold decently run elections in less time. Rather, the problem stems from who will be presiding over those elections. And, by vocally backing Henry’s “commitment,” CARICOM’s leaders are making the political solution they say they support that much more elusive, if not impossible. Intentional or not, the political effect of yesterday’s announcement is a boon to Henry.

It would be one thing if CARICOM were working with a democratically elected government. But that is not the case. There are no elected officials at any level in the country. Henry’s legitimacy instead might stem from his ability to convene a broad enough coalition to actually govern — something that he has failed to accomplish in his more than two years in power. In the absence of such a coalition, his legitimacy, such as it is, stems solely from the international community assembled in Guyana.

For more than 18 months, CARICOM as well as other members of the international community have paid lip service to the need for a broad political agreement that can move Haiti forward toward elections. A year ago, CARICOM rejected the US-proposed security intervention in Haiti at least in part because some leaders believed the force would simply prop up Henry — a point repeatedly made by Haitian civil society.

At the close of the recent summit, Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, who had called on Henry to “step aside” just days earlier, said that the Haitian ruler had at last agreed to “share power.” That, however, would be news to those who’ve been met with intransigence at the negotiating table.

Henry has signed two political agreements since taking power after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. The first came in September 2021 and called for elections to take place by the end of 2022. When it was clear that was not going to happen, Henry signed another agreement with a narrow set of allies in December, 2022. That deal called for elections to be held by the end of 2023 and for a new government to take office on February 7, 2024 — three weeks ago. Needless to say it also did not happen.

Responding to nationwide protests calling for his resignation after the latest lapsed agreement, Henry said he would once again relaunch political negotiations. But, just one day before the CARICOM announcement, Le Nouvelliste reported that, thus far, there are no takers. Few in Haiti are willing to engage in further discussions, the paper noted; rather, most are asking Henry to step down.

As political leaders and diplomats gathered in Guyana over the weekend to discuss Haiti, Henry became the longest continuously serving prime minister since the adoption of the country’s constitution in 1986. With no elected officials, there is no entity able to hold him accountable or check his power. If he remains until 2026, as he and CARICOM have proposed, he will have served nearly an entire five-year presidential term. It is worth noting that, after the assassination, US and other foreign officials flatly rejected proposals for a two or three year transitional government as too long.

CARICOM countries have been under immense pressure from the United States, which is the most likely explanation for their abandonment of prior, principled positions. In addition to the election date, leaders at the CARICOM summit voiced their strong support for the Kenyan-led and US-financed security intervention. One wonders then if yesterday’s optimistic announcements are based on anything other than an attempt to push back on the narrative that the security intervention will continue to prop up Henry. If so, it is unlikely to work.

The electoral timetable, as well as the leaders tasked with overseeing that process and any foreign security support, must be the result of a political dialogue, not a precondition. Foreign diplomats will surely continue to rhetorically support negotiations in Haiti, but their actions are only making a sustainable solution that much harder to achieve.

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