Haiti News Round-Up No. 13: More Countries Pledge Support for Kenyan-Led Intervention, But Questions Remain

February 28, 2024

Alongside the G20 last week, the United States and Brazil cohosted a meeting aimed at building support for the Kenyan-led Multilateral Security Support (MSS) mission. Following the gathering, US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken announced $120 million in pledged support for the MSS, though it is unclear where all those funds are coming from or if all are destined for the MSS. Canada, which rejected earlier appeals to lead such a mission, threw its support behind the MSS with a pledge of US$60 million. Germany reportedly pledged $5.41 million.

Though the United States has promised to contribute $200 million for the MSS, it has thus far only allocated about $10 million, as Republicans in the House and Senate continue to block additional resources. Kenyan officials have estimated the initial cost of the mission at between $500–$600 million, leaving a significant shortfall even if the US fulfills its full pledge.

Speaking Monday during a CARICOM summit in Guyana, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield reported that the West African nation of Benin offered to contribute up to 2,000 troops for the MSS.

Yet even beyond the funding, major hurdles remain. Last week, US and Kenyan media reported that a planned video meeting between Haitian and Kenyan officials was abruptly canceled due to a disagreement on the terms of the deployment. The meeting was a follow-up to a high-level gathering in Washington, DC that brought together Kenyan, Haitian, and US officials and was meant to find a workaround for the Kenyan court’s legal block on the deployment of police to Haiti. One of the members of the Kenyan delegation was found dead in his hotel room during the trip.

On Monday, the Haitian Ministry of Communication released a note stating that de facto prime minister Ariel Henry would head to Kenya later this week after participating in a CARICOM meeting in Guyana “with the goal of finalizing the modalities of the MSS deployment with the Kenyan authorities and those of other countries on the African continent.”

Kenyan president William Ruto has pledged to move forward with the MSS regardless of the court’s prohibition. In mid-February, the White House announced that it would host President Ruto for a State Visit in May.

Antigua and Barbuda PM Calls on Henry to “Step Aside”

Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne, speaking during the CARICOM summit in Guyana, called on de facto prime minister Ariel Henry to “step aside” and allow a transitional process to take place. “With no disrespect, my dear friend Henry is part of the problem and I think there are many in Haiti who believe that the interventions that are planned by the stakeholder groups (are) intended to prop up Henry,” he said. Though Browne has previously spoken out in favor of the MSS, he said that the political situation must be addressed first. “He himself has said that he doesn’t wish to stay on. So if indeed he is an interim, let’s say president, he should not have any problems having a power sharing agreement with the other…political stakeholders in Haiti,” Browne said.

The comments follow those from Bahamian foreign minister Fred Mitchell a day earlier, who noted that Henry’s continuance in power constitutes a main stumbling block to progress, the AP reported. “There needs to be a political solution,” Mitchel said, while noting that the international community questioned how Haiti would be governed if Henry were to resign or be forced from power.

Last week, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and OAS, Sir Ronald Sanders, noted that “it irks some nations that the US is calling on them to provide troops who would be endangered in Haiti, while choosing to keep its soldiers at home.” Sanders continued: “But, in any analysis of the Haitian situation, France and the US have a particular responsibility, having significantly profited from and subsequently destabilized the country.”

Police Union Criticizes Henry

Lionel Lazarre, the head of the police union SYNAPOHA, criticized the government’s support for the police, noting that many officers had not received the appropriate pay. “There are police officers who have been promoted for four years and have not received the salary for their rank,” he said, adding that it was up to the PM to authorize the payments.

“There are police officers who have fled their homes because of attacks by gangs and end up sleeping in police stations with their wives and children, and the government has never come to the aid of these officers or even granted them a subsidy,” Lazarre continued. “If the government had the will and was concerned about solving security problems, it would not have sought the assistance of an international force, but would have invested in the purchase of equipment.”

Last month, SYNAPOHA reported that nearly 3,300 officers had left the force over the prior three years and called for significantly higher incentives for police to remain on the job. “The government should assume responsibility. It’s not just about purchasing equipment, the police need to be supplied with the financial means to plan operations, for cops working day in, day out in areas controlled by bandits,” Lazarre said at the time.

The Haitian National Police’s annual budget is around $200 million, according to the United Nations — one-third of the estimated cost of the Kenyan-led MSS.

High Profile Suspects Indicted in Assassination Case Amid Charges of Politicization

The investigative judge in the Haiti-based case on the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse has issued his referral order, indicting dozens of individuals, including former first lady Martine Moïse and former prime minister Claude Joseph, who are accused of “complicity and criminal association.” The judge’s order was first reported by Haitian news outlet Ayibopost.

Joseph, who has been one of many leading the charge for Henry to resign, accused the de facto PM of responsibility for his indictment. A press release from his office called the referral order a “political neutralization strategy which reveals the way in which Ariel Henry’s dictatorial power is diverting the Haitian justice system from its republican mission, transforming it into a vile instrument of persecution and intimidation against his opponents.”

An attorney for the first lady commented in a correspondence on behalf of his client regarding the alleged order, stating that “it is common knowledge that the mandate of the investigating judge had already expired before the dissemination on online platforms of this alleged order, devoid of any authentication. This temporal inconsistency justifies reasonable doubts about the integrity of the judicial process and raises concerns about the validity of these events.”

Léon Charles, Haiti’s ambassador to the OAS and one of those indicted, resigned from his post as a result of the referral order to be able to “defend himself,” Le Nouvelliste reported.

The judge’s report “relies almost entirely on often-contradictory statements from suspects, and leaves several major questions unanswered. Among them: Who masterminded the brazen attack on the president in the leafy suburbs overlooking the Haitian capital, who funded it, and what was the motive?” the Washington Post reported.

Much of the report appears to be based on the testimony of Joseph Felix Badio, arrested late last year after more than two years on the run. Though the judge indicted Badio as an alleged mastermind, Badio claims to have been an informant sent to infiltrate the plot and is cited by the judge in his explanation of the charges against Joseph, Moïse, and Charles. As CEPR first reported, Badio was in regular contact with Henry before the assassination and made two phone calls to the eventual PM in the hours after the crime.

Ever since Judge Walther Voltaire questioned Henry in his own residence instead of his instruction chambers, as was done for most of the other defendants, including former president Michel Martelly, many have seen the case as being a political machination. The report exonerates Henry, despite myriad connections to the plot.

Judge Who Oversaw CNE Case Asked to Stop Further Investigative Actions

A letter was issued to investigating judge Al Duniel Dimanche, who was in charge of overseeing the corruption case involving the National Equipment Center (CNE), by the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ). In it, the Council reminds judge Dimanche that he must refrain from further investigative actions, as his mandate ended on January 29. This comes as a result of the judge writing a letter to the Central Directorate of Judicial Police (DCPJ), asking them to arrest the personalities named last December, despite his no longer having authority over the case. Pierre Espérance, executive director the National Human Rights Defense Network, has accused the judge of using his clerk to ransom the people he has issued warrants against.

Haiti Issues $500 Million Payment to Venezuela to Settle $2.3 Billion Petrocaribe Debt

The Haitian government made a $500 million payment to Venezuela to clear debt from the regional cooperation program Petrocaribe. The payment came as a surprise to many Haiti observers, given the well-known financial issues facing the country. According to Bloomberg, which first reported the news, the remaining $1.8 billion in debt will be canceled, though this was not explicitly mentioned by the Venezuelan Ministry of Information.

Haiti was a main beneficiary of the Petrocaribe program, receiving billions of dollars in assistance. However, mismanagement of the fund and allegations of high-level corruption led to a nationwide protest movement in 2018 that demanded answers to the question: where did the Petrocaribe money go?

An investigation by Haiti’s High Court of Auditors later revealed a host of financial improprieties in the use of the Petrocaribe funds and implicated many high-level government officials, including the president at the time, Jovenel Moïse. In June 2023, the United States government barred former prime minister Laurent Lamothe from entering the US, alleging that he had “misappropriated at least $60 million from the Haitian government’s PetroCaribe infrastructure investment and social welfare fund for private gain.”

20 Years After the Coup Against Aristide, Haitian Democracy Has Yet to Recover

On February 29, 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s democratically elected president, was overthrown in a coup d’état with the support of actors in the international community, including many in Washington, Santo Domingo, and Ottawa. The same day, US, Canadian, and French troops arrived in the country before eventually being replaced by MINUSTAH, the 13-year-long UN “peacekeeping” operation. Alongside the military occupation, however, was a political occupation in the form of the Core Group — composed of diplomats from leading donors and multilateral agencies — that exists to this day and serves as a de facto fourth branch of government.

Twenty years later, the country’s democracy has yet to recover. Much of Haiti’s current breakdown can be traced back to the catastrophic consequences of this intervention, which is also linked to the country’s transformation into an aid state.

For further analysis, see Jemima Pierre’s presentation at a recent forum hosted by the Center for Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto on February 26, 2024, as published by Black Agenda Report: Haiti: 20 Years After the Coup.

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