Haiti News Round-Up No. 6: CARICOM Mediators Return to Port-au-Prince

September 08, 2023

On Monday, mediators from the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group arrived in Port-au-Prince to facilitate another round of negotiations between de facto prime minister Ariel Henry’s government, its allies, and various other civil society and political actors. Prior to their arrival, the EPG stopped in Florida, where they met with former president Michel Martelly.

According to Le Nouvelliste, in Haiti the mediators met with the High Council of the Transition (HCT), along with Henry. They have also scheduled meetings with the signatories of the Kingston declaration, political parties in the January 30 Collective, and others. 

The newspaper obtained the outline of a possible political agreement, which was drafted after discussions earlier in August. The document contains a number of elements, including a government of national unity, institutional and judicial reforms, and steps toward holding elections. The proposal is largely in line with what Henry’s government and his allies have suggested in earlier discussions, but which have repeatedly been rejected. The opposition has instead pushed for a power sharing agreement and the creation of a presidential body that would govern together with a prime minister.

It appears unlikely any breakthrough is coming. With the de facto prime minister seemingly unwilling to compromise, various political coalitions and civil society actors have called on Henry and his government to resign. In a press release posted to X (formerly Twitter) last month, the Monitoring Bureau of the Montana Accord noted that on numerous occasions it had attempted to negotiate with the de facto authorities and that it had made significant concessions, however the authorities had remained “uncompromising.” Therefore, the statement continued: 

The Montana Accord launches a comprehensive appeal to all progressive social forces, all consequential political actors, to unite with the population to ask Ariel Henry and his acolytes in the government to acknowledge their monumental failure after more than 2 years of illegal power and hand in their resignation without delay, without protest or argument. 

The EDE party, led by former prime minister Claude Joseph, also called on Ariel Henry to resign. And Liné Balthazar, president of the PHTK party, has said that the parties that make up the January 30 Collective would demand Henry’s resignation: “The security situation has deteriorated further. The government controls nothing. It is incapable of protecting the population. We believe that this government is part of the problem rather than the solution.”

The CARICOM mediators will remain in Port-au-Prince until September 10.

Gangs continue takeover of residential neighborhoods as security crisis worsens

With further assaults by the Grand-Ravine gang on the neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles and the surrounding area, as well as a surge in attacks in other parts of Port-au-Prince, the number of displaced people in Haiti’s capital has continued to increase. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that over 16,500 people have sought refuge following the latest wave of violence. Overall, more than 200,000 Haitians have been forced to relocate within Haiti, according to IOM numbers. Others have fled to provincial cities, including Jérémie, but face challenges integrating.

The Faculty of Humanities at the State University of Haiti, located near the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood, has become one of the first major educational institutions to close its doors due to insecurity. The administration has taken urgent measures, including the transfer of all its archives, to secure locations. The institution’s premises have also gradually transformed into a shelter for people in extremely dire humanitarian situations. 

The reopening date has not yet been decided, although some courses were slated to resume at the end of October. The admissions exam, scheduled for October 1, has also been postponed indefinitely. Other institutions in the State University, as well as private universities and various schools, have been holding some classes virtually due to difficulties in traveling through Port-au-Prince. The official start of the school year is supposed to be September 11, but there are reports that the government is considering delaying it, with a decision expected this week.

The Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP) notes in its initial assessment of displaced students and teachers that 24 schools are currently serving as temporary shelters for 3,100 children and youth.

Major updates in the Jovenel Moïse assassination

Walther Wesser Voltaire, the fifth Haitian judge to preside over the case of the former president’s assassination, “is for the first time interrogating some of the 18 Colombian suspects arrested more than two years ago” who are accused of belonging to the mercenary squad that carried out the plot, the Associated Press reports. The 18 Colombians are among more than 40 suspects, who also include elite Haitian police officers now in detention. The investigation has been moving at a snail’s pace, in part due to a high turnover of judges overseeing the case, as well as to disruptions due to the country’s security crisis.

New suspects were also recently implicated in the Haitian case after the Criminal Affairs Bureau (BAC) of the Central Headquarters of the Judicial Police (DCPJ) submitted a report to Judge Voltaire. The report recommends that warrants be issued for several individuals, including the diplomat Ashkard Joseph Pierre; former Supreme Court judge Wendelle Coq Thélot; Francis Alexis Cinéus; gang leader Vitelhomme Innocent; and two political party leaders, Harrison Ernest and Liné Balthazar. 

The judicial police wishes for “all appropriate measures to be taken to facilitate the arrest in Haiti or abroad” of the listed persons, who are suspected of having committed the following, according to the report: “acts of assassination, assassination attempts, conspiracy against the internal security of the state, terrorism, armed robbery, illegal possession and carrying of firearms to the injury of the President of the Republic Jovenel Moïse, his wife and others.” One of the implicated individuals, Harrison Ernest, has decried the BAC report as being “a politically motivated report against honest people like me.” In fall 2022, Ernest told CNN he had helped negotiate with an alliance of armed groups and the Henry government over the unblocking of the Varreux fuel terminal. The blockade of the country’s main fuel terminal contributed to widespread shortages and precipitated the calls for the deployment of foreign troops. It remains to be seen what the judge’s next steps will be.

In the separate US case on the assassination, the New York Times recently broke the news that a former Colombian army captain, who is a key suspect accused of playing a leading role in the plot, is set to plead guilty this week. This is a sign that he may testify against his codefendants and “could be a major breakthrough for the US prosecutors who are handling the case in Miami federal court,” the Times reports. Germán Rivera had originally pleaded not guilty after his February extradition from Haiti. He “could face a life sentence on four charges of conspiring to kidnap or kill” Jovenel Moïse. One of the 11 defendants in the case, Haitian-Chilean businessman Rodolphe Jaar, “pleaded guilty in June and was sentenced to life in prison,” the Times notes.

“Rivera is one of the masterminds,” William Acosta, an investigator hired by the former Colombian soldiers to research the case, told the Times. “He knows everything. He can break down how everything got started, who was in the meetings, how everything was organized and who gave the orders.”

Kenya favors offensive operational force against gang activity

Following the Kenyan delegation’s assessment in Port-au-Prince, a source close to the UN in New York revealed to Le Nouvelliste that a static operation to exclusively protect strategic infrastructure and important buildings was no longer a suitable option in response to the security crisis, as had been previously suggested, according to the Miami Herald. 

“During the meeting in New York, Ambassador George Orina, the head of the Kenyan delegation, emphasized that after his meetings with the government, the high command of the police, and accredited diplomats in Haiti, he is convinced that Haiti needs an offensive operational force to address the issue of armed gangs,” the source said. So far, nothing has been confirmed, but a resolution authorizing deployment of the force is expected as soon as September 15, according to UN diplomatic sources.

On September 5, Security Council members received the first draft of a resolution authorizing the multinational force deployment the Miami Herald reports. In an interview with the New York Times, Kenyan foreign minister Alfred Mutua said he hoped troops would be deployed by the end of the year. “It’s not a matter of whether we are going to Haiti or not — we are going,” he told the paper. “We are convinced.”

Even as support for the rapid action force has built, opposition remains firm. In conversation with The New Humanitarian, Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), spoke to some lingering concerns: “The Kenyan police have been involved in human rights violations and they don’t speak Kreyòl nor French. I’m not saying Kenya can’t be part of a team, but if it leads the force, we will have issues.”                                                      

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Amnesty International expressed deep concern regarding the announcement that Kenyan forces would lead an international security force. The letter notes the “troubling history of abuses and impunity” associated with past interventions in Haiti, as well as the human rights record of Kenyan police. The letter also addresses the lack of international protection offered to Haitians seeking refuge in the Americas, especially as they face deportations back to Haiti.

Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organization of American States, noted that the deployment, while an illegitimate government is in place, would only make the situation worse. Rather, he wrote:

Given all this, Haiti might now best be served by a multinational team of negotiators and facilitators made up of persons from countries with leverage and others that enjoy goodwill of Haitian players. Such a team could work with the various parties in Haiti to establish a transitional government that would have the authority to interface with, and make credible requests of, the international community, including for clearly defined police assistance.

Tragedy in Canaan 

On August 26, hundreds of followers of Pastor Marco Zidor, a popular protestant leader, marched with him toward the Canaan neighborhood in an apparent effort to dislodge armed groups in the area. Over 20 people were killed, mostly protesters, and several women were taken hostage by the armed groups. 

The Haitian National Police have said that they had not been notified of the march in advance, but had tried to warn the organizers of the dangers. The police also established security perimeters in the area, which were bypassed by the protesters.

In a statement, the Je Klere Foundation deplored the massacre:

FJKL reminds that inciting citizens to arm themselves against each other, provoking violence in pastoral speeches, are criminal acts provided for and punished by the Haitian Penal Code. […] Those who, through their speeches, provoked this massacre, as well as the perpetrators of this massacre, must be held accountable for their actions.

The municipality of Croix-des-Bouquets, where the massacre occurred, also released a statement condemning the tragedy: “The municipal commission was not informed verbally or in writing about these ill-considered movements. It is the personal decision of the pastor, who is a religious and opinion leader. The municipality did not receive a request for authorization to organize this march that turned into a tragedy.”

Dozens of Haitians deported from the United States

A day after the US embassy in Haiti warned US citizens to leave the country as soon as possible due to security risks, around 60 Haitian citizens were deported back to Haiti on August 31.

“This illustrates a lack of respect towards the human rights of Haitians,” said Nicole Phillips, a member of the US-based Haitian Bridge Alliance. “We consider this to be a violation of human rights, even a crime against humanity,” declared Guerline Jozef, the organization’s executive director.

“We ask President Joe Biden to stop the deportation of Haitians back to the country, given that his administration is aware of the challenges the country faces,” she continued. Although the Biden administration has made Haitians eligible for a humanitarian parole program, a Texas judge is currently presiding over a lawsuit challenging the program’s legality. When contacted by AyiboPost, the US embassy in Haiti revealed it had received a letter dated August 28 from de facto prime minister Ariel Henry’s office authorizing the deportation flight. The embassy declared that it always seeks “prior authorization from the Haitian government to conduct a repatriation flight to Haiti.”

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