Haitian Prime Minister Henry Agrees to Resign as CARICOM Announces Formation of Presidential Council

March 12, 2024

In a prerecorded message released on social networks just after midnight, Ariel Henry, who has held de facto power in Haiti since shortly after the 2021 assassination of Jovenel Moïse, agreed to resign. Sort of.

Henry has been holed up in Puerto Rico for a week, unable to return to Haiti as coordinated attacks from armed groups shut down the airport. Once the US pulled its support last week, he was left in limbo and had not issued any public statements until early this morning. It is unclear to what extent he was under pressure from the US to remain out of the country and to stay quiet.

Henry’s announcement came shortly after the conclusion of a series of political negotiations among dozens of Haitian stakeholders, CARICOM heads of state, the US Secretary of State, the Canadian prime minister, and other foreign diplomats held in Kingston, Jamaica. A proposal, agreed to by those foreign powers and accepted by a number of Haitian political parties and civil society organizations who participated via Zoom, calls for the formation of a seven-member presidential transitional council that will name a new prime minister to replace Henry.

Henry made it clear that he intended to resign once the presidential council had officially formed. Those with a seat on the council have 24 hours to name their representative. It is likely that Henry will stay until the new council has picked an interim prime minister to replace him, delaying his ultimate resignation further, depending on how long it takes the new council to reach consensus.

The seven representatives on the council will reportedly come from the private sector, the January 30 Collective (a grouping of political parties), Fanmi Lavalas (the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide), the Montana Accord, the December 21 Accord (allies of Henry), les Engagés pour le Développement (the party of former PM Claude Joseph), and Petit Dessalines (the party of former senator Moïse Jean Charles). There will also be two observer members, with one representing civil society and the other the religious sector.

Notably, Moïse Jean Charles appeared in the capital two weeks ago, as the coordinated attacks against government institutions began, to announce a political accord with former police officer and paramilitary leader Guy Philippe. He has previously criticized the internationally backed process to select a new government, and it is unclear how the party’s inclusion in the new council will affect the situation on the ground or if it will offer Philippe a path to influence the new structure. Réveil National pour la Souveraineté Nationale, the political coalition backing Guy Philippe, released a statement this morning rejecting the CARICOM-backed presidential council.

After a period of intense attacks beginning in late February targeting the airport, police stations, and other government institutions, the situation in Port-au-Prince has calmed over the last two days as the political negotiations played out in Kingston. But it is unclear if the new government will do anything to appease the disparate armed groups that have come together in recent weeks.

Though there has been no explicit alliance, multiple sources close to both factions said that Guy Philippe was working directly with the armed groups in the capital in his effort to seize power in Henry’s absence. Who ultimately is in control of that alliance, however, remains to be seen. Much remains in flux.

What is clear is that the announcement in Kingston late last night is unlikely to lead to a solution to the current crisis by itself. After criticizing Henry for relying on the support of the US and other foreign powers, an agreement pushed by those same foreign powers is likely to face legitimacy concerns from the moment it forms. Though negotiations have been taking place for the better part of a week, none of the participants or discussions have been made public, leaving the vast majority of Haitians in the dark. Notably, CARICOM set conditions for participation, including accepting deployment of a Kenyan-led intervention force.

An initial proposal of a five-member council was rejected by some CARICOM members, who instead pushed for the inclusion of additional political actors in an attempt to break the armed anti-government mobilization in the capital.

If the inclusion of Moïse Jean Charles and allies in the presidential council is not enough to convince the capital’s armed groups to lay down their arms — and there is little indication it will — violence is likely to continue, forcing the new council to rely on external security assistance to function.

It was US and foreign support for Henry that pushed the situation to its dire state. But rather than letting a truly Haitian-led process play out, those same foreign powers have opted for a stability pact that, it would seem, is likely to lock in an unsustainable status quo at least in the short term.

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