New promises from Washington for Haiti as the term for its assassinated president ends Monday | Opinion
By Kristina Fried, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
The Biden Administration’s promise that it will no longer pick “winners and losers” in Haiti may face a sincerity test on Monday.
The U.S. has picked Haiti’s current “winners” through its decade-long propping up of the repressive, corrupt ruling party, Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK).
But a civil society initiative to replace the PHTK with a transitional government on Feb. 7 – the expiration of the term of assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, who nominated current Prime Minister Ariel Henry – may reveal the extent of the administration’s willingness to back up its promise with concrete action.
In July, the U.S.-led “Core Group” effectively installed Henry, a key official in previous PHTK governments, as Haiti’s Prime Minister through a press release – despite the absence of any Haitian process supporting the step. Since then, Henry has presided over the continued dismantling of Haiti’s democratic structures.
Haiti’s civil society has been coming together to reclaim its democracy since long before Henry’s installation. As State Department Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote wrote in his September resignation letter, Haitians just want the U.S. to desist from “puppeteering and favored candidates,” especially its unwavering support for Henry and his unpopular political agreement “over another broader, earlier Accord shepherded by civil society.”
The broader Accord is the work of the Commission for the Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, which for a year has been working towards restoring democratic order in Haiti through a credible interim government that would replace the corrupt PHTK.
The Accord establishes a five-seat Presidential College and a National Transitional Council comprised of representatives from key sectors of Haitian society, which on January 30 elected a President and Prime Minister as part of the Transitional Government entrusted with restoring regular governance and running fair elections.
The Accord, which has deliberately pursued participation from across the political and social spectrums, is the product of extensive input and compromise – most recently making a pact with a group of political actors known as the Protocole d’Entente Nationale. Its diverse participants have sacrificed important demands to create a process acceptable to the whole, even generously offering one seat in the Presidential College to the government.
The principal alternative to the Accord is continued PHTK rule, which cannot achieve a sustainable resolution of Haiti’s crises. The PHTK has never run an election that was timely or fair and has fostered a climate of chronic impunity, allowing gangs to flourish through incompetence, corruption, and government collaboration.
The U.S. has softened its support for the PHTK – suggesting that it negotiate with civil society – but still treats the Haitian government as indispensable to any transitional agreement. This effectively hands Henry and the PHTK a veto over any transitional agreement or government, allowing them to make unreasonable demands that would upset the Accord’s balance, with the assurance that civil society must satisfy them or risk the U.S. scuttling the process.
State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols implied that this support will endure past Monday’s expiration of President Moïse’s term, decreeing that “from a legal point of view, the term of the prime minister is not tied to that of the term of the president.”
Haitians are not asking the Biden Administration to remove the PHTK government. They just want the U.S. to match its policies to its improved rhetoric by standing aside and allowing civil society to apply pressure without foreign interference.
It is hard to predict whether Haiti will move closer to solving its political crisis on Feb. 7, or next week or next month. But it is clear that the U.S. keeping its hands off the scales will bring that solution sooner.
Kristina Fried is a human rights lawyer with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.