By Sir Ronald Sanders
Haiti’s non-elected President, Dr. Ariel Henry has been identified as a significant part of the current crisis in Haiti. Henry and a small clique, who surround him, are hardly running the affairs of the state. Indeed, as armed gangs control more than 60 per cent of Port-au-Prince and the main corridors throughout Haiti, the disappearance of the state is obvious.
However, Henry and his appointed government have been dismantling what remained of Haiti’s democratic institutions. As a coalition of U.S. based law school clinics describe it, “As of January 2023, there is no longer a single elected official at any level of government in Haiti.”
In the meantime, Henry has been accused by the U.S. law school clinics, including Harvard Law School, and others of taking illegal actions, which are designed to prolong his non-elected role as President. In March, Henry illegally named eight justices to Haiti’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, undermining the court’s legitimacy to check executive power. Additionally, in December 2022, he organized a “National Consensus Document for an Inclusive Transition and Fair Elections”.
The document hardly reflected a “national consensus” in which key human rights organizations and political actors were excluded – a serious flaw which has been ignored by hemispheric and regional organizations.
This unpopular document would help to consolidate Henry’s power by allowing him to pack the Cour de Cassation, Haiti’s Supreme Court, with his handpicked persons, and putting in place an unconstitutional Provisional Electoral Council to organize and superintend Presidential and other elections. Haitian civil society, in many public statements, and presentations to members of the U.S. executive and legislative branches and to diplomats in the U.S., Canada and France have made it clear that they object to the December 2022 document.
According to a statement made by the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at their 50th anniversary meeting in Trinidad from July 3 to 5, Henry told them “that he will not seek election but will head a Transition Government to secure the arrangements to transition the country from the security and humanitarian crises until the holding of credible, free and fair elections”. Insiders reveal that this statement had to be extracted from Henry who resisted being asked to make such a statement on the basis that “Haiti is a sovereign country”.
In any event, while CARICOM leaders say, officially, that Henry has made this statement, he is yet to make such a public statement to the Haitian people. Furthermore, the fact that he and his close group are alone establishing elections machinery assures civil society and political parties in Haiti that “credible, free and fair elections” are impossible.
Significantly, in an article, published in the New York Times on 13 July, an experienced and knowledgeable expert on Haitian affairs, Jake Johnston, as senior research associate at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out that “Henry has close links to a prime suspect in the assassination (of former President Jovenel Moïse)”. Johnston reveals the following troubling information: “The former chief prosecutor overseeing the assassination case in Haiti called Mr. Henry to testify. He refused and then called the justice minister and told him to fire the prosecutor. When the minister refused, Mr. Henry fired both. Since then, an audio recording of the judge overseeing the case was leaked to CNN. “Ariel is a prime suspect of Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, and he knows it,” the judge can be heard saying. “Do you think I can touch Ariel now?”
Meanwhile Haiti continues to descend into chaos, lawlessness and wide scale human suffering. The World Food Programme says half of Haiti’s population is experiencing hunger; there is no functioning criminal justice system, there are no trials and 85 per cent of prisoners have never been tried; the only electricity generation in the country comes from a private company owned by an elite Hattian family; between January and March this year, there have been 398 kidnappings and 1,634 violent assaults – including murders and rapes – took place in Port-au-Prince; many people in Haiti have no birth certificate and no identity papers; officially they do not exist; one hospital in the Canape Vert neighbourhood, south of the Capital, reports that it treats more than 10 patients wounded by gunshots every day.
The Haitian people cannot rely on their government for the basic services that every government is obliged to provide to its people. The state has long since collapsed.
Despite all this, the focus of the international community throughout this worsening crisis has been on whether or not to provide military support to the Haitian Police which is the principal request of the Ariel Henry regime. It is a request deeply feared within Haiti as a ruse to maintain the regime in office, and, consequently, to continue the incapacity to address the dire conditions in which the Haitian people are forced to eke out a miserable life.
Haitian human rights groups and others, who yearn for a better life, do want the restoration of security, but they also want justice and accountability by a government they elect and on which there must be checks and balances, including free and fair elections. Therefore, the start of any international response to the Haitian crisis must be the establishment of a legitimate transitional government, comprising representatives of civil society and political parties.
After three days of a failed meeting from 11 to 13 June in Jamaica – which Henry had to be cajoled to attend – it was obvious that he has no interest in genuine power sharing.
On the gangs in Haiti, it should be recalled that they were created by members of rival political parties and elite oligarch families for their own purposes. Fed by the greed and ambitions of others, they have become forces with lives of their own. Dealing with them requires careful strategies and even negotiations which are best left to a transitional government that enjoys the confidence of a broad cross section of the Haitian people.
To give the country the chance it desperately needs, and which Dr. Henry clearly cannot provide, he should consider stepping aside to facilitate the convocation of willing parties to appoint a transitional government in which neither he nor any member of his present regime should participate, unless agreed and accepted by the broad-based grouping. And that should be the transitional government which should provide the international community with the country’s priority needs, giving every safeguard against corruption and political misuse of resources.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own. Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com)