Who will lead Haiti? Naming of transition panel embroiled in uncertainty, disputes

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Caribbean Community leaders, charged with helping Haiti find a path out of political chaos and gang violence, received names Thursday from five different national groups for candidates to lead a panel overseeing the transition to a new government.

But the final makeup of the critical panel remains in question. In one case, a candidate expressed concern that throwing his hat in the ring could put his family at risk. Another group submitted multiple potential candidates. And yet another rejected the idea of outsiders helping decide Haiti political future..

The uncertainty reflects not just political wrangling but the difficulties in trying to move a country forward with a divided political class that has failed to control heavily armed groups that, after a short lull in violence, relaunched attacks. On Thursday, gangs fired shots near the international airport in the direction of police headquarters. They are also believed to be behind a fire at the home of the country’s police chief, which took place soon after police successfully repelled the attack on headquarters.

Armed gangs also reportedly looted a coffee business in the Lower Delmas neighborhood of the capital. A heavy exchange of gunfire reported near the Marassa/Tabarre bridge and the Santo road from Marassa to Santo 17 was blocked.

National Police patrol the area near the empty National Penitentiary after a small fire inside the jail in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Haiti, Thursday, March 14, 2024. This is the same prison that armed gangs stormed late March 2 and hundreds of inmates escaped. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
National Police patrol the area near the empty National Penitentiary after a small fire inside the jail in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Haiti, Thursday, March 14, 2024. This is the same prison that armed gangs stormed late March 2 and hundreds of inmates escaped. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The instability, the United Nations warned this week, is making an already dire humanitarian crisis even worse.

While calling on its members to help Haiti with humanitarian and security needs, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman said “there also needs to be a stepping up of the Haitian political class to find a way forward and act in a way that will be in the best interests of the Haitian people.”

Haitian leaders on Monday were given 24 hours to submit their choice after an international coalition, led by the 15-member Caribbean Community, CARICOM, the United States and other foreign governments met in Jamaica to begin drawing up a proposal mapping out a political transition. But some parties involved in the discussions said it was not enough time to narrow down choices — particularly with daily life under duress. “Even the head of the police is unable to protect himself,” one of them said after Police Chief Frantz Elbe’s house went up in flames.

Under the plan, the presidential transitional council will have seven-voting members and two non-members. It’s task will be to find a replacement for outgoing Prime Minister Ariel Henry after he announced his pending resignation amid U.S. pressure. Then the council and new head of the government will form an inclusive government, ready the country for a multinational security support mission and eventual elections.

The panel approach was cobbled together after influential Haitian figures were unable to decide among themselves on one proposal and sent several different plans to CARICOM.

In at least one case, Caribbean leaders have received several names from one of the groups, December 21. The alliance of opposition forces once pushed for the ouster of late President Jovenel Moïse but came together to back Henry, and help consolidate his grip on power with a Dec. 21, 2022, political agreement before he was asked this month by Washington to resign.

Infighting among the members has resulted in the coalition splintering into three different groups, sources say, and sending in three different names to CARICOM for their one voting seat.

How CARICOM will proceed remains unclear. So does the timeline for when the installation of the new government will take place. After the presidential council is set up, members still need to figure out who exactly will be president and how the council will function. They also have to decide on a prime minister to replace Henry, who earlier this week announced that he and his government will resign once the council is installed.

Finance Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert, who has been serving as acting prime minister, remains in his role.

On Wednesday, one of the groups given a voting seat, Platform Pitit Desalin, also written Dessalines and named after Haiti’s founding father, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declined to participate in the council. Party leader Jean-Charles Moïse, a former senator, said he had thrown the offer “into the trash.”

“Caricom cannot present us with a seven-headed serpent,” he said during a press conference.

The former presidential candidate and senator, who goes by Moïse Jean-Charles, said he plans to install his own presidential council. The three-person council includes a member of the religious community, an appeals court judge and former rebel leader Guy Philippe, who has the backing of his party and some gang leaders to be president.

Jean-Charles claims that his three-member council has the endorsement of 150 political parties, 3,250 grassroots organizations, peasants and workers.

“I told them that this agreement was a non-negotiable national consensus,” he said of his discussion with CARICOM. Taking credit for the overthrow of Henry’s government, the political leader said he couldn’t understand how the regional bloc was now asking him to go sit down and negotiate with a group of people he had kicked out of the country.

“We will take the destiny of our country into our own hands with other leaders so that our three-member Presidential Council can move forward,” the party leader said.

It remains unclear how Caribbean leaders will reconfigure the voting seat. Some are suggesting it be granted to the interfaith community and or civil society, which both have observer status and have not yet put forward their representatives. In the meantime, the Miami Herald has confirmed the groups sent in names:

▪ Collective of political parties of January 30. The alliance of political parties is also known by its Creole spelling Collecti and includes the party of former President Michel Martelly. The alliance has forwarded the name of former Sen. Edgard LeBlanc Fils, 68, a co-founder of the Organization of the People in Struggle, OPL, political party. An engineer, he was president of the Senate, 1995 to 2000, during the administration of President of René Préval

▪ December 21 Agreement. The coalition has been dealing with internal fighting over who should be the representative. One group, supported by political leader Andre Michel, has sent the name of former president of the Chamber of Deputies Levaillant Louis-Jeune and another group of younger generations, has sent the name of Vikerson Garnier, a former congressman from Thiotte who has faced criticism over not declaring his assets. The third name is reportedly is Charles Tardieu, a former education minister who is considered one of the architects of the coalition.

▪ EDE/RED/Compromis Historique. The coalition led by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph, who served in the government of former President Jovenel Moïse, has offered up Marie Gislhaine Mompremier. The only female named so far, she is a law professor and attorney in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. She also is a former minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Women Affairs.

▪ Fanmi Lavalas. The political party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has chosen Leslie Voltaire, who studied at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and has a masters degree in urban planning from Cornell University in New York. An architect and urban planner, Voltaire is a former minister for Haitians living abroad in the Aristide government. After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake he was involved in reconstruction efforts and unsuccessfully ran for president in the election that followed. Educated in Mexico, he is fluent in Spanish, French, English and Creole.

▪ Montana Accord. The group is named after an Aug. 30, 2021, agreement signed at the Montana Hotel in Petionvillle, the wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince and led by the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. The group has submitted Fritz Alphonse Jean, who served as interim prime minister of Haiti’s 2016 caretaker government. He was eventually blocked by the Parliament from taking on the job permanently. A former governor of the Banque de la République d’Haïti, BRH, from 1998 to 2001, Jean has been involved in promoting development in the rural sectors of northern Haiti. He’s a U.S.-educated economist who is considered more of a technocrat than politician.

▪ The private sector. Haiti’s influential private sector has faced its own internal difference after the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti said was not consulted. The group has not formally finalized its nominee, yet and is currently in discussions with a preferred candidate.