The Urgency of Internal Unity to Reclaim Haiti

Saunders Portrait 2022
File photo: Sir Ronald Saunders.
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By Sir Ronald Sanders

In international diplomatic circles, Haiti is on everyone’s lips but not in actions that could urgently remedy the suffering of the Haitian people.

Similarly, within Haiti and its diaspora, Haiti’s tragic situation is constantly discussed but no viable solutions are proposed, nor are sustainable actions taken.

While this delay and inaction persists, the gangs, which have already taken effective control of the country, are fashioning an accord amongst themselves on the theme of “Living together”.   It is an unholy pact in which the gangs are sharing the spoils of power and collaborating to do so, ignoring the laws of the country. They are also dictating political actions through threats and intimidation.

Hence, the present unelected Prime Minister, Dr. Ariel Henry, has been warned that if he returns to Haiti, he will be executed.  Henry is reportedly trapped in Puerto Rico, unable to find a way to re-enter Haiti after attending a meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Guyana, and then travelling to Kenya to sign a reciprocal security agreement on March 1.  While he was in New York on his way back to Haiti, the gangs attacked the main penitentiary, releasing approximately 4,500 inmates, including prominent gang members.

This extraordinarily gruesome warning to Dr. Henry has been made by gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, also known as “Barbecue”.  It has been backed up by Guy Phillipe who was recently released from a U.S. prison after conviction for human trafficking and is now heading a political group.

Significantly, apart from the members of the Cabinet that Henry appointed, not one person or group in Haiti has called for his return to the country.  Of further significance, he is yet to be offered safe passage from U.S. territory to Haiti by the U.S. government.

In reality, Dr. Henry was never accepted, except by the U.S., as the best person to lead Haiti.  He validated this belief within Haiti by reneging on the terms of agreements on governance  that he made on September 11, 2021 and December 21, 2022 with private sector groups and non-governmental organizations.  Therefore, he had neither the interest nor the capacity to spearhead the national effort for a “Haitian solution” to the crisis for which the international community repeatedly called.

Henry made his first request for an international force to help national police fight gangs, in October 2022.  At that time, the gangs were a growing threat; they had not yet reached the forceful dimensions that exist now.  Within Haiti, Henry’s call was seen as a move to get external military help that would maintain his grip on power. Therefore, they opposed, under many guises, any external intervention.

Externally, the government of El Salvador had offered to help, based on its own success with curbing gangs by methods, judged by some, as abusing the human rights of persons it imprisoned.  The El Salvador offered was not encouraged and, eventually it fell away.

No other government sought to get involved. Meanwhile, the U.S. government pursued a policy of maintaining support for Dr. Henry based on hope rather than confidence in his capacity to build a strong coalition to govern the country.   That hope is now dashed.

Following the release of prison inmates and attacks on other important public installations, Haiti is now under gang control.  Airlines have stopped flights into the country and cargo ships have taken similar action as gangs loot containers at the port.

Amid all this, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), influenced by rivalries  between veto powers, failed to prioritize Haiti’s wellbeing, choosing not to deploy a U.N. force. Instead, they approved a voluntary Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission, not funded by the U.N., leaving the U.S. to spearhead recruitment and funding efforts, which have largely been unsuccessful.

Only Kenya, demanding $200 million for its participation, has agreed to contribute troops to the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission. The U.S. has struggled to meet its $200 million commitment due to Congress’s deadlock over allocating $100 million, half of its promised contribution. Consequently, the launch of the MSS Mission appears increasingly unlikely.

As Haiti’s turmoil deepens, the U.S. appears to support Finance Minister, Michel Patrick Boisvert, as Henry’s successor. This potential U.S. endorsement of another unelected leader will undoubtedly face opposition from various Haitian stakeholders.

The real answer to the current Haitian crisis continues to remain in the hands of Haitians.   All of its aspiring leaders and all the rival organisations for political and economic supremacy must put aside their ambitions for personal power and stand behind the empowerment of Haiti.  They have to resolve to postpone rivalry until transparent, free and fair elections can be held in normalized conditions.

Meanwhile, they must act urgently to coalesce behind an agreed President based on the last functioning Constitution of the Republic, and to agree to the appointment of a Prime Minister, on whom they can also agree, for the formation of a national transitional government drawn from the talents that exist in the private sector, the NGO’s, the political parties and the diaspora.

They also need to agree on the term of  such a transitional government and its mandate, which should include any requests for international assistance.   The structure for such an agreement already exists in the recent Resolution of January 2024, which emerged from the National Congress of Transition, as well as in other previously agreed strategies such as the Montana Accord of 2021.

If the various Haitian parties cannot act as genuine patriots for their country by setting aside ambitions and rivalry for at least two years, and by establishing a genuine government of national unity on behalf of the Haitian people, they will condemn their nation to external intervention of the kind that has contributed for more than 200 years to their present plight.   They will have only themselves to blame.

By rallying together to form a united front and advocating for democratic renewal, Haitians have the power to proudly present to the world the ‘Haitian solution’ they have long sought. Such a momentous shift towards a consensus-built, authentic Haitian pathway could redefine the nation’s future and command the respect and support of the global community.

It’s time for Haiti to seize this critical opportunity; to forge a future grounded in legitimacy and unity that the international community cannot ignore.

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States.  The view is entirely his own. For responses and previous commentaries:

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