In last week's Blog, the main purpose was to illustrate the role of CARICOM, its leaders and professionals in trying to resolve political conflicts and natural disasters that have continuously disrupted and destabilized the country since its accession to membership of the Caribbean Community in 1997. Several readers who commented on the Blog were of the view that the OAS, the United Nations, the US and even CARICOM have repeatedly failed the Haitian people, not helping them to establish a system of governance worthy of a modern democratic society. Especially in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, 2021 , too many imponderables have emerged to permit a definitive assessment: Who is actually in control of the state? Are any of the state’s institutions working? Will early elections provide a solution? Which regional and/or international institutions or states are deemed sufficiently legitimate by the Haitian population? The spontaneous if pessimistic response to all these issues is ‘none’.
What are the Issues?
Urgently required are strategies for breaking the political paralysis; controlling gang violence that has impeded delivery of food, medical supplies and other assistance; and viable coordinated economic resilience programmes.
There is a lack of clarity about Haiti’s political leadership. Since President Moise ruled by decree for over a year, all constitutional institutions — parliament, senate and the judiciary — are essentially ineffectual or defunct. The Constitution provides for the Chief Justice to assume the Presidency under circumstances like these, but Supreme Court Judge Rene Sylvester who tested positive for COVID-19 died on June 23, 2021. In the meantime, there are three claimants to the Presidency, among others. Ariel Henry, the Prime Minister designated by President Moise the day before he was murdered; self-styled Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, fired by Moise, apparently ruling Haiti with the backing of lean police and military forces; and Joseph Lambert former Head of Haiti’s dismantled Senate, who was recently chosen by a group of well-known politicians to be provisional President.
History shows that there is no real accountability for any political leader in Haiti deviating from democratic norms and abusing the powers of office to suppress basic freedoms. Möise has governed Haiti by decree for over a year without an elected parliament and was accountable to no one. According to prominent scholars and others who have intimate knowledge of the Haitian predicament, U.S. helped create the situation by its continued support of President Moïse, who had become despised by many Haitians of all sectors of the population because of alleged corruption scandals. The U.S. also called for national elections to be held by the end of the year,(2021) as scheduled – as if “democracy” means only elections. Then the disclosure that some of the assassination suspects received U.S. training, which has not been previously reported complicates understanding of how the plot to kill Moïse took shape, and who was involved. This is another blotch on US credibility as a trusted ally of Haiti’s rehabilitation.
Some Snap Shots of Regional and International Interventions
Reflections from CARICOM
As early as 2002, the CARICOM Mission to Haiti led by H.E. Julian Hunte, Minister of Foreign Affairs, St Lucia (of which I had an opportunity to be a member) made an observation which remains valid. Its draft report presented to the Intersessional meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Belize (February 2002) stated that fundamental social, legal and political reforms must take into account that 95% of Haitians speak creole not French, but the schools overwhelmingly teach in French and [until recently] the courts and the legislature conducted all their business in French. This means the people don’t know what’s going on in their country. Hence “If the state institutions do not reflect the country’s culture, then a country can never be democratic'” That 2002 mission fully justified this observation as demonstrated by the huge audiences at several town hall meetings with invited speakers from leading NGOs conducted in creole with French translations. Ambassador Hunte, as Chair was fluent in the creole language.
Apart from this culture shift, greater emphasis has to be placed on accelerating Haiti’s economic development. The establishment of a CARICOM Office in Haiti in 2003 and again in 2007 together with a policy of internships to the CARICOM Secretariat for several young Haitian public servants initiated during the tenure of Secretary General, Sir Edwin Carrington were attempts to integrate the country meaningfully into the CSME process much the same as the establishment of a CDB office in Haiti in 2018, aimed at strengthening the fiduciary, monetary policies and financial accountability systems within the Governmental structure. That CARICOM also approved the removal of barriers to free movement of capital, goods and services for Haitians within the Community in 2019 with Barbados being the first to remove visa restrictions, were also hailed as significant attempts to accord the Haitian business community, professionals, workers and others, the rights and entitlements of being a CARICOM citizen. Unfortunately with issues directly related to security and utilizing CARICOM States as transit points for trafficking in drugs and humans, CARICOM countries have withdrawn the free movement concessions to Haitians. Speaking at a news conference at the end of a summit of regional leaders on Haiti (July 8, 2021), CARICOM Chairman, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne agreed that nationals of member states that are part of the regional single market are entitled to move freely. However, he says CARICOM member states can take steps to prevent mass and illegal migration of Haitians to prevent the violation of immigration rules.
USA: Seizing a New Opportunity
USA has a role to play in Haiti’s redemption. In this regard, the Biden administration would be most effective if it offers better trade relations between the U.S and Haiti and establishes an economic stimulus plan for Haiti within the CARICOM framework and the Dominican Republic, which not only shares the Island space of Hispaniola with Haiti, but is a member of CARIFORUM along with CARICOM Member states. This would involve engaging the international business community to invest in the sustainable development of the Haiti including in agriculture, infrastructure , tourism, gold mining the arts and entertainment industries including film making for which its multilingual and industrious workforce are capable of being productive resources.
UN on the Ground
The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) had simultaneously been providing material and technical assistance for the constitutional referendum proposed by President Moise. According to informed reports, the head of BINUH, Helen La Lime, while expressing concern with the obvious “ever-growing polarization of Haitian politics, has for months been enthusiastically pushing ahead—even though the process toward the referendum has taken so many political and institutional shortcuts since last fall that have fatally undermined its credibility.” Like the United States under Biden and other international actors, the UN has more recently been distancing itself from Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s push for a constitutional referendum.
OAS and the Shifting Sands
A major omission in last week’s Blog was the important role played by H.E. Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to the USA and Permanent Representative to OAS. He was Chief of the OAS Mission to Haiti in 2016 which ended the political impasse at the time by brokering an agreement between President Michel Martelly and opposition parties in the National Assembly that persuaded Martelly to demit office peacefully and agree to an interim government that ran the country for almost 2 years and oversaw elections that brought Moise to power. Moise gained 53% of the vote from a paltry 21 % of the electorate. This was itself an omen that he was not a President with popular acclaim. His election was in direct contrast to Aristide's whose two stints as President (October 1994- February 1996 and February 2001-February 2004) were based on widespread support from the grassroots, farmers, peasants and other marginalized groups.
In December 2020, the OAS indicated that it would support Moïse’s plans for elections but in 2021 it retracted owing to differences among its membership over the scope of OAS commitments for the Moïse government’s referendum and electoral calendar. The OAS “Good Offices Mission” visited Haiti in early June, with representatives from Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States. Its general mandate to facilitate a dialogue between the government and key political actors that would lead to free and fair elections, which achieved limited progress is now a relevant item on the agenda for Haiti’s redemption.
Elections in Haiti by themselves are not sufficient for strengthening its democratic process. What is required are more robust institutional structures of government to avoid recurring dysfunctionality. Important too is designing processes of engagement that respect and place emphasis on Haiti's creole culture and the creative talents of its people. There is need to ensure that constitutional reform incorporates these dominant cultural streams and place emphasis on human development, enhancing the competencies of youth , and streamlining a productive economy by constructive investment. In this respect former President Aristide's call for reparations from France seems justifiable. But a more immediate response is necessary. It should include special appeals to G7 Countries in the Americas (USA and Canada) and in the EU to bolster its economic development priorities and security. It requires the UN through its major institutions, the Security Council, G77, ECOSOC, its sector agencies including WHO and multilateral agencies like the World Bank to ensure that Haiti benefits from global solidity in achieving positive results from the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the financing for a development agenda. It requires the supports from the OAS as the wider regional political construction. Most important is its being anchored in CARICOM where it benefits from trust and camaraderie in a "Community for All". While much of these aspirations are happening, they are sporadic or uncoordinated, but they represent planks of cooperation to be further explored from this preliminary survey of the landscape for Haiti's redemption.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.