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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Haiti in crisis sets up ruling council, clearing way for an acting leader



Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 22, 2023. (Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times)

By David C. Adams and Andre Paultrez


A new transitional ruling council was finalized in Haiti on Friday to try to bring political stability to a country wracked by escalating gang violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis.


The council’s formation, announced in an official state-run bulletin, comes after gangs who have a brutal grip on much of the capital prevented Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning to the country after a trip overseas and ultimately pushed him to announce his resignation.


The presidential transition council is tasked with restoring law and order through the appointment of an acting prime minister to head a new government as well as to pave the way for the election of a new president.


A coalition of armed gangs has had control of most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, since it launched an offensive in late February, destroying police stations and government offices, looting banks and hospitals and killing and kidnapping hundreds of people.


The establishment of the council was hashed out in Jamaica last month by a regional Caribbean Community bloc, CARICOM, along with the United States, France and Canada after it became clear that Henry would no longer be able to govern Haiti.


But the selection of the body’s members was delayed after several names were withdrawn out of safety fears or because ethical issues had become a concern.


Henry left Haiti for Kenya in early March to finalize an agreement for a 2,500-member multinational force, led by the East African nation, to deploy and take on the gangs.


The council includes members of Haiti’s main political parties and coalitions as well as representatives of the private sector, civil society, the Haitian diaspora and religious leaders. The council’s mandate says a new president is expected to take office in February 2026, but does not specify when elections would be held.


As a condition for joining the body, all members agreed to back deployment of the Kenya-led mission. Anyone under indictment, facing sanctions by the United Nations or intending to run in the next election was excluded from the council.


One gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, known as Barbecue, had threatened to attack anyone who signed on to the new government, describing the transition as an illegitimate concoction of Haiti’s corrupt political system.


“Cut off their heads and burn down their houses,” he told his gang members, using a 19th-century war cry for Haitian independence.


While the installation of the council is widely considered to be a positive step, many challenges remain, experts say.


“Will it have the capacity to silence the guns of the armed men?” asked Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born political scientist at the University of Virginia. “How can it be installed safely, and how can it start governing in an environment of widespread insecurity?”


Some Haitians have questioned the council’s constitutional legitimacy, and protesters tried to prevent the official announcement from being printed Thursday at the offices of Le Moniteur, the official state bulletin.


The council must first be sworn in at the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince, the scene of some of the heaviest clashes between gang members and Haitian police.


The multinational security force meant to take on the gangs still lacks funding, despite a pledge of $300 million by the Biden administration. So far Congress has approved only $10 million of that commitment. After the transition announcement, President Joe Biden moved quickly to announce the disbursement of $60 million in funding for the multinational force and for Haitian police, consisting of equipment and training.


“We are at a tipping point, and we need a solution now,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., the only Haitian American in Congress, said on the floor of the House this week. “Haitians cannot wait any longer for the multinational security mission.”


The Biden administration pushed hard for the installation of the transition council, which comes days after the arrival of a new U.S. ambassador, Dennis Hankins, an experienced diplomat who served previously in Haiti.


“I recognize that these are difficult times for the Haitian people,” he said in a statement. “Haitians deserve to be represented by elected officials who are accountable to the people.”


The United Nations’ human rights office reported this month that more than 1,500 people had been killed in Haiti so far this year, the result of what it described as a “cataclysmic situation” in the country.


Corruption, impunity and poor governance, together with increasing levels of gang violence, have brought the Caribbean nation’s state institutions “close to collapse,” the agency said.


Local humanitarian agencies have also reported a shortage of food and fuel after the capital’s main port was shut down. Several countries, including the United States, Canada and France, have evacuated hundreds of stranded citizens on emergency flights and by helicopter.


The World Food Program said Haiti was suffering its worst levels of food insecurity on record after gangs took over farmlands and blocked the roads in and out of the capital, extorting buses and trucks delivering goods.


On Thursday, the program, which is a U.N. agency, warned that its stocks in Haiti could run out by the end of the month.


“We can only hope the transition council is ready to deliver,” said Reginald Delva, a Haitian security consultant and former Haitian government minister. “The population can no longer wait.”


“We are facing the worst humanitarian and sanitarian crisis,” he added. “A new Cabinet is a priority to get the ball rolling. Political leaders need to put their differences aside, make the population a priority.”

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