Haiti-led solutions to the country’s crisis take place behind closed doors, but recent changes may spark new actions.
The game has been running ardently for about a year, in view of spectators the world over. Players on the field represent multiple teams, and stands are filled with spectators, watching.
Yet, rules are murky and keep changing. There’s no clear date of when a play ends and goal posts change. What’s most frustrating for viewers is when key players huddle, then come back to the field to announce new rules. In the year since the last flagrant foul — July 7, 2021 — no goals have been met, frustrating many spectators.
“Too slow!” they shout.
Then out of the blue, a retired player is called to rejoin, just as there’s a rising roar from the sidelines. “Nap tann ou, Prezidan Titid!”
In this latest iteration of Haitian governance and diplomacy since the assasination of Jovenel Moïse one year ago, Haiti’s political parties, heads of government agencies, civil society groups and international partners claiming to be tackling Haiti’s problems don’t seem any closer to achieving solutions for any one of the myriad of challenges.
For one, there’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s failure to hold elections for a new president in Haiti, after promising he’d do so before stepping down. International partners like the United States, meanwhile, have taken on a revolving-door approach as one diplomat after another leaves, while still funding activities meant to “build the capacity” of agencies such as the Haitian National Police’s ability to combat gang violence.
“The impasse among Haiti’s key political actors has widened, and in recent weeks has acquired a new element,” said Georges Fauriol, a senior associate with the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Montana Accord is not only unable to force Henry to the negotiating table, but the Lavalas Aristide wing of Haitian populism may be rising as an additional pressure point,” Fauriol said via email.
Meanwhile, Haitian frustration and desperation grow and the quality of daily life diminishes. The one-year anniversary of Moïse’s assassination and no reassuring developments to show reminds many Haitians of the country’s leadership failures.
Fauriol, in a February article for Global Americans, outlined three scenarios for the possible future of Haiti.
In the first, Haiti turns into a full-fledged failed state, where governing structures are nonexistent and centers of authority formally compete. This scenario includes a military presence and a multinational economic and political development in which the U.S. would play a critical role.
In the second, the political authority would flip between key Haitian constituencies — including uncontrolled gangs, drug traffickers and miscellaneous opportunists. A compromise between Henry and the Montana group may develop in this scenario. What would happen the day after is the challenge.
And in the third scenario, Haiti’s leaders’ and institutions’ inability to change the country’s negative reality will give rise to an autocratic leader. This scenario would reverse progress made over the past 30 years to institutionalize modern, democratic governance.
All three scenarios remain feasible, Fauriol told The Haitian Times this week.
The first, the failed state scenario, is deepening because of the expanded security, economic, and potentially political impact of organized gangs, particularly in the wider Port-au-Prince region and eastward toward the Dominican Republic border, he said.
A deafening quiet
Two weeks later, Helen La Lime, head of the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), was clear Haitian elections were not on the horizon. She reported in mid-June to the U.N. Security Council in New York.
“The reality is that [the Montana Group] may have an interesting plan of action, but they don’t really have power. And power, in Haiti at this moment, is derived from foreign services,” said Robert Fatton, author of numerous books on Haiti and foreign affairs professor at the University of Virginia.
“If Ariel Henry is prime minister, it is essentially because the United States has legitimized him as the prime minister. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be prime minister,” he said.
The State Department has not publicly addressed those calls to oust Henry, but it has met with Haitian diaspora leaders in New York City and Miami venues to encourage involvement in the issues.
“We have also hosted and taken part in a series of international partner meetings focused on Haiti to offer the Haitian people support to improve security and reach a political accord,” according to a State Department spokesperson.
However, patience is growing thin for many in the United States, including state legislative groups and policymakers.
U.S. Representative Andy Levin (MI-09), founder of the House of Representatives Haiti House Caucus, is among those pushing for the U.S. to do more. His group has called on President Joe Biden to reverse his support of Henry.
“The United States is standing in the way of a transition back to democracy in Haiti,” Levin said, adding diplomatic processes could move more quickly.
Fauriol sees an unintended consequence from the absence of a firm U.S.policy toward Haiti.
“Combined with increased insecurity in Haiti and limited incentives, so far, for Henry to dialogue with the Montana Accord, [it] raises the potential for the third scenario,” said Fauriol. “Not so much an autocratic ‘take-over,’ but the emergence of an autocratic outcome over time with the outward appearance of being a practical solution to Haiti’s mounting problems.”
He compared the scenario to the ascent of Nayib Bukele, the 40-year-old president of El Salvador.
The slow pace of the diplomacy is in direct relation to the number of voices to be heard and the complexity of the task, some say. Others believe selfish interests also hamper change.
“Because the country is so dependent on external sources of finances, even when you call it a ‘Haitian solution,’ it’s a solution that ultimately is really connected to the international forces that are going to accept or tolerate it,” said Fatton.
At the same time, there’s much effort by those activating for change to ensure respect or representation of all, according to Fabienne Doucet, a Haitian-American observer. She also sees parallels between Haiti’s refusal, for many years, to teach in its native Creole language and the diplomatic impasse.
“One of the biggest obstacles in Haiti to achieving any kind of solution is lack of will,” Doucet said. “The political lack of will rests with the NGO community, the foreign governments [benefiting] from Haiti’s position geographically as well as not being in a position of power, and honestly, the Haitian elites.”
Some people, she said, benefit more when Haiti remains in a position of vulnerability rather than strength.
“The people who would benefit from things improving are clearly in the numerical majority, but [are] the power minority,” Doucet said.
Henry’s office as well as Haitian government representatives did not return messages asking for comments.
Diplomacy behind closed doors
One frustrating aspect of the ongoing diplomacy are power-broker meetings that take place behind closed doors, contrary to public pronouncements of transparency and engagement with diaspora leadership. Meeting dates are rarely announced and those who do report outcomes tend to be tight-lipped. High-level meetings are also choreographed by the international community, down to scripts embargoed for the public until afterward.
In late March, a civil society-led three-sided committee, including government, was formed to enlarge agreement among groups. At the same time, Ariel Henry held direct talks with the Montana Group, which proposed new ways to relaunch formal negotiations, according to La Lime.
“The multiple initiatives and proposals to foster a common vision among national stakeholders… have yielded few concrete results,” La Lime has since reported.
Previous coalitions have started to fracture as well, and BINUH is focused on reviving contacts at all levels through a series of informal gatherings, La Lime said.
A state department spokesman confirmed its participation.
The Montana Group couldn’t be reached for comment.
Complicated agreement, situation and process
[“The Montana Accord] is a very complicated agreement,” Fatton said. “While on paper, it’s very nice, the realities of Haiti are such that I don’t see how it’s going to be implemented.”
Fatton’s concern was over the length of time the document specified — two years, during which he doubted there could be a government or kind of national unity that would have neither defections nor fights during the timeframe.
Steps to hold an election would be complicated, according to Fatton. Haiti has neither an electoral commission nor census. Creating an electoral council takes time and negotiations. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily resolve the problem.
“Once you have the election, the losers claim that they won and the winner says, ‘we won!’” Fatton said.
At the Summit of the Americas in June, President Biden met with leaders of CARICOM (Caribbean Community), of which Haiti is a member.
“There is hopefully a reenergized community of interest for the U.S. to encourage Haiti’s neighbors — CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic — to support a political transition in Haiti,” said Fauriol. “With open U.S. backing, this may have dividends.”
Next steps to be taken
As diplomats enter the second year of negotiations and Haiti devolves further into chaos, many contemplate what they would do to move more quickly towards elections.
“We should have some sort of government of national unity,” Fatton said. “Then, you can have the beginning of a solution.”
“I think a lot of the politicians have to exit and allow people who are not part of that political class to manage the crisis now,” he said.
Doucet, for her part, suggests setting a timeline and pushing demands at the Haitian government. Obligations, if not met, would trigger a no-confidence vote.
“We have to do more than just say, ‘Things need to change,’” Doucet said. “I’d really love to see this group take a stance that is really loud and public and sort of aggressive. Something that sort of shakes the tree.”
The reemergence of Aristide, and the impact of the one-year anniversary of Moïse’s assassination, may increase pressures on U.S. policymakers — and Henry, suggested Fauriol.
“Not so much to break with Henry but to quietly, along with other key international actors — more likely sympathetic to Montana than Henry — convince him to seriously negotiate a consensus,” he said. “All options should be on the table.”
Perhaps that includes a role for Henry in a transitional arrangement and, now, conceivably some of Aristide’s key allies, said Fauriol.
“None of this will be easy.”