November 28, 2022

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Canada hosts international conference on Haiti

Canada led a meeting of foreign ministers Friday to discuss helping Haiti cope with a series of crises.

Canada led a meeting of foreign ministers Friday to discuss helping Haiti cope with a series of crises.

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A high-level international meeting on Haiti ended Friday with a group of countries committing to security assistance for the country, and calling on the troubled nation’s disparate political forces to come together around a political consensus that would allow for elections and the return to fully constitutional and democratic rule.

“We need the Haitian people to come together around a way forward, and the international community is focused on supporting that effort but not supplanting it,” said Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

The United States and other countries have contended that the term of assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, who was ruling by decree when he was shot to death in July inside his bedroom, will officially end on Feb. 7. With the date approaching, Haiti faces a looming crisis, with interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country’s civic leaders unable to agree on the path forward.

Nichols said Friday’s virtual meeting, hosted by Canada, brought together 24 different senior officials, the majority of them foreign ministers, representing countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The U.S., which has been trying to forge a regional security plan focused on strengthening the Haiti National Police, noted its commitment to increasing the number of police advisors from nine to 16, and supporting community policing, border and corrections units and training of special weapons and tactics teams.

“The United States, and I think others in the international community, are quite focused on making sure that we understand the Haitian people’s vision and where assistance needs to go, and that’s an ongoing process,” Nichols said. “We are seeing support as I noted for the Haitian national police from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan.”

The international community’s heightened focus on Haiti comes after years of refusing to publicly acknowledge the degradation of the country’s democracy and security situation, and as the Caribbean nation once again finds itself in an unusual political transition — its second in seven years— because there is no newly elected president to swear in on Feb. 7.

Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry VALERIE BAERISWYL AFP via Getty Images

Unlike the previous transitions, however, this one has left the country even deeper in uncharted legal territory because of the assassination of Moïse. His failure to hold timely parliamentary elections before his murder has left the country with no parliament, a de facto prime minister and competing solutions on how to wade through a constitutional crisis.

With no choice but to support some kind of transition, Washington, which was once opposed to the idea and pushed elections at all costs, is now saying that elections in Haiti need to be based on the security conditions in the country.

“There needs to be adequate security to allow candidates to campaign, parties to hold rallies, to have the Provisional Electoral Council carry out their duties and for voters to be able to safely go forward and cast their ballots,” Nichols said. “Those are the conditions that we need to see for an election from a security standpoint.”

Haiti’s donors and supporters are increasingly concerned about its instability, which has deteriorated since Moïse’s death. The assassination was followed five weeks later by a devastating earthquake in the country’s southern region, and the country now faces an ongoing migration crisis.

Friday’s conference marked the second time in a few months that high-level diplomats have met to discuss Haiti, and it reflects the growing concern over the country’s constitutional crisis and erosion of democracy.

Under pressure from the international community, Moïse had named Henry, a neurosurgeon who was not a member of his political party, as prime minister a month before his death. Henry has said he wants to take Haiti to elections and have it adopt a new constitution. But while his term is not constitutionally tied to that of the president’s, a point Nichols made, Henry could soon find achieving either difficult in the face of political and social upheaval.

Haiti is not only seeing a sharp rise in kidnappings by armed gangs, but poverty is deepening as the cost of living rises amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and its security and economic woes spur Haitians to flee by sea.

In recent days, some of the country’s leading economists, pointing to growing inflation and the exponential rise in the price of food, have warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis. They note that 4.6 million people could soon find themselves with not enough to eat.

Canada opened the meeting Friday by announcing a contribution of $50.4 million Canadian dollars in aid to help support security and humanitarian initiatives, and calling on interim Henry to redouble efforts to reach an inclusive political accord to address the country’s myriad challenges.

The announcement set the tone for what Canada hoped would be not just a discussion among foreign diplomats about Haiti’s problems but how the international community can support the country as gangs continue to extend their grip, hunger deepens and the Caribbean nation prepares to once again mark the end of a presidential term with no elected leader ready to take the helm.

“Canada is deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Haiti and the impact of violence on the human rights of Haitians,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, the conference host, said. “Clashes between armed gangs are making an already precarious humanitarian situation worse; they are making the delivery of aid to the most vulnerable of the population more difficult.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. GEOFF ROBINS AFP/Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also raised the security concerns while giving a summary of his nation’s assistance over the years, pledging Canada’s continued commitment to helping Haitians find a brighter future that includes an improved economic, political and security landscape.

“In order to address Haiti’s humanitarian needs, we must also address the challenging security situation,” Trudeau said, adding that the international community must work together to restore stability and protect the safety and well-being of Haitians. “We all share the same ambitious for Haiti. By strengthening our efforts together, I’m confident we can achieve them.”

Henry and his foreign minister, Jean Victor Géneus, participated in the conference, and provided an update on political negotiations. Henry also spoke of the ongoing security challenge, listing it as a top priority for his government.

Ahead of the discussions, Henry’s office said in a press statement that the meeting would be, “an opportunity for the prime minister to identify the needs of Haiti in terms of equipment and training for the national police. … He will also talk about his offers of political dialogue and his outstretched hand to all sectors of national life for a coordinated exit from the crisis.”

Henry’s office said he would also address the unfolding humanitarian situation and his efforts to organize free, fair, credible and transparent elections as soon as possible.

Though the economy wasn’t officially on the agenda, improving coordination among donors to address issues like the recovery of the southern peninsula, which was devastated by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August, was discussed.

“We think this is a very unique moment,” Sébastien Carrière, Canada’s ambassador in Port-au-Prince, said in an interview before Friday. “We want to make every effort to avoid Haiti further spiraling into crisis.”

Haitians, he said, need to find common ground in order to tackle the litany of challenges confronting them.

“The debate question if this were a panel would be ‘What are you doing to make sure you have a political accord that is as inclusive as possible?’ “ he said.

Carrière said the international community will not dictate to Haiti what it should do, but wants to see Haiti’s political forces arrive at a consensus on governing in order for the country to return to constitutional order, with an elected president and functioning parliament.

At the moment, there are several competing political agreements. The two leading ones are known as the “September 11 Accord,” promoted by Henry and a number of political parties, and the “Montana Accord,” backed by civil society and some former and current senators. The latter promotes a two-year transition led by a prime minister and a five-person presidential college, with members representing different sectors of society including the current government.

Henry, who has dismissed the presidential college idea, has said that the next president of Haiti will be elected, not appointed.

Until now, both Henry and the Montana Accord supporters have been unable to reach a consensus, with each blaming the other for not wanting to find a solution. On Friday, he promised to redouble his efforts, diplomats in attendance said.

“We’re looking for an accord of the accord, a fusion of the accords,” said Carrière.

Canada and the other donors, he added, want “Haitian solutions and we want to accompany those Haitian solutions. We’re ready to be patient. That’s a key. We’re not forcing anybody to do anything. If there is a consensus, if those groups … can find a way to get along and agree with Ariel Henry about something, and put it on the table, then we’re happy to go along with that. … We are not married to any sort of electoral calendar or anything. We want to get it right.”

It has been awhile since Canada has hosted such a large international forum on Haiti, but foreign minister Joly, who came into office in the fall and is from Montreal, wanted her nation to be more engaged with Haiti. Canada has over 160,000 Haitians as residents, most of them living in Quebec.

The last high-level discussion on Haiti was hosted by the United States in December. Its focus was on getting donor support for the country’s beleaguered police force, which has struggled to contain gang violence and tackle the kidnapping surge. Next month the U.N. is hosting a donors conference focused on earthquake recovery, which has been slowed by both a lack of money and the violent gang clashes at the southern entrance of Port-au-Prince. The latter have made it difficult for aid trucks to get through.

In addition to Canada’s aid, which will go to support nine initiatives that are also heavily focused on the plight of women and girls, the United Nations recently announced a donation of $8 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund.

Laying out his 2022 priorities before the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who was recently elected to a new term, also mentioned Haiti. He pledged to encourage and support Haitian-led solutions in Haiti “to end a deepening political and institutional crisis, craft a new constitution and plan elections in a secure and peaceful environment.”

Among the countries participating Friday were the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and the U.S., as well as Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Ecuador, France, Japan, Panama, the United Kingdom and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Also participating were representatives from multilateral organizations, including the U.N., the Caribbean Community, the International Organization of La Francophonie and the Organization of American States.

This story was originally published January 21, 2022 8:38 AM.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.