A powerful Haitian opposition group is calling on the United States to withdraw support for Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government in Haiti, saying the administration’s legitimacy is tarnished by delayed elections and Mr. Henry’s potential connection to Haiti. assassination of the country’s president.
The opposition group, called the Montana Accord, has called on the United States to act by Monday – the date President Jovenel Moïse vowed to step down, before he was shot dead in his home last year . The government will be rendered unconstitutional by Monday, according to the Montana Accord and independent experts.
The confrontation has left the Biden administration in an increasingly uncomfortable position. Fearing that Haiti could descend further into chaos, the United States for now backs the status quo: a ruling party that has ruled for about a decade and has seen gang power explode across the country and corruption run rampant. .
“When we look at the history of Haiti, it is filled with the international community taking an interest in Haitian politics and picking winners and losers,” said Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Haitian Affairs. Western Hemisphere, in January. “Our goal in terms of the US government is to avoid that.”
As doubts grow over the Henry administration’s ability to hold elections this year, anti-government protests have erupted across the capital, Port-au-Prince, and local gangs have taken advantage of the moment of growing uncertainty to expand their territory.
Adding to the instability, gangs stormed the airport road on Friday, shutting down businesses and putting Haitian police on high alert for further violence on Monday.
The Montana Accord called for the formation of a transitional government, with its leader, Fritz Alphonse Jean, at the helm to restore security before an election is held. By continuing to support the current government, the group says, the United States is essentially choosing a side.
“Insecurity is rampant, fear of kidnapping and rape is the daily situation for the average Haitian,” Jean said in an interview on Friday. “It’s a state of disarray and the Henry government just sits there unable to meet these challenges.”
Analysts agree that a transitional government led by the Montana Accord would also be unconstitutional. But they say it would have more legitimacy than the Henry government because the group – made up of civil society organizations and powerful political figures – represents a wider cross-section of the population than the current government, which was elected with an extremely low participation rate.
“What is the most constitutional government you can have at this moment? The short answer is zero,” said Alexandra Filippova, senior counsel at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a think tank focused on improving the justice system.
“So the next best question is, what brings you closer to legitimate constitutional government? We see the Montana group is a flawed process, but it’s the best path to open the way to a legitimate government.
Senior U.S. officials have urged the Montana Accord to work with Mr. Henry’s government to chart the way forward and recognize that the group is an important partner in achieving a broadly representative political system to help guide the country towards elections.
Mr Henry said the next government must be formed through elections, not a transitional government.
The Montana Accord argues, however, that Mr. Henry has failed to create a realistic plan to improve security and hold free and fair elections safely amid widespread gang violence, growing corruption and a disillusioned Haitian population.
Adding to the mistrust, Mr. Henry could also be involved in the murder of Mr. Moïse, according to members of the opposition.
In September, Haiti’s top prosecutor claimed the prime minister was in contact with the main suspect in Mr. Moïse’s death in the days before and hours after the assassination. The prosecutor asked the Minister of Justice to formally charge Mr. Henry with the murder. Mr. Henry promptly fired the two officials.
Phone records obtained by The New York Times and an exclusive interview with another suspect in the assassination also bolster those charges. Mr Henry denied the allegations.
“The whole system is untrustworthy,” Montana Accord member Monique Clesca said. “There is no way to go to the elections with Ariel Henry; no one trusts him after this assassination.
So far, U.S. officials have dismissed the charges against the prime minister while urging the government and the Montana Accord to come to a consensus. Mr. Henry, a senior US official said in an interview this month, is seen as a gatekeeper and does not enjoy unconditional US support.
Average Haitians are skeptical of the ability of the government or the opposition to improve their lives.
“There is nothing to expect from the decision-makers, they always take care of themselves,” said Vanessa Jacques, 29, an unemployed mother.
Ms Jacques described a feeling of insecurity so deep that it paralyzed her life, preventing her from going to university or running errands.
“Living in Haiti, you have to take care of yourself, otherwise no one else will,” she said.
Recent presidential elections in Haiti have been plagued with problems and unrepresentative of the population. Mr. Moïse was elected in 2016 with just 600,000 votes, out of a population of nearly six million eligible voters. His predecessor, Michel Martelly, was elected in a contentious election in which the United States was accused of intervening on his behalf.
Yet many Haitian leaders see elections as the only way forward.
“Elections are unavoidable,” said Edmond Bocchit, Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States. “Now it’s about when and how are we going to come together to do that.”
While some business leaders in Haiti say that Mr. Henry has questions to answer regarding the assassination of Mr. Moïse, they add that he succeeded in preventing the situation from deteriorating and also achieved an important objective: increase fuel prices. Fuel subsidies nearly bankrupted the state, and the previous government was unable to remove them without sparking riots.
“The country must keep moving forward,” said Wilhelm Lemke, president of the Association of Haitian Manufacturers. “And they kept it from collapsing,” he said, but Mr Henry must reach out to the opposition to form a more representative government. He stressed that Mr Henry needed to sit down with the opposition to reach a broader political agreement.
But “the Prime Minister should address the inferences that he might be part of the assassination and all that. By not addressing it, you bring water to your detractors,” he said. “And you dilute your moral authority.”
Chris Cameron contributed reporting from Washington.