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In Haiti, “we went from a deep crisis to an acute crisis”

Photo: Odelyn Joseph Associated Press A demonstration demanding the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry was held in Port-au-Prince last Friday.

Lisa-Marie Gervais

March 8, 2024

  • Americas

With the closure of the country's largest hospital, the gang assault on the country's two largest prisons, as well as the attack on Toussaint-Louverture airport and the Port-au-Prince police academy, the crisis in Haiti has worsened a notch. While armed groups threaten a “civil war that will lead to genocide,” the days of Prime Minister Ariel Henry are numbered. This is what Henri-Paul Normandin, former Canadian ambassador to Haiti (2010-2013) and fellow at the Montreal Institute of International Studies, believes.

In the grip of an unprecedented crisis, can Haiti fall lower ?

Unfortunately yes. Because if gangs continue to cause chaos, violence is likely to increase. And this can practically lead to a shutdown of economic activities in the broad sense. When there is no more oil, there is no electricity. When there is no security, there is no more water distribution and agricultural production cannot be carried out or transported within the country. Then, the distribution of humanitarian aid risks being compromised if the ports and airport are blocked.

The situation was already very bad a few weeks ago, and we are reaching a turning point. It's not a cliché, it really is. We went from a deep crisis to an acute crisis.

What made the situation get so bad ?

In Haiti, the political situation and the security situation often go hand in hand. The current crisis can be explained by two aspects: cyclical and structural.

On the economic level, there was the arrival of Ariel Henry to power after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. Ariel Henry, whose legitimacy has always been highly contested, proved inept in the exercise of his functions. He has achieved nothing, has no vision or capacity to mobilize. His record is completely rubbish.

Structurally, it is worth mentioning that the political and economic elites of the country, who occasionally used the services of criminal gangs for their own purposes, unfortunately strengthened them. These elites have created a veritable Frankenstein's monster and given strength to these armed groups. In a situation where there is now an almost total dysfunction of the State, these gangs have been able to prosper.

Calls for Ariel Henry's resignation are increasing. Would his departure be a first step towards ending the crisis ?

His political days are numbered. Aside from having the title of prime minister, he does not even lead de facto the state and no one trusts him anymore. The only question is when ? Should he leave before there is the establishment of a transitional government or should he be in office until that transitional government is appointed ?

On the one hand, many will say that Ariel Henry is an obstacle to the creation of such a democratic transition. Conversely, if he leaves now, who will replace him ? There have been political discussions with the opposition for two years and no one has been able to agree. Haiti risks finding itself in a complete political vacuum, which risks being filled by gangs. We thus have the choice between a very bad option [of government] or a total absence of option in the immediate future.

The United Nations Security Council has approved a multinational security mission to be led by Kenya. Can we hope for anything from this initiative ?

The police are increasingly overwhelmed by events and are weakening every day. This is a harsh reality that the country must deal with. Whether this multinational mission will have the capacity to confront the gangs and restore security ? This is a big question mark. In my opinion, the most critical is airport control. If it fell under the influence of criminal groups, it would compromise the mission, which would not even be able to land in Haiti.

What would it take to calm things down ?

The best scenario would be the rapid establishment of a transitional government which would have – we are completely outside the constitutional framework – a certain legitimacy, due to a certain consensus of the opposition (or by the personalities put in power). All accompanied by a road map leading to elections. Accompanied by a successful landing of the multinational security mission, this is the ideal scenario.

Who has a role to play in this end of the crisis ?

The leading role is played by the Haitians themselves. First, if Ariel Henry had the decency to face reality, he would say to himself that the best thing he could do is to leave and make way for a transitional government. Then there are the opposition forces. If they could come to a consensus, that would help move things forward. Finally, the third actor would be the police. Hoping she holds up.

On the international level, the country that plays the greatest role — by far — is the United States, followed by the Caribbean community, CARICOM, even if it has not had success so far. Canada, which supports the CARICOM process, may not immediately have a leading role in the political crisis, but it certainly has one in security.

If it turns out that the Kenyan-led multinational security mission was not fulfilling its mandate, perhaps the Security Council would reluctantly consider a peacekeeping mission. As for the United States, which is extremely active politically, it still refuses to send troops. But if the situation got too dire and they did it, it would be a real game changer. This is not on the table for the moment, but we cannot exclude this situation in the long term.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116