As Haiti's president prepares to step down, will CARICOM's new plan help his country?

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On March 11, as the security crisis in Haiti worsened, a High-Level Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — of which Haiti is a part — took place at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. At the late evening closing press conference, current CARICOM Chair Irfan Ali broke the news that many suspected was inevitable under the current circumstances: “We acknowledge the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry upon the establishment of a Presidential Council, and the naming of an interim prime minister.”

According to Ali, this transitional Presidential Council — which will comprise seven voting members from Haitian political parties and the private sector, as well as two non-voting observers from civil society and inter-faith organisations — will “swiftly appoint” the interim head of government. Meanwhile, Kenya says it has put on hold its controversial plan to send a police mission to Haiti, at least until a political administration is fully in place.

Haitian President Ariel Henry did not attend the meeting in Jamaica; instead, he remained in Puerto Rico, where he arrived on March 5, soon after the closure of the country’s international airport. He has not as yet been able to return to his homeland.

Since then, even though a state of emergency was declared, violence has escalated, with gang activity increasing and residents fleeing the capital Port-au-Prince. There have also been bombardments on two major prisons, leading to the unlawful release of “dangerous” inmates.

Flanked by Prime Ministers Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Mia Mottley of Barbados, the CARICOM Chair thanked Prime Minister Henry for his service to Haiti and requested applause for this from those gathered. He further stated that the CARICOM meeting reflected a “commitment to a transitional governance arrangement which paves the way for a peaceful transition of power, continuity of governance, an action plan for near-term security, and the road to free and fair elections.” Another focus of the meeting was governance by the rule of law, which Ali felt reflected “hard compromises” among a diverse coalition of actors.

Among these actors in attendance at the meeting were international partners, including U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who announced an increase in support for the Haiti mission (USD 300 million) and an additional USD 33 million in humanitarian assistance “to further support their health and food security.” The French Minister of State for Development and International Partners Chrysoula Zacharopoulou also attended the closing press briefing, while government representatives from Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, and the United Nations participated in the talks — as did a three-man Eminent Persons Group that included former Caribbean prime ministers Bruce Golding (Jamaica), Dr. Kenny Anthony (St. Lucia), and Perry Christie (The Bahamas). The same group had previously visited Haiti and facilitated stakeholder meetings in Jamaica, with little success.

To that point, the CARICOM Chair added that efforts to solve the crisis in Haiti would require an “enormous” amount of work and be “a journey with many phases,” emphasising that the solution would not focus on individuals but rather on “the collective.” He described the meeting's Outcome Declaration as being “owned by the people and stakeholders of Haiti.”

Throughout the talks, the emphasis was on a Haitian-led solution as the CARICOM Chair noted that Prime Minister Henry “has assured us of his selfless intent to see Haiti succeed, and that is all we want to see as a collective. We want to see the success of Haiti, and we want to see the success of the Haitian people. They deserve this. They deserve nothing less.”

Is a truly Haitian-led solution possible within this new framework? Jamaica-based development specialist Jan Voorduow, who lived and worked in Haiti for a number of years, told Global Voices that what is needed for this success to happen is “elections at the local level [and] much more direct democracy.” He also pointed out that there should be “no impunity for the politicians and business people who first sponsored the gangs and allowed crime to grow.” Haiti, like many other regional territories, has a history of gangs being directly linked to political interests.

On the issue of impunity, Montreal-based journalist Nancy Roc commented:

Responding to questions from the media at the closing press briefing on Monday night, Guyana's president was not forthcoming about discussions related to security matters. However, he confirmed that the issue of refugees and migration was not discussed at the meeting, despite concerns among many Jamaicans regarding a possible influx of refugees on one side and related human rights issues on the other.

While that discussion may be for another time, as the CARICOM Chair stressed, the road ahead for Haiti may be a rocky one. He urged all concerned (including journalists) to be patient: “This process requires patience … let us give a bit. Let us sacrifice a bit, and give this agreement a chance to work.”

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