For the second time in a few months, high-level foreign diplomats will meet to discuss Haiti and 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.
The virtual meeting is taking place Friday. It will be attended by foreign ministers from over a dozen countries, most of them increasingly concerned about Haiti’s instability after July’s assassination of its president, followed by a devastating earthquake five weeks later, and now an ongoing migration crisis.
The gathering is being hosted by Canada, whose minister of foreign affairs, Mélanie Joly, said in a statement her nation stands ready to support “Haiti-led solutions to the country’s most pressing issues, and remains committed to supporting Haiti for a more democratic, safer and more prosperous future.”
The United States and others have contended that the term of President Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated July 7, 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.
Before he was assassinated inside his bedroom, Moïse had failed to hold elections for parliamentary seats and was ruling by decree.
Under pressure from the international community, he named a new prime minister, Henry, a month before his murder. 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, he 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.
Opening Friday’s discussions will be Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Henry, who will address the foreign ministers. Henry is expected to provide an update on political negotiations, but he’s also planning to address the ongoing security challenges, which is a top priority for attendees.
The meeting, Henry’s office said in a press statement, “will 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 will also address the unfolding humanitarian situation and his efforts to organize free, fair, credible and transparent elections as soon as possible.
Though the economy isn’t 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, will be discussed. So will support for the Haiti National Police and the political situation.
“We think this is a very unique moment,” Sébastien Carrière, Canada’s ambassador in Port-au-Prince, said in an interview. “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.
“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 a while 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 there be another 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 has made it difficult for aid trucks to get through.
Among the countries participating Friday are the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and 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 will be representatives from multilateral organizations, including the United Nations, the Caribbean Community, the International Organization of La Francophonie and the Organization of American States.