Members of the United Nations Security Council are pressing for elections in a volatile Haiti amid the country’s persistent political gridlock, return of rampant kidnappings and a brewing humanitarian crisis, crushing the hopes of those pushing for a long transition to stabilize the country before going to the polls.
“Haiti needs a government which has a clear mandate from its people,” Juan Ramón de la Fuente, Mexico’s permanent representative, said Monday, echoing the sentiments of his fellow ambassadors.
It was the council’s first public meeting since the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. It was also the first since a devastating magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the country’s southwestern peninsula a month later, affecting 800,000 people. The quake killed over 2,200 people and left tens of thousands homeless, and has only compounded the country’s list of crises.
As U.N. members insisted on elections and the participation of women and young people in the polls, a national strike was unfolding in Port-au-Prince. Fed up with fuel shortages, the recent repatriation of thousands of Haitian migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border, and the ongoing kidnappings by armed gangs that control large swaths of the capital, several transportation unions brought all activities to a halt Monday.
“Haiti is currently undergoing one of the most fraught periods of its recent history,” U.N. Special Representative Helen La Lime told the council in her opening remarks,
La Lime heads the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Its mandate is up for renewal later this month. While some council members expressed support for its work, others, including the government of Haiti, are seeking changes to better tackle the challenges.
But the biggest challenge — and source of disagreement — remains the country’s immediate future, as La Lime and others called for Haitians to find common ground in order for elections to take place.
Moïse’s assassination, which remains unsolved, aggravated an institutional vacuum following the death of the president of the high court from COVID-19 just weeks prior, and the lack of a fully functioning Parliament after legislative elections were repeatedly delayed.
Last week Prime Minister Ariel Henry dismissed the Provisional Electoral Council that had been handpicked by Moïse, delaying elections for the fourth time. Though he has not yet named a new council, Henry, who faces criticism by those who do not consider him legitimate, has said he’s planning for elections no later than the second half of 2022 and for a constitutional referendum in February 2022.
During the discussions Monday, Security Council members placed emphasis on a political accord being pursued by Henry while barely acknowledging the concerns of a coalition of Haitian civil society organizations pressing for a delay in the polls in order to address some of the root causes of Haiti’s dysfunction.
“Prime Minister Ariel Henry has spared no effort to reach a political agreement with the various factions of the Haitian polity,” La Lime said. “Adopting an inclusive and consensual approach, he has sought to create minimal conditions for the holding of legislative, local and presidential elections, and thus steer a country in the midst of a profound governance crisis towards the regular functioning of its democratic institutions.”
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Greenfield-Thomas, said the U.S. is urging Henry “to make every effort to secure a political accord with the broadest possible consensus and engagement with civil society and political actors.”
“The United States supports an inclusive, Haitian-led process charting a path to democracy through free and fair elections as soon as conditions permit,” she said. ”It is crucial that Haiti’s government, political parties, civil society, religious leaders, private sector and diaspora work together in the interest of the Haitian people to return to democratic governance.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s tone and emphasis on elections differed from that of two senior Biden administration officials — Brian Nichols, the new assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and National Security Council Director Juan Gonzalez — who visited Haiti last week. Ahead of the visit, and after meeting with various Haitian political and civil society leaders, both stressed support for a Haitian-led solution to their nation’s crises while steering clear of pushing elections.
“The U.S. is not clear,” Emmanuela Douyon, a grassroots activist, said after addressing the Security Council as a member of Haitian civil society and listening to the statements. “We have the impression that there is a rush to take shortcuts and extend support to the people that the majority don’t trust to lay foundations for a return to democracy. The key word is ‘rupture.’ We want to break with the old practices that led us to crisis, but we are not witnessing any effort toward it.”
Douyon said that over the past six months, a cross-sector of civil society has come together through the “Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis” to forge a consensus around a transition plan. The effort is inclusive and has support from more than 500 civil society groups and 50 political parties, she said. The proposal is for a two-year transitional government with a president and prime minister chosen by political parties and civil society.
During her remarks, Douyon told council members that Haiti faces a crisis characterized by a deteriorating security situation and human rights violations, including an increase in violence toward women. Elections should occur when they can be fair, she said, and not be imposed on arbitrary timelines that are not related to the situation on the ground.
“More than 162 armed groups operate in the country and control significant portions of the national territory. Kidnappings occur daily, and gangs carry out massacres of civilians in marginalized areas of Port-au-Prince like La Saline with impunity,” she said. “Elections have always been the prescribed solution to all past political crises in Haiti. We can all acknowledge the pivotal role of elections in a democracy, but elections only help democracy if they are free, fair, and participatory.
“Today, the conditions for fair elections do not exist in Haiti due to the levels of insecurity and gang violence we are witnessing.”