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Haitian leaders finalize political accord for proposed transition government

A police vehicle monitors the area near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 2, 2024. More than 50,000 people fled Port-au-Prince within three weeks last month as an explosion of gang violence shook the Haitian capital, the United Nations said April 2, 2024.    (Clarens Siffroy/Getty Images of North America/TNS)
By Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald

Haiti’s leaders have finalized a political agreement to serve as the framework of a 22-month transitional government that will be charged with returning order to the gang-plagued capital and pave the way toward elections for the swearing-in of a new president in two years — on Feb. 7, 2026.

A nine-member ruling council, made up of seven voting members and two non-voting observers, was named by a cross-section of political parties and civil society organizations whose leaders also signed the final document over the weekend along with the council members.

The accord ends nearly a month of negotiations to figure out a path for the selection of a new prime minister to replace outgoing leader Ariel Henry, name a head for the council and form a new government.

Members give themselves a considerable amount of power over the incoming government, including the authority to fire the next prime minister— usually the responsibility of an elected parliament — and to name people to a number of newly created agencies, including a national-security commission.

The accord, along with an ordinance outlining the proposed presidential council’s powers, priorities and functions, were sent to the Caribbean Community regional bloc known as CARICOM late Sunday. The agreement will be forwarded to Henry, who remains locked out of Haiti due to ongoing suspension of international flights into violence-plagued Port-au-Prince. Henry and his council of ministers will need to sign off on the deal in order to publish the ordinance establishing the transitional body in the country’s official gazette, Le Moniteur. Once published, the council will officially be established. The next step will be its swearing-in.

How soon that will happen remains to be determined. The council says it will make its headquarters in the National Palace, and some members have insisted that their installation take place on the premises. The palace’s administrative offices have been continuously targeted by armed gang members trying to take control in order to install their own transitional president, a former rebel leader.

Though security is a priority, council members — who had to commit to accepting the deployment of a Multinational Security Support mission — do not express clearly whether the mission will be welcomed. They also do not provide details on how they will deal with the gangs overrunning the capital.

In addition to security, the council says its priorities are constitutional and institutional reform and a path to elections.

But the first order of business will be to name a new prime minister. Henry was pressured to resign by Washington as he tried to return to Haiti after finalizing an agreement in Kenya for the multinational force’s deployment.

Applicants for the job of prime minister will be limited to 15 nominations. Though the presidential council has stayed close to Haiti’s constitution for its own qualifications — such as being at least 35 years old and residing in Haiti for the past five years — members have been less strict on the qualification of the prime minister.

The person needs to have been born in Haiti, have residence in the country and commit to residing there throughout the mandate. In addition to having a good knowledge of public administration and high-level managerial experience, the next prime minister needs to have developed “excellent community skills” and “mastered the art of negotiation,” the ordinance says.

Critics charge that while the plan is ambitious in that it discusses a national conference on truth and reconciliation, economic recovery and a new constitution, Haiti needs a government that can extract the country from the current crisis, in which armed groups control more than 80% of the capital and more than a million people are on the verge of famine.

Camille Fievre, a lawyer who has analyzed the accord, says the presidential council is “far from our constitutional logic and practice” and also believes “there will be duplication in the functioning of the state apparatus, which will lead to paralysis.”

“If these members were unable to elect a president for more than three weeks of procrastination, how will they be effective after their installation?” he said. “As for the council of ministers, how will decisions be taken and what functions will the other members of the presidential council have? It will be a real cacophony.”

The Caribbean Community, the U.S. and France have placed a lot of weight on the existence of a political framework in Haiti in hopes of having an international force, led by Kenya, deployed to help the Haiti National Police combat armed gangs.

Kenya put the plan on hold pending the formation of the next government. The East African nation has also said that the force needs to be financed before it can deploy.

Here are the names of the groups that have named members to the council, and their representatives on the panel:

Collective of political parties of January 30. The alliance of political parties is also known by its Creole spelling Collectiv and includes the party of former President Michel Martelly. The alliance’s representative is former Sen. Edgard LeBlanc Fils, 68, a co-founder of the Organization of the People in Struggle, a political party. An engineer, he was president of the Haitian Senate from 1995 to 2000 during the administration of President of René Préval.

December 21 Agreement. The coalition that had backed Henry and imploded after his forced resignation named Louis Gérald Gilles, a former senator. Gilles is a former member of Fanmi Lavalas, the political party headed by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In recent years, he has been close to members of former President Michel Martelly’s PHTK party.

▪ EDE/RED/Compromis Historique. The coalition led by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph, who served in the government of former President Jovenel Moïse, finally settled on Smith Augustin, a former Haiti ambassador to the Dominican Republic, after two previous nominees pulled out.

▪ Fanmi Lavalas.The political party of former President Aristide has chosen Leslie Voltaire, who studied at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and has a master’s degree in urban planning from Cornell University in New York. An architect and urban planner, Voltaire is a former minister for Haitians living abroad. After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake he was involved in reconstruction efforts and unsuccessfully ran for president in the election that followed. Educated in Mexico, he is fluent in Spanish, French, English and Creole.

▪ Montana Accord. The group is named after an Aug. 30, 2021, agreement signed at the Montana Hotel in Pétion-Ville, the wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince and is led by the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. The group has named Fritz Alphonse Jean, who served as interim prime minister of Haiti’s 2016 caretaker government. A former governor of the Banque de la République d’Haïti from 1998 to 2001, Jean has been involved in promoting development in the rural sectors of northern Haiti. He’s a U.S.-educated economist who is considered more of a technocrat than politician.

▪ Platform Pitit Desalin Party. After its leader, Jean-Charles Moïse, described the council as a seven-headed snake and rejected an offer to join the panel, the Platform Pitit Desalin decided to name a representative anyway and appointed Emmanuel Vertilaire, a judge from the northern region of Haiti.

▪ The private sector. Haiti’s influential private sector has faced its own internal differences after the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti said it was not consulted on naming a representative. A group representing employers’ associations and groups of Haitian businessmen and women has named Laurent Saint-Cyr as its representative on the presidential panel.

The two non-voting members are:

▪ Civil Society.Frinel Joseph, a pastor and former member of the electoral council, was named as the representative of civil society.

▪ Inter-faith community.The Rally for a National and Sovereign Understanding has named Régine Abraham, and agronomist who has worked in public administration and is the only woman in the group.