Haiti transition council stalls as capital sees relative calm

A police vehicle patrols an area that was set fire to by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)
A police vehicle patrols an area that was set fire to by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)

Haiti's political future remained in limbo Tuesday as squabbles among party leaders bogged down a council meant to name a transition government, while the capital experienced relative calm after weeks of violence.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has led the impoverished Caribbean nation since the shock 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, promised over two weeks ago to step down after a transitional council is stood up -- though reaching that stage has proved exceedingly difficult.

Henry's decision came after a steadily worsening security crisis culminated in a coordinated campaign of attacks by armed gangs demanding his ouster late last month.

The presidential transition council -- to be composed of seven voting members and two non-voting members -- draws from Haitian political parties, the private sector and others, and is to name an interim prime minister and government to set the stage for fresh elections.

On Monday evening, tentative members of the council were due to elect their chair.

But the meeting was postponed indefinitely, as several representatives withdrew from the council, one of the members told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Leslie Voltaire, the delegate of the Fanmi Lavalas party, said in a letter to her colleagues that electing a president was not possible without a "political accord signed between the different sectors."

And just as the council seemed to be finalized, Rene Jean Jumeau, one of the non-voting members who had in recent days called for voting privileges, announced he would no longer take part.

"The need for concrete action is too great to remain impotent in a spectator's posture," said Jean Jumeau.

The council was announced on March 11, following emergency meetings between Haitian leaders and representatives from several countries and organizations, including the Caribbean regional bloc CARICOM.

- Call for external push -

Gedeon Jean, director of a Haitian human rights group who took part in the meetings, said it was time for the international community to "get back to work" to "push the players" in Haiti toward an agreement.

Otherwise, he said, the formation of transitional authorities could take "months and months."

Kenya, which agreed to lead a UN-approved police support mission to Haiti, has put its plans on hold until the transitional council is in place.

Jean said that since the Kenyan mission won't be ready immediately, the international community should consider an "intermediate force" to stabilize the worsening situation, possibly led by countries in the region.

Meanwhile, Haiti's civilians continue to pay a high price.

"Thousands of children are on the brink, while life-saving supplies are ready to be delivered if violence stops and roads and hospitals are opened," UNICEF boss Catherine Russell warned Tuesday.

While the shooting stopped in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, the evening before, gang members looted and set fire to pharmacies, clinics and homes near the Haitian State University hospital, according to three residents' accounts.

The hospital, one of the largest in the country, has become inoperable due to gang activity.

Businesses were nonetheless open in the capital and activities were continuing as usual, though an overnight curfew was extended through Friday.

Helicopters were seen flying overhead, as several countries work to repatriate their citizens.

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