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Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigns as Transitional Council takes power

12 May 2024

What is happening in Haiti?

Prime Minister Ariel Henry has served as acting President since his predecessor Jovenel Moïse's assassination in July 2021. While national elections to formally elect the President and a new parliament were initially scheduled for November 2021, they have been continually postponed. In 2023, the terms of the last democratically elected officials expired, leaving the country without an elected government. Henry also remained in power after his term expired in February 2024. This circumstance has fueled the political instability and anti-government protests in which Haiti has been mired since 2018.

A surge in violence aggravated the situation on the Caribbean Island, with gangs taking advantage of the weakness and instability of the government to expand their control. Haitian security forces have struggled to maintain authority over the capital, Port-au-Prince. In October 2023 this prompted the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to authorise a Kenyan-led multinational security support peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

In February 2024, Henry travelled to Kenya to sign an agreement to deploy Kenyan forces in Haiti. Violence erupted across the country as gangs united to overthrow Henry, which prevented him from returning to Haiti. Having lost his authority and bowing to international pressure, Henry was forced to resign, announcing his replacement by a Transitional Council.

On 25 April 2024, Haiti's Transitional Council was officially sworn in after Henry submitted his formal resignation from the United States, where he remains. The Council is responsible for appointing a new prime minister for Haiti, ensuring security prerequisites for elections, and enabling the deployment of the Kenyan UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Indeed, the country has no sitting legislature and has not held elections since 2016, when Moïse was elected. 

The Council works as a transitional government and will carry out presidential duties until a new president-elect is sworn in, which must happen by 7 February 2026. It comprises seven members and two observers from Haiti's political factions and civil society.

However, this event has not ushered in stability in Haiti as of yet. Shootings and arson have continued in the capital even as the Council was sworn in, descending the country into further violence. The United Nations estimates that between January and March, gang violence resulted in 2,500 civilian deaths or injuries, hundreds of thousands of internal displacement, and 5 million facing acute hunger.

What is in it for you?

The ongoing crisis in Haiti has severe implications for the security of the Dominican Republic, located on the same island, and for the stability of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as North America and Europe. This crisis presents vital challenges for our readers in these regions.

For readers in Haiti, or with friends or family in Haiti, the dire situation in Haiti has caused a humanitarian crisis on the island, with 5.5 million Haitians in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Since 2021, the local population has been subjected to gang violence, displacement, death, and kidnapping for ransom. These conditions have exacerbated the considerable wave of emigration in Haiti, which has intensified since the 2010 earthquake and the 2018 political crisis. Haitians have fled in large numbers, mainly to the United States, Canada, and the countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, seeking humanitarian protection.

More than half a million Haitian asylum-seeking cases to the United States were pending as of 2023. Haitian migrants, who are frequently rejected in destination countries, compound the migration crisis in the United States, Europe, and countries in the region that are unable to handle significant migratory flows.

Furthermore, if gangs maintain control of ports, airports, and critical access points to cities, they would effectively control humanitarian aid sent to the country and prevent the deployment of multinational forces. The strengthening of territorial control by gangs risks obstructing any resolution and transforming Haiti into a gang-ruled state. For readers interested in understanding illegal drug supply chain routes to the US, Haiti is a central hub for illegal drug trafficking into the United States. The island lies on a major drug trafficking route between Colombia and Puerto Rico, through which drugs are more easily smuggled to the U.S. mainland. As a result, emboldened gangs in the country portend unchecked drug trafficking on the island, reinforcing Haiti's position as a drug trans-shipment country.

What happens next?

The Council said it will prioritise security, a national constitutional reform consultation, rebuilding the judiciary and economy, and election preparation. Nevertheless, under the current security situation, where criminal gangs control 80% of the capital, no elections can be organised before reclaiming authority over gang territories.

In addition, reaching a consensus on an interim head of state will take time and effort. The Council's installation itself was repeatedly delayed by weeks of internal strife. Moreover, the Council must address the challenge of ensuring the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti is put on hold until a new Haitian government is established. However, the crisis is more than just political. Indeed, Haiti has been virtually cut off from the world as Port-au-Prince airport and port have been closed, and roads in and out are controlled by gangs. So, the mission's deployment requires prior actions to reclaim control of the airport and its surrounding areas.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges the new authorities to create new governance procedures to deploy the mission quickly. Nevertheless, the Transition Council has not yet established a date for appointing a new prime minister or council president. If the Transitional Council fails to transfer power to a formal government before the end of its non-renewable mandate in February 2026, Haiti will face an even worse political and security disaster.

The Polis Team in Moscow

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