On Eve of Carnival, Political Crisis Looms
As Haitians prepare to celebrate pre-Lenten carnival, a looming political crisis is raising concerns among the country’s foreign friends.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami Herald
17 February 2012
As Haiti’s carnival drums prepare to kick off in this weekend’s pre-Lenten celebrations, a different kind of rumbling has attracted the attention of the international community.
So concerned are Haiti’s foreign friends about looming political tensions that the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, ended a four-day visit to the earthquake-ravaged nation calling on its political leaders to stop the fighting.
“Haiti’s executive and legislative branches,’’ Rice said, “need to rise above their interests and work together in the spirit of compromise to overcome their common challenges.”
Rice led a 15-member delegation of the U.N. Security Council on a visit to Haiti this week. They left on Thursday after field trips to the police academy, a tent city, cholera treatment facility and new industrial park in the north. They also met with President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Garry Conille, parliamentarians and business leaders.
“The president and prime minister have prioritized investments to create jobs to build a brighter future,” she told reporters. “But we also understand that improvements in the rule of law, in institution building, fighting corruption and removing other barriers to growth are key to attracting and retaining the quality and quantity of investments that Haiti needs.”
But leaders working together in perpetual turmoil in Haiti remains challenging as fears of a deepening post-carnival political crisis loom.
“From what we heard, there is a risk of political confrontation,” Ambassador Philip Parham, the United Kingdom’s deputy permanent representative, told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview from New York. “Some people think it is really significant.”
On Friday, the National Palace issued a statement saying “trouble makers” near the Champ de Mars attacked the president’s motorcade. Haitian radio reported that Martelly, who was on foot, was hit by a rock but not seriously injured.
Parham said it’s important for Haitians to quickly find a way to resolve their differences.
“One vital ingredient in moving forward is going to be clear and inclusive leadership from the top,’’ he said.
Haiti’s political stalemate has been ongoing, but has hit a fever pitch after Conille announced plans to audit $300 million in contracts awarded by his predecessor during the 18-month emergency period after the earthquake. The contracts were financed by a Venezuelan fund.
Then this week, Conille ordered his ministers to cooperate with a Senate commission that is investigating the nationalities of several members of the government including himself, Martelly and several ministers. Some lawmakers have charged they hold foreign passports, which would make them ineligible to govern under Haiti’s Constitution. All have denied the accusations.
Conille’s directive, however, flew in the face of a decision by Martelly that the commission lacked authority.
On Thursday, the prime minister was the only one who appeared at the parliament with his passports. That same day, the leading opposition party in the parliament issued a statement distancing itself from Martelly and his government, and publicly rebuking its leaders in the Senate, Joseph Lambert. The opposition has accused Lambert, who chairs the commission, of supporting Martelly.
“It’s a mess,” said Kesner Pharel, one of Haiti’s leading economist and political analysts. “We are waiting for the carnival break to see what will happen. Very scary situation.”
Pharel said the problems aren’t just between the parliament and the executive. There is also disagreement between Conille and his cabinet members colleagues.
“The executive team doesn’t exist. Does [the Prime Minister] have a team,” Pharel said. “We don’t know where we are going with all of these maneuvers,” he said.
Parham, the U.K. delegate on the Security Council visit, picked up on the tensions, blogging about them in daily dispatches during his visit.
At one point, he noted that Conille was not part of the meeting with Martelly. And after a reception where business leaders were present, he wrote:
“Many of them are downbeat about the stand-off between President and parliament — which the President told us was due to ‘a few manipulators:’ the disputes are over constitutional amendments required for Senate and local elections; parliament’s demands that the President and Ministers prove that they do not hold dual nationalities; and investigation of government contracts. Some think this will all come to a head in a matter of days,” he wrote. said.
And with his encounter with the parliament, Parham noted that, “they also complain about their political differences with the President, with whom the opposition-dominated parliament is at loggerheads.
“It would have been good to hear more of a positive vision for Haiti and the role of the parliamentary leadership in that,” he wrote. the UK permanent secretary wrote.
Simon Desras, president of the Haitian Senate, told council members that ensuring security and stability in Haiti remains a “daunting political challenge.”
“Failure is already knocking at our doors while the authoritarian impulses of the presidential executive are showing their tentacles,’’ he said. “The gap deepens, day by day, between the main actors, director, representatives of these two powers.’’
For now, the Security Council will discuss among itself the findings of the trip, with a debate scheduled March 8. It must decide not just whether to renew the mandate when it comes up for renewal in October, but what shape the mission should take as it continues to drawdown to pre-quake status.
Also, in addition to addressing Haiti’s ongoing challenges, the group will have to address the challenges of the peacekeeping mission known by its French acronym MINUSTAH. The force is accused of introducing a deadly cholera epidemic in the country, and several peacekeepers have been accused of rape.
Earlier this week, Mark Schuller, assistant professor at City University of New York, issued a survey of more than 800 households throughout Port-au-Prince showing that a majority of respondents felt that the troops aren’t providing adequate security. A majority, he said, wanted peacekeepers to leave and for the U.N. to provide compensation to cholera victims.
“The survey suggests that people in Port-au-Prince have an overall negative view of MINUSTAH,” Schuller said in a statement.
Delegation members, who were greeted in some parts with anti-U.N. protests, acknowledged that the mission has it challenges. But Haiti, they said, is not ready for the mission to leave.
“The mission is succeeding in its immediate task and is building up Haitian capacity. The Haitian national police is in much better shape than it was five, six years ago,” Parham said. “But for that capacity to be sustainable and move ahead and reach the sorts of levels that would be required for them to stand alone, you do need that sort of political stability and political lead from the top which the Haitians themselves have to provide.”