Haiti's Reckless Political Infighting Must End
Some of Haitian President Michel Martelly’s closest advisors and some opposition Parliament leaders are still locked in a reckless high-wire battle that threatens to plunge the nation into instability and stagnation. They have to compromise quickly and agree to move the country to firm ground with consensus on meeting critical challenges facing Haiti.
For five months, Parliament denied Martelly his choice for prime minister and, now, after five months, his coterie has forced Prime Minister Gary Conille to resign, placing the country again in caretaker status without the ability to sign new contracts, authorize new hires or start new projects in a country desperate for jobs, decent and permanent homes for the displaced and economic infrastructure. Private-sector investors are once again likely to sit on their hands until they see stability down the road.
For an international community that has pledged $5.3 billion, committed less than half that amount and managed to actually spend only a fraction on rubble removal, schools, roads and the infrastructure that Haiti needs to recover from the 2010 earthquake, this is not the time to assign blame.
However, the time is long overdue for a national political accord to end the stalemate. Haiti cannot afford another five months of waiting for a prime minister to be sworn in, his ministers named and campaign promises turned into reconstruction and transformation projects. It has to move much, much faster than that.
The process also has to be built on the rule of law. Martelly has made justice reform one of his priorities, and he has taken important steps in naming new Supreme Court judges and promising to appoint a Judiciary Council. He also needs to build on the positive elements of Haitian National Police reform. Now, with crime trends heading in the wrong direction, he needs to support an independent, competent, internally accountable police force and assure transparent, competent and professional leadership when the current chief’s term ends.
However, the rule of law cannot be built on a foundation of illegality. Martelly correctly has called for the disbanding of hundreds of ex-soldiers of the former Haitian armed forces and “wannabe” soldiers of a new army, many armed and dangerous, who have illegally occupied government facilities. Now it is up to the United Nations to “lead from behind” giving the National Police the plan and back-up to arrest the outlaws in uniform. Whatever happens in the future with respect to an additional security force — hopefully only after the police force has reached its fully trained size — that force cannot be made up of law-breakers.
Haiti’s political leaders have been blocking the selection of an electoral council that can organize the Parliamentary and local elections for a third of the Senate and local governments. Those who persist in blocking agreements need to be identified publicly so they are forced to respond to their constituencies in future elections.
The Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) under the prime minister needs to finalize the decisions on vetting of the HNP. Ideally, the constitutional amendments that were supposedly agreed to last year should be published, leading to more of the diaspora participating in Haiti’s reconstruction, reducing Haiti’s nearly yearly elections schedule and enabling a permanent electoral council.
Martelly needs to break with precedent whereby Haiti’s leaders focus on concentrating power around them rather than building trust with opponents. The current political crisis needs to end. Otherwise, Martelly and his political opponents will find donors and investors disappearing. Haiti’s international partners have to speak loudly and clearly that a minimum of political consensus is required to invest in a country desperate for renewal.
Mark L. Schneider is senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.