Haiti's Transition: Hanging in the Balance
Haiti's Transition: Hanging in the Balance
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Briefing 7 / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Haiti's Transition: Hanging in the Balance

Almost a year after the abrupt departure of former President Aristide, the political, security and social-economic situation in Haiti remains in crisis.

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I. Overview

Almost a year after the abrupt departure of former President Aristide, the political, security and social-economic situation in Haiti remains in crisis.[fn]For discussion of the fall of Aristide and the first months of the transitional government, see Crisis Group Latin America/Caribbean Report N°10, A New Chance for Haiti?, 18 November 2004.Hide Footnote The transitional government is weak and fighting to maintain credibility, and there are no clear signs of either political reconciliation or economic reconstruction. Violence -- criminal, score settling and political -- is still extremely high. The initiative for a national dialogue jointly endorsed by the transitional government and the international community is hindered by political polarisation, human rights abuses (some by rogue elements of the Haitian National Police, HNP), and illegal detentions of Aristide supporters. The elections planned for late 2005 are unlikely to produce the legitimate government the country needs without significant improvements in three main areas:

  • Security: the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the transitional government must address continuing citizen insecurity, both in the countryside where former military still operate with weapons and in the urban slums where armed gangs identified mostly but not exclusively with Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas,[fn]Hereafter referred to as Lavalas.Hide Footnote  vie for turf, money and power.
  • Reconciliation: a pluralistic national dialogue that establishes some common objectives for the next government, regardless who wins the elections, is needed to turn Haiti away from the zero sum power game that appears to be operating again.
  • Economic revival and social alleviation: while the transitional government has stabilised the macro-economic situation, the overwhelming majority of citizens live in poverty, need jobs, food, health and justice, and frustration is building.

Security remains fragile because the armed groups are far from dismantled, although MINUSTAH has begun to take a more robust approach, routing some of the gangs in one of the biggest slums of the capital, removing the ex-military who had occupied Aristide's abandoned residence, and reacting promptly when the ex-military retaliated by occupying several police stations around the country. Producing effective and impartial national law enforcement and justice systems is an absolute priority, but in the near and medium term only MINUSTAH can guarantee any security.

The first quarter of 2005 is crucial for the transition. If new unrest is to be avoided, Prime Minister Latortue's transitional government, with international support, must work urgently at improving rule of law and social and economic conditions. Electricity costs and salaries take up the bulk of donor budget support, and the government rightfully is requesting that more of the promised project money be made available.

An inclusive process of national dialogue should be launched, aimed at brokering a pact among all Haitians that establishes national priorities to be taken up by an elected government. This needs to include not only those who forced the departure of the previous government but also those who, at one point, were its supporters. President Aristide abandoned his claim to be a spokesman for Haiti's poor by his actions but those people still require a voice, and some still believe in him. The remnants of his Lavalas movement need to be part of a dialogue all of whose participants commit to non-violence.

Mechanisms are needed to achieve an inclusive political process untainted by politically motivated investigations of Lavalas officials. If they are not established, the elections will likely be marred by violence and carried off in a poisonous attitude that will deprive their results of legitimacy. Haiti already has known elections that were neither fair nor free. The result has been years of turmoil. All sides must be able to campaign without fear and citizens to vote without intimidation. With international help, the ballots must be counted and the results reported accurately. Only then will the 2005 elections put Haiti on a promising new path.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 8 February 2005

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