Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said immediate action is needed to fix the security situation in Haiti, which is in the throes of a deepening constitutional crisis in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination last year.
Trudeau said assistance for Haiti would be a central topic of discussion during a virtual meeting on Friday that included representatives from 19 countries, including from Canada, the United States and France, as well as Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
Canada announced an additional $39m ($50m Canadian) in aid would be provided to Haiti towards health services, security and infrastructure. A senior US State Department official also said the United Nations was organising a donors conference for February at which the US could provide “significant additional resources” beyond what it has already given.
Haiti has faced mounting political instability and a climate of violence in neighbourhoods dominated by criminal gangs following Moise’s killing on July 7, 2021, when armed gunmen stormed his residence in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At the start of the Friday meeting, which was hosted by Canada, Trudeau said Haiti’s allies must act immediately to help tackle a spike in violence that is worsening an already precarious humanitarian situation.
“In order to address Haiti’s humanitarian needs, we must also address the challenging security situation. The increase in violence is only worsening the already precarious humanitarian situation,” the Canadian prime minister said.
“This will require immediate action to mitigate violence … we must also address the deep governance problems that are fuelling the current political and security crisis. That includes taking action against corruption.”
The meeting comes as Haiti faces multipronged crises with economic, humanitarian and security aspects and a looming leadership deadline. Moise’s killing complicated a fragile political situation, heaping more uncertainty in a nation already struggling with widespread poverty and natural disasters.
Moise had been ruling by decree for more than a year, since January 2020, and his opponents said his presidency should end in February 2021.
He had controversially claimed that his term would end on February 7, 2022. Two days before his death, he had named Henry as the next prime minister. Henry now serves in an acting capacity and many observers think that his term should end on February 7, as well.
Many parts of Haitian civil society are calling for “accords” that would allow for a consensual leadership of the country while it waits to renew its institutions through elections – though various factions differ on what the accord should contain.
Henry himself claims to be spearheading one such accord, called the “September 11th accord”. Competing accords have also been developed in recent months. The main rival to Henry’s plan is known as the “Montana Accord”, which has the backing of Haitian civil society leaders.
With a showdown looming between the Henry government and parts of civil society, the Canadian Ambassador to Haiti Sebastien Carriere said Canada will take no sides.
But in July, the Core Group – a group of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States – came out in support of Henry, urging him to form a government.
Many Haitian civil rights advocates denounced the Core Group’s statement at the time, including journalist and activist Monique Clesca, who called it “interference”.
“Worse, this is being done while civil society & political parties are meeting to decide the way forward!” Clesca wrote on Twitter on July 17.
Haitian rights advocates and other civil society groups have demanded the international community allow Haitians to determine the way out of the ongoing crises facing their country, which has a long history of foreign intervention.
Ottawa said Friday’s meeting would also include representatives of the UN, the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Meanwhile, Carriere, the Canadian ambassador, said security remains the top issue. “I am seeing a population that’s being held hostage by the insecurity,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
“Canada believes that the security must be re-established before elections are held … In the current context it would be very difficult to have elections, in particular with competing political accords,” he said.
Henry has promised to organise elections this year, but no date has been set.
He tweeted on Friday that he wants democratic institutions to return to normal functioning and will hand over power to elected officials as soon as possible, adding that transitional bodies will be formally installed in the upcoming days, including the provisional electoral council.
He also acknowledged Haiti’s dire situation. “There is an urgent need to address these problems and find lasting solutions,” he wrote. “I am convinced that the root cause of such a situation lies mainly in the abject poverty in which a significant part of our population lives.”