Ex-UN official: Haitians must be part of solution to chaos

Award-winning Haitian broadcaster Michele Montas, who was exiled three times and served as spokesperson for the former United Nations secretary-general, follows the chaos in her country every day from her apartment in New York

Edith M. Lederer
Wednesday 01 March 2023 05:30 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Award-winning Haitian broadcaster Michele Montas follows the chaos in her home country every day from her apartment in New York. She has a simple answer to why peace remains elusive and violence is worsening in the country: Haitians were never part of any solution.

Montas, who was exiled three times and served as spokesperson for the former United Nations secretary-general, said in an interview with The Associated Press that this was the main reason foreign interventions and aid efforts have largely failed, including after the devastating 2010 earthquake where lives were saved but there wasn’t help rebuilding the country.

“And we have the same problem today,” she said. “We have gang wars in Haiti. We have a situation where people are dying. People are being kidnapped out a daily basis. People are afraid to leave their homes. But if Haitians aren’t part of the solution … there is no outside help that can do it for Haitians. We know it. Haitians know it.”

Montas’ husband Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist and human rights and democracy activist, was assassinated in April 2000 as he was driving into the radio station he took over in 1972, which they helped build into the country’s leading news outlet. Radio Haiti-Inter was the first station to broadcast mainly in Creole — the language spoken by Haitians, rather than French, the language of the elites — and to do political analysis and investigative reporting. Montas took over running the station after his death but closed it in February 2003 after she was shot at and her bodyguard was killed.

Montas, who speaks almost daily to family and friends in Haiti, said the High Transition Council that Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced in December and appointed in February is not large enough and representative enough to ensure elections in a country with no democratically elected institutions, and where she and other Haitians consider Henry illegitimately holding power. He assumed power shortly after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenal Moïse.

Henry and the country’s Council of Ministers sent an urgent appeal Oct. 7 to the U.N. calling for “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the crisis in Latin America’s poorest nation, caused partly by the “criminal actions of armed gangs.”

There have been at least three major foreign military interventions in Haiti led by the United States and the United Nations since the early 1900s, and at a Security Council meeting in late January, neither the U.S. nor Canada showed any interest in leading a new intervention.

At that meeting, U.N. special envoy for Haiti Helen La Lime, who backs U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a force, pointed to an increase in homicides and kidnappings in Haiti for a fourth straight year in 2022. She said the 1,359 kidnappings last year was more than double the number in 2021, and killings were up a third to 2,183, touching all segments of society, including a former presidential candidate and the director of the National Police Academy.

Montas said in Monday's interview in her Manhattan apartment that the Canadians concluded after speaking to Haitians that no military intervention would work. But she said the national police could do much more if they had the proper help.

She said the international community keeps talking about elections, just as they did after the earthquake, “but elections are not the only democratic solutions.”

“You first have to have established a political base for a transition that can be legitimate, that could be recognized by most Haitians as valid,” she said.

Henry “has proved totally unable to control the gangs,” she said, and his High Transition Council is too limited and maintains all power in his hands without any checks and balances.

Instead, Montas said, she believes serious consideration should be given to the proposal by the so-called Montana group for a two-year transitional period to allow Haiti time to create a safer environment for voters. The group is made up of thousands of supporters, including prominent politicians and civil society leaders.

She noted that eight political parties got together and rejected Henry’s Dec. 21 transition plan, and stressed that they must be taken into account before any elections. So she thinks there will be further negotiations with the Montana group.

To deal with the gangs, Montas urged the United States to stop the flow of heavy weapons and automatic weapons to their members from Florida, including by imposing sanctions.

“As long as the gang members have weapons that are more powerful than the police, how do you expect the police to be able to control them?” she asked.

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