BINUH says ‘not here forever’ as Haiti looks for election

“Before the end of this year, we will put the country in election mode,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry told the country on Monday, although he stopped short of setting a date.

Henry, who postponed the planned general election amid criticism of the then electoral council, also felt compelled to defend the delay. “To all those rumors that they intend to hold on to power, I say that is a lie,” he added.

Elections are long overdue. The last time Haitians managed to elect their political representatives was in 2016. The parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019 were never organized under the presidency of Jovenel Moise, nor were the general elections.

The Caribbean nation has thus been ruled by decree for three years, first under Moses until his shocking assassination last year, and now under Henry, his designated successor.

On both men’s sides has been the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Known as BINUH, this political mission will mark its third anniversary of operations in October, but faces increasing challenges as the voting period draws closer.

‘Let’s fix the next election’

Helen Meagher La Lime, head of BINUH and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, told CNN her focus is on helping Henry’s government reach consensus with opposition and civil society leaders to begin organizing elections. The process began last year in the wake of Moise’s murder, and has so far proven painfully slow.

“We have a lot of work to do to get to the elections, we have to consolidate this consensus to be able to form the electoral council. They have to do some work on the Constitution, revisions or rewriting of the Constitution have to take place. And then the elections have to be organized,” said La Lim. last month, in his first interview since the one-year mandate of BINUH was renewed by the UN Security Council.

Large parts of Haiti’s opposition say they don’t trust Henry to hold elections, calling instead for a transitional government to take over the country as soon as possible. Some also view La Lime and other outsiders with skepticism, imperialism, occupation and even benign interventions in a country with a long and brutal history.

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“Henry must not be allowed to use the support of the international community to continue to concentrate all power under his exclusive leadership,” wrote Jacques Ted St Dic, a member of the Montana Coalition, a group that supports a transitional government. , in a commentary published by Just Security last week.

“Without legality and public confidence in the electoral process, the elections that will be held will be in doubt and the new leaders will lack popular support to implement essential reforms. That is the cycle that has locked Haiti in paralysis for a dozen years,” he said. also write

La Lim declined to discuss the possibility of a transitional government, telling CNN: “These are ideas that Haitians need to discuss, and the consensus reached by Haitians.”

Instead, BINUH praised the simple power of shared meals at a local hotel for gathering political voices in Haiti. Based on that conversation, he predicted that the country could go to elections in 2023, and suggested that BINUH itself might not be needed after that.

“Let’s pass the next election to see what level of stability we have at that point. And then BINUH will consider leaving,” says La Lim. “We are not here forever.”

Making Haiti safe to vote

Against the backdrop of violent unrest in the capital, Port-au-Prince, it is difficult to organize elections, even for those who want the most change.

Fierce gang battles in Port-au-Prince this summer left entire neighborhoods ablaze, displacing thousands of families and trapping others in their homes, afraid to leave even for food and water. Hundreds were killed, wounded or missing. Criminals still control or influence parts of the country’s populous cities, and kidnappings for ransom threaten residents’ daily movements.

Haiti's prime minister has announced a gas hike despite weeks of protests

Part of a larger ecosystem of UN entities and NGOs operating in Haiti, BINUH’s operations are limited to consulting and assisting the Haitian government and the National Police (HNP). His regular reports are powerful and detailed, documenting in sharp language the state of civil society, politics and human rights in the country.

Recognizing the security crisis, BINUH is embedding several dozen officers within the police force as advisers, and the UN has also announced a new “basket fund” to help the police, which aims to raise 28 million over the next two years. But that money is aimed at long-term goals such as funding recruitment and training, increasing the representation of women in the force and improving police infrastructure and stations, La Lime said.

“The UN can’t fix anything,” La Lim told CNN. “The UN can work with the Haitian government and Haitian institutions to achieve better results.”

The restlessness is growing. In recent weeks, protesters in several cities have called for Henry’s resignation in the face of high fuel prices, rising inflation and rampant crime. Henry acknowledged the public’s anger on Monday, calling for calm, but also announced that he would raise the price of gas, sparking more protests.

And in August, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, drew praise from around the world, declaring the international community’s effort in Haiti “one of the worst and most obvious failures implemented and executed in the framework of international cooperation.”

La Lime readily acknowledges criticism. “Yes, the results are not what they should be,” he told CNN.

However, his job is not to take responsibility for the past, nor to take on much of it now, he says.

“I think what we need to do is look at the lessons, how we need to work in a different way. I don’t think we’ve put enough emphasis on cooperation. In other words, what does the Haitian side need to make the effort that needs to be made more sustainable?”