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Haiti

Is democracy in Haiti eroding? The president’s new intelligence agency has many uneasy

Public criticism of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s administration by the international community continues.

Representatives of the international community in Haiti, known as the Core Group, are expressing concerns about two presidential decrees recently issued by Moïse. One of the orders creates a national intelligence agency. The other was published under strengthening public security and expands the definition of terrorism.

The decrees were published on Nov. 26 in the government’s official newspaper, Le Moniteur. Since becoming public, they have been the subject of heavy criticism from the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, human rights defenders and opposition leaders who say they risk creating repression in a country still trying to overcome its dictatorship past.

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Now the Core group, which consists of representatives of Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union and the special representative of the Organization of the American States and the Secretary General of the United Nations, is also expressing its uneasiness.

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Under both decrees, the power of the executive is strengthened. He has unbridled power over a new agency known as the National Intelligence Agency, or ANI, and public security. According to the agency decrees, agents akin to secret police officers will have immense and unlimited powers, and are accountable only to the president.

The second decree extends the definition of a “terrorist act” and provides heavy penalties from 30 to 50 years in prison for violators, which can include Haiti National Police officers failing to quell street demonstrations or demonstrators burning tires on public roadways.

“The decree on the strengthening of public security,” the communique from the international community said, “extends the qualification of ‘terrorist act’ to certain facts that do not fall under it at all and provide for particularly heavy penalties.”

Ambassadors also expressed their uneasiness with the creation of the ANI, saying it gives “the agents of this institution virtual legal immunity, thus opening up the possibility of abuse.”

“These two presidential decrees, taken in areas that fall within the competence of a Parliament, do not seem to confirm to certain fundamental principles of democracy, the rule of law and the civil and political rights of citizens.”

In response to the Core Group’s concerns, Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe tweeted that he remains “convinced that the Core Group will continue to help us reflect on how to put an end to the abuses by armed groups which sow insecurity, terror and mourning in families.

“These actions and behaviors prevent the Haitian authorities from working for a better performance in terms of human rights, and allow Haiti to fully play its role in the concert of nations,” Jouthe tweeted.

Moïse has been ruling by decree since January, when Parliament was dissolved. Despite pressure from the U.S. to hold legislative elections as soon as technically possible, he has indicated that elections will not take place until the second half of 2021 and only after Haitians have had a chance to vote on his bid to introduce a new constitution.

He has also ignored calls from the U.S. to exercise restraint in issuing decrees, and to use his powers only to schedule overdue legislative elections and for matters of life, health and safety until Parliament is restored and can resume its constitutional responsibilities.

Police arrive to prevent demonstrators from burning tires during an anti-kidnapping protest in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Port-au-Prince has seen an increase in gang violence and kidnappings while the government has proven to be incapable of controlling it. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

The unusual public criticism of Moïse from the Core Group comes amid growing frustrations with his governance, and widespread violence, kidnappings for ransom and heightened insecurity in Haiti. The country is also seeing grave human rights violations with at least one non-governmental organization saying it has documented at least 10 massacres in the last three years involving armed gangs terrorizing low-income neighborhoods in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

On Thursday, in a rare public criticism of the Haitian government by the Trump administration and after repeated calls by the U.N. Security Council for justice in the 2018 La Saline massacre, the U.S. announced that it had sanctioned two former government officials in Moïse’s administration and an ex-Haiti National Police officer who had become an influential gang leader.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, Fednel Monchery and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan have all been accused of plotting the 2018 massacre in the impoverished Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline, and they continue to roam free. At least 71 people were killed in the two-day reign of terror while women were raped and scores of homes were torched, leading to the displacement of hundreds of families.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which issued the sanctions for human rights violations, said as director general of the ministry of the interior and local authorities, Monchery supplied weapons and state vehicles to the members of armed gangs who perpetrated the attack. Monchery also attended a meeting during which plans were made and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the La Saline attack.

Duplan also attended the meeting, the Treasury Department said. He was Moïse’s personal representative for the West region that encompassed Port-au-Prince at the time of the La Saline attack. He’s been accused of being the “intellectual architect” of the attack and was seen discussing the attack with armed gang members in the La Saline neighborhood during the violence.

 

Duplan provided firearms and Haiti National Police uniforms to armed gang members who participated in the killings, the Treasury Department said.

Finally, Cherizier, who earlier this year united nine gangs under an alliance known as the “G9” and has been accused in other massacres, is accused of planning and participating the La Saline attack.

“Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighborhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire,” the Treasury Department said.

Treasury also said that armed gangs in Haiti are bolstered by a judiciary that does not prosecute those responsible for attacks on civilians.

“These gangs, with the support of some Haitian politicians, repress political dissent in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods known to participate in anti-government demonstration,” the U.S. statement said. “In exchange for executing attacks designed to create instability and silence the Port-au-Prince population’s demands for improved living conditions, gangs receive money, political protection and enough firearms to reportedly make them better armed than the Haitian National Police.”

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