A broad coalition of faith and advocacy groups is calling on the Biden administration to cut support for de facto Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whose party they say is at the center of Haiti’s deepening political and humanitarian crisis.
In a letter sent on Thursday to President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, the groups wrote the situation in Haiti “has deteriorated to a ‘new normal’ characterized by constant fear of kidnapping and violence, a near total lack of accountability, and a growing humanitarian crisis on every front.”
“This crisis is the direct result of the corrupt, repressive rule of the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK) and its associates over the past decade. PHTK has systematically dismantled democratic institutions, committed crimes against humanity, performed arbitrary arrests and dismissed legitimate judges, targeted journalists, looted the treasury, supported gangs, and generated massive inflation,” wrote the groups.
Henry has led the country as de facto prime minister and president since July 2021, taking over weeks after the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse in Port au Prince.
While technically an independent, Henry has essentially taken over the PHTK regime run by Moïse.
The party, once seen as a modernizing force in Haiti, has faced increasing scrutiny from Haitian and external civil society groups that accuse it of fostering corruption and criminality, often in cahoots with the country’s gangs.
“In spite of this, the US government has steadfastly supported PHTK governments,” wrote the groups, led by Faith In Action International and the Haiti Response Coalition.
“In fact, the United States effectively installed the current de facto Prime Minister, Dr. Ariel Henry, in July, and has since been consistently supporting his government, even though it has no constitutional or popular mandate and despite growing evidence implicating de facto PM Henry and other PHTK officials in the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.”
The United States has a long history of involvement in internal Haitian affairs, starting with U.S. noninterference regarding a French policy of bleeding the country dry in the early 1800s.
A century later, in 1915, the United States invaded Haiti following a series of presidential assassinations and coups, and U.S. troops occupied Haiti for nearly 20 years.
In 1994, U.S. Marines landed in Haiti to remove a military regime installed after a 1991 coup d’etat, and remained there for six months.
Given the history of U.S. intervention and prevailing instability in the country, the Biden administration has not expended much political capital in stabilizing Haiti.
Although Biden had appointed a special envoy to Haiti, veteran U.S. diplomat Dan Foote, Foote quit his assignment in September of 2021, in protest over mass expulsions of Haitians apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Meanwhile, Haitian civil society groups drew up a plan to restore constitutional institutions in the country, following the vacuum left behind by Moïse’s assassination.
“After extensive negotiations, organizations from across Haiti’s political and social spectrums have reached agreement on a consensus plan for a transition towards democracy, and have started to implement that plan,” wrote the groups.
But those negotiations did not include Henry, and official U.S. policy is that any plan to restore democracy must include the acting prime minister, essentially giving Henry veto power over any agreement.
“Haitians have been asking the Biden Administration to stop supporting de facto PM Henry’s rule and PHTK more generally. They are not asking the US government to support any other party, either. They just want the US to stop interfering, and to allow a Haitian-led solution to emerge,” wrote the groups.
The call to withdraw support for Henry has some backing in Congress.
Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), co-chairman of the Haiti caucus, has for months called on the Biden administration to withdraw support for Henry, citing among other reasons the strong allegations that the sitting prime minister was involved in Moïse’s assassination.
Still, Haiti is not at the top of congressional priorities, perhaps because the worsening humanitarian situation has simmered into crisis slowly.
But observers both in Haiti and abroad are wary that the country’s crisis could at any time explode, turning a humanitarian drama into an outright catastrophe.
“Haiti perhaps is at its most fragile state in a long time,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.).
Espaillat, who this week hosted Dominican President Luis Abinader in Washington, relayed the neighboring country’s concerns over conditions in Haiti.
“The Dominican Republic just closed its embassy yesterday, and the day before that France and Canada closed it down.”
“It could take a real sharp bad turn, worse than it already is,” added Espaillat.
The faith and advocacy groups writing Biden, Blinken and Nichols opined that a hands-off approach would give Haiti its best chance to avoid calamity.
“It is laudable that the US government wants to help Haiti’s democracy and we welcome US support for a truly Haitian-led solution. However, the primary role for the US government is very simple: it must step back and let the Haitian people take back their own government. The US should not support any particular party or sector or demand that Haitians take a particular path towards democracy,” they wrote.