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UN ending 13-year military peacekeeping mission in Haiti

October 06, 2017

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti that has helped maintain order through 13 years of political turmoil and catastrophe is coming to an end as the last of the blue-helmeted soldiers from around the world leave despite concerns that the police and justice system are still not adequate to ensure security in the country.

The U.N. lowered its flag at its headquarters in Port-au-Prince during a ceremony Thursday that was attended by President Jovenel Moise, who thanked the organization for helping to provide stability. After a gradual winding down, there are now about 100 international soldiers in the country and they will leave within days. The mission will officially end on Oct. 15.

Immediately afterward, the U.N. will start a new mission made up of about 1,300 international civilian police officers, along with 350 civilians who will help the country reform a deeply troubled justice system. Various agencies and programs of the international body, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, will also still be working in the country.

“It will be a much smaller peacekeeping mission,” said Sandra Honore, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who has served since July 2013 as the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti known as MINUSTAH, its French acronym. “The United Nations is not leaving.”

MINUSTAH began operations in Haiti in 2004, when a violent rebellion swept the country and forced then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power and into exile. Its goals included restoring security and rebuilding the shattered political institutions. In April, the Security Council deemed the country sufficiently stable and voted to wind down the international military presence, which then consisted of about 4,700 troops.

Many Haitians have viewed the multinational peacekeepers as an affront to national sovereignty. U.N. troops are believed to have inadvertently introduced the deadly cholera bacteria to the country and have also been accused of causing civilian casualties in fierce battles with gangs in Port-au-Prince and of sexually abusing minors.

But the mission, with additional help from the U.S. and other nations, is also credited with stabilizing the country, particularly after the January 2010 earthquake, and building up the national police force.

“The job may not be complete but they have essentially done much of what they were originally designed to do in terms of preventing any kind of armed takeover of the state, in terms of increasing the safety of civilians,” said Mark Schneider, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It takes work to maintain that and Haiti needs to maintain that.”

MINUSTAH, Schneider said, has been key in helping Haiti develop a credible civilian national police from “almost zero” to its current level of about 15,000 officers, which most experts believe is still too small for a country of nearly 11 million. The police force was intended to replace the army, which was disbanded by Aristide in 1995 because of its repeated role in a series of coups and that the Haitian government is now seeking to reconstitute over international objections.

“Haiti needs an atmosphere of peace so we can take responsibility for ourselves,” said Haitian Sen. Jacques Suaveur Jean. “We don’t need foreign soldiers.” The new U.N. mission will consist of seven police units that can respond to major incidents, in addition to officers deployed throughout the country to advise and assist their Haitian counterparts. Civilians will also be working with the government to improve the country’s justice system, which the State Department said in this year’s annual human rights report has serious flaws, including severe prison overcrowding, prolonged pretrial detention and an inefficient judiciary.

Honore, in an interview ahead of Thursday’s ceremony, cited the training and hiring of police officers as one of the U.N. successes. MINUSTAH had already been scaling back before the Security Council voted to end the mission. In the aftermath of the earthquake, which killed 96 U.N. personnel, including former head of mission Hedi Annabi, the number of troops reached more than 10,000. But when Honore arrived there were about 6,200 soldiers from around 20 countries, a figure that dropped again by nearly a third within two years.

The cholera outbreak, which started in October 2010 after peacekeepers from Nepal contaminated the country’s largest river with waste from their base, killed an estimated 9,500 people and irrevocably damaged the reputation of the organization in Haiti. Many critics felt the U.N. did not adequately respond to the outbreak, something the organization sought to later remedy.

“It was a fundamental error because it undermined the image not just of MINUSTAH, but of the international community,” Schneider said.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

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UN set to wrap up Haiti peacekeeping mission in mid-October

April 13, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council is set to wrap up the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti by mid-October after more than 20 years, in recognition of “the major milestone” the country has achieved toward stabilization following recent elections.

The council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a draft resolution that extends the mandate of the mission, known as MINUSTAH, for a final six months during which the 2,370 military personnel will gradually leave.

The resolution will create a follow-on peacekeeping mission for six months to be known as MINUJUSTH comprising 1,275 police who will continue training the national police force. It says the new mission should be operational when the old mission’s mandate ends on Oct. 15.

The United States is currently reviewing the U.N.’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations to assess costs and effectiveness. U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Tuesday that thanks to recent elections in Haiti “the political context is right” for a new and smaller mission.

The draft resolution recognizes the country’s return to “constitutional order” and major steps toward stabilization following presidential and legislative elections. But it also recognizes the need for international support to strengthen, professionalize and reform the police — and to help the country promote economic development and face the “significant humanitarian challenges” following Hurricane Matthew which struck last October.

The draft reiterates the need for security in the country to be accompanied by efforts to address “the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters.” Sandra Honore, the U.N. envoy for Haiti, told the council on Tuesday that “Haiti’s political outlook for 2017 and beyond has significantly improved” following elections. This has opened “a crucial window of opportunity to address the root causes of the political crisis” that preceded the elections and address “the many pressing challenges facing the country,” she said.

The draft resolution says that MINUJUSTH, in addition to helping train the police, should assist the government in strengthening judicial and legal institutions “and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis.”

It would also authorize the new mission “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” in areas where it’s deployed and “to use all necessary means” to carry out its mandate in supporting and training Haiti’s police.

Jovenel Moise sworn in as Haiti’s new president

February 07, 2017

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Jovenel Moise was sworn in Tuesday as Haiti’s president for the next five years after a bruising two-year election cycle, inheriting a chronically struggling economy and a deeply divided society.

The 48-year-old entrepreneur took the oath of office in a Parliament chamber packed with Haitian lawmakers and foreign dignitaries from countries including the U.S., Venezuela and France. He smiled slightly as the Senate leader slipped Haiti’s red and blue presidential sash over his left shoulder.

In his inaugural address during the day of prayer and platitudes, Moise gave a rough outline of his government’s priorities and pledged to bring “real improvements” to the economically strapped nation, particularly the long-neglected countryside.

He urged unity and promised to strengthen institutions, fight corruption and bring more investments and jobs to one of the least developed nations in the world. “We can change Haiti if we work together,” Moise said to applause on the grounds of what used to be the national palace, which was one of many buildings obliterated during a devastating earthquake that hit outside the capital in January 2010.

There’s little expectation among citizens that Moise’s new government can overcome Haiti’s deep problems of poverty and economic malaise in the next five years, but he does have a majority in Parliament and some are hopeful the businessman-turned-politician will make steady advances.

“What we still really need in this country are the basics: working hospitals, better schools and security. I think it can be done,” said Maxime Cantave, owner of a car wash and propane business in the Port-au-Prince district of Delmas 48.

Nearby, Charles Bichotte agreed but said he’d wait and see if Moise was sincere with his various vows. “We’ve heard so many pledges from our presidents but here we are, still struggling,” said the houseplant vendor.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia, described the many challenges facing Moise as “herculean.” “He has to revive domestic production, increase foreign and local investments, rebuild the moribund agricultural sector, create a sense of national solidarity, and generate a sorely lacking political stability,” he said, adding that all this will have to be achieved amid diminishing international assistance.

But Fatton suggested that Moise might actually benefit from citizens’ low expectations of political leaders following many years of broken promises and failed policies. “If he manages to deliver a modicum of change he may restore a sense of hope for the future,” he said.

The Tuesday inauguration was the concluding step in Haiti’s return to constitutional rule a year after ex-President Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor in place amid waves of opposition protests and a political stalemate suspending elections. A caretaker government was quickly created to fill the void and pave the way for elections.

While Moise won a Nov. 20 election redo with a dominating 55 percent of the votes cast, his critics suggest he did not gain a mandate as barely 20 percent of the electorate bothered to go to the polls. The results withstood challenges by three of his closest rivals.

That election victory came more than a year after Moise topped an initial vote in 2015 that was eventually thrown out amid suspicions of fraud. Senate leader Youri Latortue, who led the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday and leads a party allied with Moise’s Tet Kale faction, told the new president that lawmakers were “ready to cooperate with you for the benefit of the country.”

A businessman from northern Haiti, Moise had never run for office until he was hand-picked in 2015 to be the Tet Kale party candidate by Martelly. Some critics viewed Moise’s ascent with suspicion, suggesting Martelly was using him as a proxy. Moise dismissed the criticism in an interview last year with The Associated Press, saying Martelly will still be a valued adviser but he is his own man. During his Tuesday speech, he thanked Martelly for choosing him as the Tet Kale candidate.

Moise comes to office with an unresolved judicial investigation hanging over him. Late last month, a Haitian judge questioned Moise about a confidential report leaked during campaigning that suggests he might have laundered money and received special treatment to get loans in years before he ran for the country’s highest political office.

Moise asserts all of his business dealings have been above board. He has blamed rivals for trying to “create instability” in the deeply divided nation with a long history of political tumult and damage his reputation before his swearing-in ceremony.

The judicial examination into Moise is ongoing and it is unclear when it will be resolved. Moise asserted Tuesday that the “justice system will never be used for political persecution” under his administration.

Moise says he’s ready for tests facing Haiti’s next leader

November 30, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Repeating their stance from last year’s annulled election, Haitian voters appear to have reached outside the intrigue-heavy political class to pick a first-time candidate to steer the deeply divided country as president for the next five years.

Jovenel Moise, an entrepreneur who routinely sticks to an optimistic tone, said Tuesday that he is looking forward to the challenge of building consensus with lawmakers and helping fix a political culture perpetually at war with itself.

“I am working hard to be close with the Parliament because there’s no way a president can work without deputies, without senators,” Moise told The Associated Press in his first interview with an international news agency since officials issued preliminary results indicating he won a Nov. 20 election redo in a landslide.

If the preliminary results withstand challenges by three of his closest rivals in coming weeks, Moise earned the presidency with 55 percent of the votes in a field of 27 candidates. He got 385,000 votes more than his nearest competitor, Jude Celestin, who had 19 percent of the vote.

Haiti’s electoral council will not certify the preliminary results until all challenges are resolved by a special tribunal. Electoral winners are to be certified Dec. 29. In a presidential election held in October 2015, Moise finished at the top of 54 candidates in first-round results after ads for the government-backed candidate blanketed Haitian TV and radio for weeks. A businessman from northern Haiti, he had never run for office until he was hand-picked to be the Tet Kale party candidate by outgoing President Michel Martelly.

Opponents quickly alleged fraud by Haiti’s electoral council and Martelly’s political operation. An array of rights groups, local election monitors and others made similar charges. The disputed results were annulled following a review of a special Haitian commission.

Some critics continue to view his ascent with suspicion, suggesting Martelly is using the candidate as a proxy. Moise laughed off the criticism, saying it is mostly about the snobbery of political elites in the capital.

“In Haiti, when you come from the countryside, the people here in Port-au-Prince, they think they know everything. But it’s not true and I’m the example. In the countryside you have good people also — with knowledge, with vision, with capacity,” Moise said in the interview at his campaign office.

The 48-year-old father of three said Martelly would be an adviser when he becomes president, and he wants to study his predecessor’s successes and mistakes. Other previous presidents will also serve as advisers, he said.

Moise laid out his top priorities for strengthening the hemisphere’s poorest country, a plan that focuses on agriculture, education, energy reform, and foreign investment. Reviving an economically blighted countryside, including Haiti’s southwest region, which was devastated by last month’s Hurricane Matthew, is perhaps his main goal as he has repeatedly spoken about agriculture as the engine of his homeland’s fragile economy.

Although almost 80 percent of rural households farm, agriculture receives less than 4 percent of the government’s budget despite the persistent litany of natural disasters afflicting mostly subsistence farmers.

During his campaign, Moise touted his business background in agriculture as a central selling point. In 2014, he launched the Agritrans banana exporting joint venture with the government on about 2,470 acres (1,000 hectares) in northeast Haiti with a $6 million loan approved by Martelly’s administration. He proudly refers to himself by his campaign moniker, “Neg Bannan Nan” — Banana Man in Haitian Creole.

His first business venture was an auto parts company in Port-de-Paix, and he also distributed drinking water and created a project to bring renewable energy to several towns. Moise’s first hurdle is getting past electoral challenges from other candidates. Electoral authorities say they will thoroughly investigate all accusations of irregularities.

A revamped Provisional Electoral Council has been trying hard to show that the Nov. 20 election, organized with mostly Haitian resources, was clean in a country where accusations of vote-rigging and election fraud have long been common and are sometimes accurate. But three of the council’s nine members declined to sign the preliminary tally sheet, one of them telling local radio that he was “uncomfortable” with the results.

A monitoring team from the Organization of American States said Tuesday that its observations were in line with Haiti’s preliminary tally. Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia, said he wasn’t surprised that losing political factions are claiming vote-rigging again. “This is the traditional way of dealing with defeat in Haiti,” he said.

Fatton noted that in spite of some irregularities and logistical problems, the election was perceived by virtually all observers, both national and foreign, as fair and free. “The next few weeks and months will be bumpy and will test Jovenel Moise’s statecraft and capacity to move the country in a new and hopeful trajectory,” he said.

Haiti: Jovenel Moise apparently wins presidential vote

November 29, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Electoral officials in Haiti say Jovenel Moise apparently has won the presidency, based on preliminary results that give him 55 percent of the votes cast in the Nov. 20 election against 26 other candidates.

Moise was the leading candidate in first-round balloting last year and headed for a runoff. But that election was later annulled after a Haitian commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.

This time no runoff will apparently be needed because the candidate of ex-President Michel Martelly’s Tet Kale party got over 50 percent in the election redo. Second-place candidate Jude Celestin had 19.5 percent in the preliminary count.

Haiti’s presidential redo goes well; long vote count begins

November 21, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s repeatedly derailed presidential election finally went off relatively smoothly Sunday as the troubled nation tries to get its shaky democracy on a firmer foundation after nearly a year of being led by a provisional government.

Polls closed late in the afternoon, and election workers set to work on an archaic and time-consuming process of counting paper ballots in front of political party monitors. The schools serving as voting centers where they gathered were lit by lanterns, candles and flashlights.

No official results were expected to be issued for eight days, and Provisional Electoral Council executive director Uder Antoine has said it might take longer than that. Voter turnout appeared paltry in much of southwestern Haiti, which was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew last month and was drenched by rain Sunday. But in the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince and other areas, voters formed orderly lines and patiently waited to cast ballots even as some polling centers opened after the 6 a.m. scheduled start.

“This is my responsibility as a citizen,” said Alain Joseph, a motorcycle taxi driver and father of four who wore a bright pink sweatshirt to show his loyalty to the Tet Kale party of former President Michel Martelly. Pink is the faction’s color.

Police reported some isolated incidents of voter intimidation and disruptions, including an attempt to burn a voting center in the northern town of Port Margot. Across the country of over 10 million people, there were 43 arrests for various charges such as illegal gun possession and assault. Hours after voting ended, a major fire raged at a central market in the hillside Petionville district above Port-au-Prince but the cause wasn’t immediately clear.

Leopold Berlanger, president of the electoral council, told reporters that authorities were satisfied with how the day progressed even though balloting could not take place in two isolated districts. He said officials would examine complaints by people who couldn’t find their names on voter lists.

In Cite Soleil, a volatile slum on the edge of Port-au-Prince where voting sometimes has slid into chaos, balloting was so brisk and orderly that even some polls workers were stunned. “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised just how smoothly things are going,” said Vanessa Similien, an electoral office worker who was monitoring voting at a school in the desperately poor district.

The Caribbean nation’s roughly 6 million registered voters did not lack for choice: 27 presidential candidates were on the ballot. The top two finishers will meet in a Jan. 29 runoff unless one candidate managed to win more than 50 percent of the votes or got the most votes while leading the nearest competitor by 25 percentage points.

The balloting will also complete Parliament as voters pick a third of the Senate and the 25 remaining members of the Chamber of Deputies. Helene Olivier, 72, said she was inspired to vote for the first time in her life in hopes a woman could tame Haiti’s fractious politics. She said Fanmi Lavalas candidate Maryse Narcisse, one of two female presidential contenders, would improve the nation because of her gender.

“Women protect women. They make good changes. The men, they boss you and beat you too hard,” Olivier said after casting her ballot at a high school in Petionville. Results of an October 2015 vote were annulled earlier this year after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.

Haiti has had an anemic caretaker government for nearly a year, and the new president will face a slew of challenges.  With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, the cost of living has risen sharply. Haiti is deeply in debt and public coffers are largely depleted. The southwest is in shambles from last month’s Hurricane Matthew and parts of the north have been battered by recent floods.

In Bel Air, a rough hillside neighborhood of shacks in downtown Port-au-Prince, a group of men playing dominoes said their biggest hope from a new administration was simply regular garbage collection.

“All I know is the next government needs to start picking up the trash around here again. Under the interim government, we’ve had no garbage collection here at all,” said Nicolas Michel, a math teacher and part-time welder.

After lengthy drift, Haiti votes for new leader

November 20, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Voters will have their say Sunday in a repeatedly derailed presidential election that leaders hope will get Haiti’s shaky democracy on a sturdier track. The Caribbean nation’s roughly 6 million registered voters don’t lack for choice: 27 presidential candidates are on the ballot. The top two finishers will meet in a Jan. 29 runoff unless one candidate in the crowded field somehow manages to win a majority of the votes.

No results are scheduled to be released for eight days, but electoral council director Uder Antoine has said it might take longer. The balloting will also complete Parliament as voters pick a third of the Senate and the 25 remaining members of the Chamber of Deputies.

Results of last year’s presidential election were disputed and then annulled after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and professional misconduct. Most Haitians typically stay away from the polls, in part because they are repelled by the chronic ineffectiveness and broken promises of their elected officials. But there are Haitians who say they are determined to vote, hopeful new leaders might be able to relieve Haiti’s chronic poverty and political turbulence.

“Nothing will stop me from voting. We all have to step up and help solve Haiti’s problems,” said Mickenson Berger, who has been cutting hair on a Port-au-Prince street corner since his barber shop was destroyed in the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Haiti has had a caretaker government for nearly a year, and the new president will face a slew of immediate and long-term challenges.  With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, the cost of living has risen sharply. Haiti is deeply in debt and public coffers are largely depleted. The southwest is in shambles from last month’s Hurricane Matthew and parts of the north have been battered by recent floods.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere and one of the most unequal in the world. “Public institutions remain weak, and life-crushing poverty remains the daily reality of most of its citizens. Environmental degradation has left the population and the country’s productive infrastructure highly vulnerable to shocks,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who is an international affairs professor at George Washington University.

A revamped Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP, has gotten high marks for organizing Sunday’s vote with some $25 million from the government. It replaced a council that was marred by internal discord and widespread allegations of fraud.

“So far, this CEP has done a good job. Their credibility is very high,” said Rosny Desroches of the Haitian group Citizen Observatory for Institutionalizing Democracy, which will have 1,500 observers monitoring the national vote.

Delegations from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community are here to watch the election. The European Union withdrew its monitors in frustration earlier this year after officials annulled results from the 2015 vote.

As always with Haitian elections, security is a big concern. The Haitian National Police, which has been strengthened with international assistance, is playing a far greater role in maintaining security than it did in previous electoral cycles.

A total of 2,026 U.N. police officers and 1,468 peacekeeper troops will assist nearly 9,500 members of Haiti’s police force maintain security. There will also be some 5,400 security agents conscripted by the Provisional Electoral Council to help keep order at voting centers.

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