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Plan to install new leaders in Haiti appears to crumble after political parties reject it

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -

A proposal to install new leadership in Haiti appeared to be crumbling Wednesday as some political parties rejected the plan to create a presidential council that would manage the transition.

The panel would be responsible for selecting an interim prime minister and a council of ministers that would attempt to chart a new path for the Caribbean country that has been overrun by gangs. The violence has closed schools and businesses and disrupted daily life across Haiti.

Jean Charles Moïse, an ex-senator and presidential candidate who has teamed up with former rebel leader Guy Philippe, held a news conference Wednesday to announce his rejection of the proposed council backed by the international community.

Moïse insisted that a three-person presidential council he recently created with Philippe and a Haitian judge should be implemented.

“We are not going to negotiate it,” he said in a loud voice as he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “We have to make them understand."

His ally Philippe, who helped lead a successful revolt in 2004 against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and was recently released from a U.S. prison after pleading guilty to money laundering, said no Haitian should accept any proposal from the international community.

In a video posted Tuesday on social media, Philippe accused the community of being complicit with Haiti's elite and corrupt politicians and urged Haitians to take to the streets.

“The decision of Caricom is not our decision,” he said, referring to the regional trade bloc whose leaders presented the plan to create a transitional council. “Haitians will decide who will govern Haiti.”

Other high-profile Haitian politicians declined to participate in the proposed transitional council. Among them were Himmler Rébu, former colonel of Haiti’s army and president of the Grand Rally for the Evolution of Haiti, a party that is part of a coalition awarded a spot on the transitional council.

He said in a statement that the party prefers that a judge from Haiti’s Supreme Court assume the reins of power.

Rébu added that the party is “ashamed and angry” upon seeing “the search for positions of power that do not take into account the responsibilities attached to them.”

Meanwhile, a former senator, Sorel Jacinthe, and a young politician, Jorchemy Jean Baptiste, both supporters of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the Dec. 21 coalition that backs him, called Radio Caraïbes separately Wednesday to argue why their choice for the transitional council was the best one.

Caribbean leaders who announced the plan for the transitional council did not respond to messages for comment.

The plan emerged late Monday following an urgent meeting involving Caribbean leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others who were searching for a solution to halt Haiti’s crisis of violence.

Caribbean leaders who announced the plan for the transitional council did not respond to messages for comment.

The plan emerged late Monday following an urgent meeting involving Caribbean leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others who were searching for a solution to halt Haiti’s crisis of violence.

Soldiers patrol the road near the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo)

Hours after the meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced Tuesday that he would resign once the council was in place, saying that his government "cannot remain insensitive to this situation.”

Henry remains locked out of Haiti because gang attacks have shuttered the country’s airports. He is currently in Puerto Rico.

The gang attacks began Feb. 29, when Henry was in Kenya to push for the UN-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force. The deployment has been temporarily suspended.

“My concern is that the longer there is a power vacuum and an effort to figure out a way forward on the political side, every day that delays resolutions, many, many people are dying," said William O'Neill, the UN's independent expert on human rights in Haiti.

Armed men in the capital of Port-au-Prince have set fire to police stations and stormed the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates. Among those who fled are gang leaders of at least seven communities, according to a new report by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, known as BINUH.

As of March 10, gunmen attacked, looted or torched at least 30 state institutions, more than 600 homes and private businesses and nearly 500 public and private vehicles, BINUH said.

Gangs also have attacked neighborhoods in a rampage that has left scores dead and more than 15,000 homeless. More than 130 people were killed between Feb. 27 and March 8. Meanwhile, at least 40 gang members were killed between Feb. 29 and March 10, according to BINUH.

“This is absolutely catastrophic,” O'Neill said. “I describe Port-au-Prince now as an open-air prison. There is no way to get out: land, air or sea. The airport is still not functioning.”

By Tuesday, the attacks were subsiding, with some businesses and banks reopening, although schools and gas stations remained closed. Public transportation restarted, and more Haitians could be seen Wednesday going about their business.

While some activity has resumed, many people are still concerned that gangs might resume their attacks.

Caricom gave the organizations that were offered positions on the council until Wednesday to submit the names of people who would represent them. As of midday Wednesday, no list had been submitted.

The nine-member council has seven positions with voting powers.

Votes were offered to Pitit Desalin, Jean-Charles’ party; EDE/RED, a party led by former Prime Minister Claude Joseph; the Montana Accord, a group of civil society leaders, political parties and others; Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party; the Jan. 30 Collective, which represents parties including that of former President Michel Martelly; the Dec. 21 Agreement, a group that backed Henry; and members of the private sector.

The remaining two nonvoting positions would go to a member from Haiti’s civil society and its religious sector.

It was not immediately clear who be awarded a position on the council if it was rejected by certain political parties.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico

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