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Unexpected naming of prime minister divides Haiti's transitional council

Haiti's transitional council members pose for a group photo after a ceremony to name its president and a prime minister, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, April 30, 2024.
Haiti's transitional council members pose for a group photo after a ceremony to name its president and a prime minister, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, April 30, 2024.

A surprise announcement that revealed Haiti's new prime minister is threatening to fracture a recently installed transitional council tasked with choosing new leaders for the gang-riddled Caribbean country.

Four of seven council members with voting powers said Tuesday that they had chosen Fritz Belizaire as prime minister, taking many Haitians aback with their declaration and unexpected political alliance.

The council members who oppose Belizaire, who served as Haiti's sports minister during the second presidency of Rene Preval from 2006 to 2011, are now weighing options including fighting the decision or resigning from the council.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation who did not want to be identified because negotiations are ongoing said the council's political accord had been violated by the unexpected move and that some council members are considering other choices as potential prime minister.

The council on Tuesday was scheduled to hold an election and choose its president. But two hours and a profuse apology later, one council member said that not only had a council president been chosen, but a prime minister as well. Murmurs rippled through the room.

The Montana Accord, a civil society group represented by a council member with voting powers, denounced in a statement late Tuesday what it called a "complot" hatched by four council members against the Haitian people "in the middle of the night."

"The political and economic mafia forces have decided to take control of the presidential council and the government so that they can continue to control the state," the Montana Accord said.

Haitian politics have long been characterized by secretive dealings, but many worry the country cannot afford further political instability as gangs lay siege to the capital of Port-au-Prince and beyond.

"People change parties (like) they're changing their shirts," said François Pierre-Louis, a professor of political science at Queens College in New York and former Haitian politician.

He spoke during an online webinar on Tuesday evening.

Like others, he said he believed that Jean-Charles Moise, a powerful politician who was a former senator and presidential candidate, was behind Belizaire's nomination. Moise is not related to the assassinated President Jovenel Moise.

Moise, however, does not sit on the council. His party, Pitit Desalin, is represented by Emmanuel Vertilaire, who is among the four council members who support Belizaire.

The others are Louis Gerald Gilles, Smith Augustin and Edgard Leblanc Fils, the council's new president.

They could not be immediately reached for comment.

A document shared with The Associated Press and signed by the four council members who chose the new prime minister states they have agreed to make decisions by consensus. The document is titled, "Constitution of an Indissoluble Majority Bloc within the Presidential Council."

Haitians are demanding that security be a top priority for the council, which is tasked with selecting a new prime minister and Cabinet, as well as prepare for eventual general elections.

But some Haitians and others are wary of the council and the decisions it's taking.

Jean Selce, a 57-year-old electrician, noted that most of the council members are longtime politicians: "Their past is not really positive."

Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia, noted that some of the parties represented on the council are responsible for the current chaos in Haiti.

"It's a contradiction," he said. "Every time we seem to be in a crisis, we reappoint the same people and hope that they change their ways, but they do not."

More than 2,500 people have been killed or injured across Haiti from January to March, according to the U.N.

In addition, more than 90,000 people have fled Port-au-Prince in just one month given the relentless gang violence.