Haitian council to choose new prime minister and cabinet members

A transitional council tasked with choosing Haiti’s next prime minister and Cabinet was established Friday in a move supporters hope will help quell turmoil in the troubled Caribbean nation where most of the capital remains under the grip of criminal gangs.

The formation of the council, announced in a decree published Friday in a Haitian government gazette, was expected to trigger the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who promised to step down once the council was created. Henry did not immediately comment.

Those awarded a seat on the council are Petit Desalin, a party led by former senator and presidential candidate Jean-Charles Moïse; 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, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; the Jan. 30 Collective, which represents parties including that of former President Michel Martelly; and the private sector.

The two non-voting seats are represented by someone from Haiti’s civil society and its religious sector.

The Integrated Office in Haiti posted on Twitter that it would continue to closely follow the political process as it called for international support for Haiti’s National Police, saying it is “essential to restore security and the rule of law.”

“We reaffirm our commitment to supporting the country’s institutions in their efforts to restore democratic institutions,” María Isabel Salvador, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said in a statement.

The council’s creation comes exactly a month after Caribbean leaders announced plans to help form the nine-member panel, with seven members awarded voting powers.

Friday’s development was cheered by those who believe the council could help steer Haiti in a new direction and help quell widespread gang violence that has paralyzed swaths of the capital of Port-au-Prince for more than a month.

More than 1,550 people across Haiti and more than 820 injured from January to March 22, according to the U.N.

While gangs have long operated throughout Haiti, gunmen organized large-scale attacks starting Feb. 29. They burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport that remains closed and raided the country’s two biggest prisons, freeing more than 4,000 inmates.

The attacks were meant to prevent the return of Henry to Haiti. At the time, he was in Kenya pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country. He remains locked out of Haiti.

While the violence has somewhat subsided, gangs are still launching attacks throughout Port-au-Prince, especially in the downtown area, where they have seized control of Haiti’s biggest public hospital.