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It appears that there may be room for dialogue after all, as Prime Minister Henry met last Friday with the signatories of the Montana accord. At a press conference following their meeting, the Prime Minister stated that the meeting was rather long and laborious, and further discussions would be held. When questioned about his criticism of the groups that chose a head of government and head of state in a small committee Mr. Ariel stated during his speech to the nation on February 7, decided to play the role of the unifier by stating the importance of dialogue. According to the Prime Minister, during the same speech in question called for dialogue because addressing the needs of the same country that they all have in common requires all stake holders to come together to dialogue. When questioned on the position of the senate, the Prime Minister was quick to retort that these are political actors creating buzz, for which there’s no legal basis. He noted that the country is in serious situation and that our behavior must reflect this urgency and not make things worse. He further stated that he will continue extending an invitation to all, so that together, we’re able to make it possible for the people to freely choose their leaders. 

However, the Prime Minister has been unable to keep some of his promises to date. He had promised to put in place an electoral commission by the February 7 deadline but failed to do so. Defending his position, PM Henry assured the nation that he is still working with concerned groups to finalize plans for the creation of the CEP, noting that many sectors of the population have already designated their representatives and that soon, there will be an official announcement, and that the government intend to do the same with the control and monitoring authority and the constituent assembly. He further broached the long-standing question of the minimum wage, as workers have been up in arms since the start of this week demanding an increase of up to 1,500 gourdes. He pointed out that the wage council, Conseil supérieur des salaires (CSS) is in the process of finalizing its report to set a new salary scale and will send the report out by coming weekend. He added that they hope the proposed salary scale will consider the reality of the cost of living and the social dynamics in the industrial and commercial sectors. It should be remembered that the salary negotiation will involve employers and labor organizations, especially since there has not been a change in the minimum wage for three (3) years.

While the PM was addressing the minimum wage issue, on the streets, there was an entirely different development as the police were out in full force to repress factory workers who took to the streets for a second day to demand increase in the daily wage. The PNH was out with tear gas to disperse the angry crowd waving tree branches as they marched down Toussaint Louverture Boulevard, chanting and denouncing the factory owners. As shots were heard, the crowd scattered and some in the crowd responded by throwing stones at the police. They went on to block the main road to the airport by burning tires and stones bringing traffic to a halt. While denouncing the violations from the police, labor leaders equally denounced the wage council, CSS, which they accuse of being partial towards business owners and therefore may not be an honest broker in the wage negotiations. 

In other news, Prime Minister Ariel Henry for the first time responded to allegations of his complicity in the assassination of the former president, because of his close relationship with one of the suspects in the assassination case, Joseph Félix Badio. During the press conference after meeting with the Montana accord group, the prime minister called the articles in the New York Times and CNN as political machinations coming from the same source. He informed the audience that no judge had ever called him to neither make a deposition nor accuse him of being implicated in the assassination plot. He claims that it is an attempt at character assassination by those who want to undermine him because he’s the prime minister and will not be distracted by such baseless allegations. The investigation into the assassination of President Moïse has been handed to 3 judges consecutively and currently at a standstill, but PM Henry confirmed that there’s a national and international investigations going on and his administration is fully cooperating with the international investigators. Responding to allegations that he was communicating with the prime suspect, the PM countered that all his telephone conversations are recorded and available if needed and assured the people that sooner or later the whole truth will come out. He promised not to interfere with the justice department and has not even read the police report that’s circulating on the internet. He is waiting for the justice department to tell him the names of all the perpetrators and their backers as well. An article in the New York Times in January pointed out to t that the Prime Minister had direct contact to Joseph Félix Badio, one of the main suspects in the affair, and would remain in communication after the assassination. The New York Times article was based on an interview with one other suspect, Rodolphe Jaar, before the latter was arrested.  The human rights network RNDDH released a report critical of the investigation, which is currently stalled, six months after the assassination of the president, and raised the question on the telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and the suspect. 

Meanwhile, the conference of Haitian pastors, La Conférence des Pasteurs haïtiens (COPAH) is calling for the release of Pastor Rémy Lochard, who was kidnapped on Sunday, February 6, 2022, near Tabarre as he was driving to church. The group also called for the release of all kidnapped persons being held hostage by their armed captors. The group also accused the government of laxity and inactivity as religious people are increasingly becoming targets of these gangs, especially in the past 5 years. Despite assurances that the government will be tackling the security issue, more ordinary people are being killed on a daily basis and the government is yet to show that they understand or can actually do something about it. The organization is calling on Haitians to organize legally to defend themselves. Besides Pastor Rémy Lochard, another pastor, Guyto Pierre, of the Bellevue la Montagne Christian Center was kidnapped last Wednesday, while the Rector of Port-au-Prince University, Gérard Dorcély and the pharmacist Caëlle Edmond Jean-Baptiste, were kidnapped on Friday 4 and Sunday 6, February respectively. News coming from the wires today report that Caëlle Edmond Jean-Baptiste, who hosts a program on Radio Caraibes, SOS Solitude, has been released by his captors, though the story cannot be verified and confirmed at the moment.  

Finally, January 16 marked the opening of the carnival season in Jacmel where revelers and dances in brightly colored skirts danced their way through the streets of the city, dancing to the carnival music blaring from the bands along the parade route. This year, the parade which is the first of 4 carnival processions leading to the Lenten season was cancelled in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, due to economic, security and health issues. All the crowd’s favorites in Jacmel – bands, costumed groups and individual characters – made appearances, including revelers donning the much-revered, distinctive papier-mâché, for which the seaside town is renowned.

Dela Harlley 

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