Reynold Deeb, Gilbert Bigio, and Sherif Abdallah, three of Haiti’s most prominent businessmen. Canada has sanctioned all three men.
U.S. and Canadian sanctions against Haitians are a signal that a new Core Group regime change plot is underway.
This article was originally published in Haïti Liberté and is the first of two parts.
The U.S. and CORE group governments are signaling the end of the PHTK’s decade-long rule in Haiti. De facto Prime Minster Ariel Henry, whom they shoe-horned into power two weeks after the Jul. 7, 2021assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, has also outlived his usefulness.
Henry has overseen a steady disintegration of Haitian society, particularly in Port-au-Prince. His demise is foretold by the sanctioning of key leaders of the Haitian Bald-Headed Party (PHTK) and of Haiti’s oligarchs. Now in what Haitians call its “third version,” the PHTK emerged a year after the U.S.-funded sham elections of 2010-11 that propelled the party’s founder, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, into power.
Sanction Against Figures in the PHTK and Oligarchs Signals an Impending Transition of Power
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced the sanctioning of several Haitian politicians, a move Washington applauded. The U.S. also withdrew visas from 11 unnamed Haitian officials whom it alleges are “involved with criminal organizations.”
Canada’s targets include six individuals, including ex-PHTK President Michel Martelly, two ex-PHTK Prime Minsters, Laurent Lamothe and Jean-Henry Céant, two PHTK senators Rony Célestin and Hervé Fourcand, as well an allied PHTK former deputy Gary Bodeau.
Next, Canada sanctioned three of Haiti’s leading oligarchs: Gilbert Bigio, chairman of Haitian industrial conglomerate GB Group and the wealthiest individual in the Caribbean, as well as Reynold Deeb, owner of Bongou foods, and Sherif Abdallah, the CEO of SOGEBANK. According to Kervens Louissaint, a whistleblower who specializes in investigating Haiti’s bourgeoisie, Bigio and Abdallah were early important financial supporters of Martelly and the PHTK, while Deeb has close ties and gives support to former senator Nènèl Cassy, one of the foremost leaders of the former opposition party, the Democratic Popular Sector (SDP), now the central political pillar of Henry’s regime built around the so-called Musseau Accord. “This is a move by Canada to curry favor with the Haitian masses by targeting some of the PHTK’s key economic backers and thus try to win support for Washington’s push for intervention, which Trudeau has agreed to front for, in the face of near universal opposition from Haitians,” Louissaint told Haïti Liberté.
The sanctions on Bigio were particularly notable. Bigio is Haiti’s wealthiest billionaire and owns the largest port in Haiti.
These sanctions followed previous sanctioning of two other PHTK allies, Haitian Senate president Joseph Lambert and former Senator Youri Latortue.
These “Special Economic Measure” sanctions have several effects, including freezing an individual’s assets and preventing them from making financial transactions.
A recent article in the daily, Le Nouvelliste, remarked that these sanctions appear to portend an end to PHTK rule. The article calls these sanctions a “decapitation of the political class” which “refused to work towards a Haitian consensus.”
Indeed, the time for a transition away from PHTK rule seems imminent. De facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s days are numbered. The U.S. and the CORE group are signaling that the PHTK and those who support them no longer have Washington’s support.
Thousands of Haitians have been protesting in the streets of Port-au-Prince and other regions of Haiti for weeks, creating blockades in and outside Port-au-Prince to force Henry from office.
In addition, revolutionary forces have emerged from Haiti’s shantytowns to challenge the rule of oligarchs, Ariel Henry, and the PHTK.
The Biden administration and the CORE group intend on preventing a shift away from the neoliberal order that has been imposed on Haiti since the first coup d’état against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.
The next de facto leaders of Haiti will soon ascend to power with the support of Washington and the CORE group. Their role is to further impose a series of neoliberal reforms on the Haitian economy, while preventing any threat of revolution against the ruling bourgeoisie, which maintains the state of extreme poverty and depravation in which most Haitians live.
The Montana Group
The Montana Accord is a product of the Commission to Research a Haitian Solution to the Crisis (Commission pour la Recherche d’une Solution Haïtienne à la Crise or CRSHC). The Haitian Civil Society Forum (Forum Société Civile Haitienne or FSCH) proposed the creation of the CRSHC in January 2021 in response to the crisis caused by then President Jovenel Moïse’s refusal to step down from the presidency on Feb. 7, 2021, when many legal experts and Haitian judicial institutions said his term had ended. The CRSHC was launched a few months later in May 2021.
The CHRHC initially consisted of 12 members and a Monitoring Committee of seven individuals from various Civil Society Organizations (CSO), unions, religious orders, diaspora groups, political parties, and so forth.
Magali Comeau-Denis and Jacques Ted Saint Dic were founding members of the FSCH and have maintained leadership roles throughout the evolution towards the Montana Accord, which was signed at Pétionville’s Montana Hotel on Aug. 31, 2021, having gained the support of hundreds of CSOs across Haiti. It appeared to be a legitimate consensus of Haitian civil society from many regions. The Accord presented a plan to create an interim government to help stabilize Haitian society and rebuild the State which has been eroded under PHTK rule. The proposed two-year plan would eventually lead to general elections.
The two main administrative bodies behind the Montana Accord are the BSA (Agreement Monitoring Bureau) and the CNT (National Transitional Council).
The CNT nominated two men to be the would-be interim President and Prime Minister respectively: former governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti Fritz Alphonse Jean and former Senator Steven Irvenson Benoit.
The leadership within the CNT and BSA are collectively referred to as the “Montana Group”. The Montana Group is now mostly represented by Magali Comeau-Denis and Jacques Ted Saint Dic.
From the histories, statements, and actions of the Montana Group’s leaders, it is clear that the transition to Montana’s proposed interim government would not entail the true “rupture” that many call for from PHTK rule but rather a mere change to a rival group that shares most of the former’s political orientations and limitations.
Whom Does Montana Really Represent?
It is unclear how many of the original signatories of the Montana Accord continue to support the BSA and the CNT.
Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s party, the Lavalas Family Political Organization (FL) was the first political party to withdraw its support from the BSA. They complained of political factionalism in the selection of Jean and Benoit as interim leaders.
Next, the anti-imperialist Fort National-based popular organization MOLEGHAF withdrew support. In an interview with Haiti Liberté, leader Oxygène David said “after MOLEGHAF left the Montana coalition, the union CNOH [National Confederation of Haitian Workers] left and many popular organizations no longer recognize the Montana Accord.”
Moïse Jean-Charles’ party Pitit Dessalines has also withdrawn support, which was never very active in any case.
“The Montana Accord group never believed in mass mobilization nor called for popular mobilization. Montana did nothing but put a brake on the popular mobilization. They have a wait-and-see attitude, waiting for the U.S. imperialists to give them a green-light and facilitate the political change they want”, Oxygène explained.
“The Montana Accord did nothing more than plunge the masses deeper into exclusion, poverty, and misery” he said.
Indeed, since the CRSHC announced the Montana Accord, the leadership have demonstrated a greater desire to appeal to the U.S. government for legitimacy than building a broad base of support in the population.
Washington has kept the Montana group leaders busy over the past year with endless meetings and calls to negotiate a “Haitian-led” solution to the crisis with the obstinate Ariel Henry.
Washington is pushing to create“consensus” or an “Accord of the Accords,” generally framed in mainstream media as an appeal for the two principal factions of Haiti’s political class to compromise. In fact, the Biden’s administration’s main goal was to erode the coalition behind the Montana Accord while outlining for Montana’s leadership the conditions for receiving a favorable nod from Washington: maintaining Haiti as a U.S. neo-colony.
Comeau-Denis and Saint Dic have met in the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and in Washington with U.S. representatives repeatedly. They have gained no leverage or concessions in their appeals. Their repeated requests to the Biden administration to compel Ariel Henry to negotiate have kept Montana leaders distracted while gaining no ground.
Meanwhile, the crisis in Haiti has continued to deepen.
Montana Leader Calls for the Support of Oligarchs to Reconstruct Haiti’s “National Bourgeoisie”
It is instructive to whom the Montana Accord’s leadership are trying to appeal in place of mobilizing the population.
Speaking on “Panel Magik” on Aug. 31, 2022, Saint Dic argued that the “political consensus needs to be broadened” and recommended reaching out to private sector leaders. “A united block of private sector leaders will have more political and social influence to find a solution to the crisis; to lay the foundations for the reconstruction of a national bourgeoisie, which is necessary for any country” he said.
As a leader and spokesperson for the Montana Group, Saint Dic’s focus on getting support from Haiti’s oligarchs while appealing to the Biden administration is a sign of what Haitians can expect from an interim government led by Montana’s technocrats.
The appeal may have been heard. Le Nouvelliste reported on Nov. 25, 2022 that “major players” in Haiti’s “private sector are working to reconcile” and to jointly present a “path forward,” perhaps fearing that they would be next on the sanctions list.
The oligarchs clearly are not moving fast enough to find a “consensus” for the U.S. government and the CORE group. The recent sanctions against Bigio, Deeb, and Abdallah are a clear signal from Washington to Haiti’s ruling oligarchs that compliance with the transition to the Montana Group is non-negotiable.
(To be continued)
Travis Ross is a teacher based in Montreal, Quebec. He is a co-editor of the Canada-Haiti Information Project. His articles have been published in Truthout, Haiti Liberté, and Rabble.ca.