Can Garry Conille save Haiti?

As the new prime minister of Haiti, a country without a president or parliament, where gangs have destroyed dozens of police stations and killed thousands of people, Garry Conille probably has one of the toughest jobs of any leader in the Western Hemisphere.

He has attended funerals of slain police officers and met their widows. He fired the police chief — accused of failing to combat gangs — and appointed a new one, and he brought in a contingent of police officers from Kenya who were tasked with helping to ease the violence. He spent the past week knocking on doors in Washington with an urgent message:

“This is not the time for Haiti fatigue.”

Mr Conille, 58, a former UN official who has lived outside Haiti for more than a decade, took over the Haitian government five weeks ago amid one of the worst crises in decades.

The position was left vacant after armed groups joined forces to attack prisons, hospitals and entire neighborhoods. The uprising was so fierce that the former prime minister, who was traveling abroad, was unable to return to his own country.

Mr Conille was chosen by a presidential transition council that oversees the country.

Mr Conille, a gynecologist by training, is now tasked with restoring order to Haiti in the hope of organizing orderly and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. He is seen as something of an outsider, untainted by Haiti’s notoriously dirty politics and chronic corruption, and appointed with the blessing of the Biden administration and the international community.

Haitians are asking: After years of political unrest, corruption and an assassination plot that saw the last president killed by Colombian mercenaries, can this mild-mannered technocrat turn the tide for a country where millions live in extreme poverty and more than 500,000 have been forced to flee their homes?

It was difficult enough: a few days after taking office, he was briefly hospitalized with an unknown ailment.

“First of all, I need a functioning justice system, and frankly, I don’t have that yet,” Mr. Conille said in an interview with The New York Times. “I have 40 police stations that have been destroyed. We need to prepare to repair them.”

His list of priorities is long: reclaiming territory from gang leaders, reopening schools and hospitals, rebuilding roads. He envisions a Haitian government that can provide basic services, such as education and medical care, to its 11 million people, especially the millions who are hungry.

To achieve this, Mr Conille said the international community must provide more money, noting that Haiti had received much more international aid in previous years when the situation was not as dire.

“I think the crisis that we’re dealing with now is certainly more complex than the one that we faced after the earthquake,” he said. “And after the earthquake, we certainly had a much larger group of partners that were engaged and engaged in a more meaningful way.”

In 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, with the government putting the death toll at 316,000. Billions of dollars in aid poured in worldwide, but the country struggled to recover.

After the quake, Mr. Conille worked for former President Bill Clinton, who was the UN special envoy to Haiti. He had previously served as prime minister under President Michel Martelly, but lasted only four months as the two clashed over allegations of corruption in contracts following the quake.

Mr. Conille met last week with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, members of Congress, international donors and members of the Haitian diaspora to argue that aid is needed more than ever.

Wolf Pamphile, the founder of Haiti Policy House, a Washington-based research institute, said he was struck by the prime minister’s inviting and “calming vibe.” At a cocktail hour in Washington, Mr. Conille wore a guayabera and spoke Creole and English — but not the French typically favored by Haiti’s educated elites, Mr. Pamphile said.

He said Mr Conille was enjoying a honeymoon period, but it is unclear how long that will last.

“Remember when you first start a job and everyone likes you?” Mr. Pamphile said. “He’s off to a good start. He’s delivering something people have been asking for, which is communication.”

Experts debate when exactly things got so bad in Haiti. Billions in earthquake aid never delivered the massive redevelopment needed. No elections have been held in eight years, leaving parliament and most other elected positions empty.

President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home three years ago. The three years that followed were marked by a wave of gang violence, with a huge increase in kidnappings and murders. Much of the capital Port-au-Prince was also taken over.

In late February, several gangs joined forces in an attempt to overthrow the government. They succeeded in forcing the resignation of then-Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Mr. Henry had flown to Kenya to formalize an agreement for the East African nation to deploy police officers to curb gang violence. Gang leaders took advantage of his absence to attack police stations, prisons and medical facilities.

Nearly 600,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in recent years. The United Nations recorded 3,252 murders between January and May, up from 2,453 during the previous five-month reporting period.

When asked why he would leave his previous job as UNICEF regional director to take on such a challenging undertaking, Mr. Conille borrowed a phrase he said he picked up in Africa: “If I don’t do it, who will? And if not now, when?”

Mr. Conille scored points shortly after taking office by showing empathy by speaking publicly to widows of slain police officers, said Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder of The Haitian Times, an online newspaper based in New York that reports on Haiti and the diaspora.

“Haitian leaders never do that,” he said.

He called Mr Conille’s previous term as prime minister ten years ago under Mr Martelly a “debacle”, precisely because he was not someone who dealt with politics.

“He was politically naive,” Mr. Pierre-Pierre said. “He didn’t play the little games that politicians write on a large scale and especially those in Haiti play, and he wasn’t ready for that.”

In fact, several news sources reported last week that Mr. Conille angered members of the transitional presidential council now governing Haiti over his departure to Washington, notifying them in a text message sent in the middle of the night, hours before his departure. Edgard Leblanc Fils, the head of the council, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Mr. Conille’s profile as a policy nerd, one detached from Haitian politics, was exactly what people were hoping for, experts said. Haitians are fed up with the country’s political class, which has often been mired in allegations of misconduct and ties to the gangs now wreaking havoc.

The United Nations has accused Mr. Martelly of financing and arming gangs. The United States has sanctioned former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, accusing him of embezzling $60 million in Venezuelan government aid for personal gain. Mr. Henry, who served after the president’s assassination, has been dogged by allegations that he had ties to a key suspect in the case.

All three politicians denied the allegations.

“The political class has not left a good taste in the minds of the people, and I think we were looking for people who were competent, who had a track record of managing things and producing results,” said Ariel Dominique, the executive director of the Haitian American Foundation for Democracy, an advocacy group. “We want results. Whether he is the right person remains to be seen.”

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