United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has tapped a familiar face to head the global body’s new political mission for Haiti just as its peacekeeping presence comes to an end on Tuesday.
Former State Department diplomat Helen Meagher La Lime, who currently serves as U.N. special representative in Haiti, will now head the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti, Guterres announced Monday.
In her role, La Lime is expected to work on issues concerning elections, which have been delayed due to political turmoil, and help strengthen the Haiti National Police record on human rights and compliance with international obligations. Her office will also focus on the country’s expanding gang problem and launch a disarmament effort. The 125 staffers assigned to the Integrated Office will include human rights advisers and 25 police advisers.
La Lime’s appointment comes on the eve of the closure of the U.N. peacekeeping presence in Haiti after 15 years in the country, and as the French-speaking Caribbean nation enters its second month of paralysis over demands that Haitian President Jovenel Moïse resign from office.
The U.N. has warned that the widespread paralysis could lead to a humanitarian crisis with medication and food unable to get to certain parts of the country due to the barricades and security issues.
The demands for Moïse’s resignation have found support among religious and business leaders, artists, activists and opposition political groups. The protests have been accompanied by burning tires, barricades and violence, including attacks against the U.N.-trained Haiti National Police force.
Protesters have also marched at the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince to ask that the international community stop supporting Moïse and interfering in Haiti’s internal affairs.
A small delegation presented a letter addressed to Guterres outlining a series of accusations against the president, from the involvement of his appointees in a massacre in La Saline, a Port-au-Prince slum, to his mismanagement of the economy. Inflation currently stands at 22.6 percent.
Moïse’s detractors, who believe he remains in office due to his support of the Trump administration’s Venezuela policy earlier this year, have also accused him of corruption. They have cited a Haitian government investigation of Venezuela’s subsidized PetroCaribe oil program, which cited three companies associated with Moïse. He has denied the allegations.
Along with other foreign diplomats, La Lime has tried to lower the political temperature first, by asking Moïse to hold a national dialogue on the political and economic crises, and then with opposition leaders after the president finally extended the offer in a 2 a.m. Sept. 25 address to the nation.
The opposition, however, has refused and last week installed a commission to work on a transition plan while continuing to demand that Moïse leave office. Other transition proposals have also emerged.
The crises are compounded by the country’s recurring fuel and food shortages, a rapidly depreciating domestic currency and the population’s growing discontent over the lack of governance by the political class and a series of corruption scandals involving public officials.
A former member of the U.S. foreign services, La Lime held high-level diplomatic posts in several African countries before coming to Haiti to serve as Guterres’ special representative for the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti after the military presence ended.
She was appointed to the post in August 2018 by the U.N. Security Council. Her appointment to the job was not without controversy. Several countries including Russia, which sits on the council, raised concerns about having an American serve in the U.N.’s new role.
Before joining the U.N., La Lime served as the U.S. ambassador to Angola, from 2014 to 2017, and as director of outreach of the United States Africa Command in Germany, from 2011 to 2013.
La Lime is a graduate of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and holds a bachelor’s degree in languages and linguistics from Georgetown University in Washington. In addition to English, she is fluent in French, Spanish and Portuguese.