On Saturday, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned to avoid a formal vote of no-confidence. His resignation followed a week of conflict over proposed increases in fuel prices that had led to widespread protests. The price increases, cancelled following a day of protest in which three people were killed, would have been the direct result of the government removing subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosine. This step had been demanded by the International Monetary Fund before additional funds would be released to the government of Haiti.
Initial protests had called for the President Moises to step down. However, early last week the Private Sector Economic Forum, a coalition of major business interests, issued a call for the prime minister to step down instead. Taking on the tone of friends of the people of Haiti (to which one might be forgiven an eye roll or two), or is it simply friends of those who own property (it is not clear) their statement reads (reproduced from Haiti Libre summary here):
"The Economic Forum wishes to express its sincere sympathies to the victims of these acts of barbarism, detrimental to the social climate, the national image and our ability to attract private investment generating sustainable employment and economic prosperity."
The Forum wishes to underline its conviction that "these acts largely reflect the high degree of frustration, even disarray" of the majority of our fellow citizens, faced the deterioration of their living conditions for many years. While deploring the fact, he considers, however, "that such frustration, however justified, can not excuse such an increase of violence, destruction and violation of the fundamental rights of the entire population."
In addition, the Economic Forum "is astonished at the inaction characterized of the forces of order face this new and unacceptable overflow of delinquency, contrary to their mission of maintaining order and protecting lives and property." He estimates that "this situation results above all from a lack of leadership by the highest authorities of the Haitian State, including the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and his Government. This is evidenced, among other things, by the apparent lack of planning of security measures that would logically precede the adoption of the drastic price adjustment measure for petroleum products decreed by the Government on 6 July 2018.
While taking note of the recent decision to withdraw this measure taken by the Executive Authority, "the Economic Forum is of the opinion that the President of the Republic should draw the logical conclusions of this deplorable situation and ask the Prime Minister to submit without delay his resignation and that of his Government, in order to offer a way out to the current political impasse."
The Economic Forum was not the only entity seeking to boost its moral standing by, well, standing on the backs of the people who protested. As we noted in an earlier article, the underlying frustrations that spilled out into the streets run deeper than fuel prices - some at least aimed at the International Monetary Fund. At the United Nations, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, noted that the IMF demands were guaranteed to lead to conflict:
The fund has consistently underestimated the importance of calibrating their recommendations to the specific political context, not taking into account the extent to which recommendations are politically viable and socially sustainable.
Strong words, and very true (we have also been writing about the crisis in Nicaragua, which is very different in scope, but was also sparked by the government’s effort to implement fiscal reforms demanded by the IMF). We applaud Alston’s insights. But we also hope Mr. Alston will also walk down the hall to speak to some of his other colleagues.
The United Nations is itself struggling (or at least being made to struggle) to come to terms with its own responsibility for the costs and consequences of the cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010. The Quixote Center signed onto a letter this week demanding the UN abide by the commitments it has made. From the press release:
Cholera was introduced to Haiti in 2010 through reckless waste management on a UN peacekeeping base. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and immense public pressure, the UN finally acknowledged its role in the outbreak in 2016 and launched a $400-million-dollar plan - the “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti” - that aims to eradicate the epidemic and provide a victim assistance package. The UN pledged that its assistance package would represent “a concrete and sincere expression of the Organization’s regret” and presented two potential approaches to justice for victims: individual payments to affected households, and community projects, which would be decided upon through a process of victim consultation. Eighteen months on, under Secretary-General Guterres, the UN has increasingly retreated from these promises.
We are joining with the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who has led this campaign in partnership with the Bureau of International Attorneys in Port au Prince, to raise awareness about the impact of the cholera epidemic and the UN’s obligation to make restitution.