Haiti has experienced 9 days of protest and violent state response. Opposition leaders have vowed to shut the country down until President Jovenel Moïse steps down. After seven days of silence, President Moïse finally addressed the country last night in a pre-recorded message. He had little of substance to offer, but did say he had no plans to step-down. Meanwhile, Moïse’s administration is in turmoil. He recalled the long-time Haitian ambassador to the United States this week, and reportedly some members of the PHTK (Moïse’s party) have already begun preparing to leave the country - if temporarily. It is hard to imagine how Moïse will hold on. If he tries to, the violence is likely to escalate, though what happens if he resigns is far from clear. The current prime minister and governing cabinet have only been in office since October, after the previous prime minister was forced to resign following mass protests in July.
Video report from Al Jazeera Wednesday, February 13
The “international community” has spoken (they always do). A statement issued earlier in the week from the so-called “Core Group” (composed of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, the Ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United States of America, and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States) called for compromise to move forward legislation needed for elections in this coming October:
Reiterating the fact that in a democracy change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence, the Core Group urges the executive and legislative branches of power to collaborate for the electoral law and the 2018-2019 budget law to be adopted and promulgated as soon as possible. It is only through these actions that the elections scheduled by the Constitution for October 2019, can be held in a free, fair and transparent manner, and that an institutional vacuum will be avoided. (Full statement here)
This is all reasonable advice, but no government or institution in this group has done much to promote democracy in Haiti. Indeed, these are the folks largely responsible for the electoral farces of 2011 and 2016, not to mention a coup d'etat and 14 year-long UN occupation.
Meanwhile the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs said,
“We support the right of all people to demand a democratic and transparent government and to hold their government leaders accountable, but there is no excuse for violence. Violence leads to instability, less investment, and fewer jobs.”
Officially, the U.S. deplores violence….we’ll just leave that there. The State Department has issued a level four travel warning on Haiti, and is directing all non-essential embassy staff and family members to leave the country.
Meanwhile, with the ambassador to the U.S. recalled, Haiti Foreign Minister Edmond Bocchit is supposed to meet with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. As reported by Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald:
Bocchit has been seeking support for the Moïse administration in Washington ever since Haiti agreed to break with a longtime ally, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, and recognize acting opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president. The discussion topics have included getting U.S. support for the purchase of subsidized rice for Haiti and help with getting Qatar to assist it in buying its $2 billion debt from Venezuela linked to its Petrocaribe discounted oil program, say sources familiar with the discussions.
Bocchit, who last week visited the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the State Department with influential Haitian businessman Andy Apaid, would not comment on the planned Bolton meeting. Apaid, a Moïse supporter, led the civil society movement that forced the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004 amid a bloody revolt.
The protests this week are the latest in a series of demonstrations that have expressed deep frustration with government corruption, a stagnant economy, fuel shortages, inflation and the collapse of the exchange rate. The political opposition leading the protests, including Youri Latortue, are not exactly clean themselves. Opportunism abounds as the elite jockey for position amid the turmoil. How bad might things get? Jake Johnston writes that we may be witnessing the collapse of a political and economic system, stitched together by the “international community” to put a thin democratic facade on a system of pillage. His widely shared twitter thread ends:
The strategy of the Haitian government appears to be hunker down and hope this all just goes away. In the meantime, the situation for millions of Haitians will continue to deteriorate, caught between political violence, government ineptitude, and the ever-increasing cost of living. I believe what we are witnessing is the collapse of a system. A system that has failed the Haitian people. There are no more quick fixes; there are no more internationally devised compromises to paper over the reality. I fear that things will get worse before they get better.
The hope? A new generation of leaders who have yet to fully emerge, but undoubtedly will be the only ones able to lead their country forward. Who among the discredited political class will have the courage to step aside and empower them?
In Gros Morne, where Quixote Center's partners live and carry out their work, the roads have been blocked for days, but otherwise things are relatively calm. There have been fighting and gunshots fired in nearby Gonaïves and St.Marc. Fuel shortages are complicating life here and everywhere in Haiti. Water treatment facilities are running out of fuel (and money) to run reverse osmosis processing. Gas in Gros Morne is up to $7.50 a gallon, when it is available at all. Hospitals are running out of medicine and other supplies because of the blockades. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Center is thus far safe. We will keep in touch and report what we can. They did ask that we offer prayers for peace for Haiti.