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Haiti hits new depths of despair amidst political crisis

Haiti is facing a politicial crisis over delayed elections. Facing this looming peril, the U.S. should abandon its support for the Moise government, unless he holds credible, national and local elections.
3 Mar 2021 – 12:12 PM EST
Demonstrators march in Port-au-Prince on February 10, 2021, to protest against the government of President Jovenel Moise. Crédito: VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images

Haiti is about to explode. Two consecutive and politically allied, elected dictators have abolished legislative and local elections, inducing three years of daily protests and regular shutdowns of the economy .

For three years, the capital and other large cities have been on lockdown, but not because of Covid. A fraudulently elected president took power in 2017, and just like his immediate predecessor, appointed cronies to replace elected local mayor and councilpersons throughout the country.

Daily protests divided the country between President Jovenel Moise and the US government backing him and an opposition demanding his resignation. If public wildcat strikes led by the opposition did not interrupt Haiti’s disintegrating economy, then organized crime gangs incited violence and occasionally massacres of dozens. People are starving, while markets are frequently shut or are attacked by gangs at the behest of the rival elites.

The revelations in a study by the Haitian Parliament implicated Moise and many others affiliated the previous President Michel Martelly in a massive corruption scandal of $2 billion in Venezuelan oil subsides, PetroCaribe. Haiti poverty is harsh and desperate, that another poor country, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola, appears rich. Faced with this embarrassing report, Moise took no steps to hold national legislative election either, and has been ruling by decree, dictating national policy for over a year.

Since 1971, Haiti's per capita income has decreased 0.7% per year on average. More than 60% of the population still cannot meet their basic needs. Elites have increased their control over the dysfunctional state for their own purposes, while urban planning continues to be non-existent as the gangs have taken over the slums, which also have been growing. The shocks from climate change-induced natural disasters, as well as the depreciation of the gourde is making the suffering even more unbearable.

The public was outraged and took to the streets in desperation and increasing numbers. Meanwhile, the departure of the 13-year United Nations stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) left heavily armed crime gangs, especially in the capital Port-au-Prince, to terrorize the population with kidnapping for ransom and targeted murders at the service of economic elites on both sides; the government and opposition. ‘People’s tribunals’ are being spontaneously constituted in the absence of functioning courts, to try those accused of atrocities.

Haiti almost blew up last month when the President refused to step down at the end of his term claiming that the start of his presidency was delayed a year by allegations of fraud. As a result, Martelly now insists his term should accordingly be extended by 12 months.

The forthcoming year is likely to be much worse. Already, President Moise invented a coup and assassination plot against him and responding by arresting Supreme Court judges, who were later released.

Looming ahead is a constitutional referendum in April, which will likely be boycotted and whose actual vote count will not be verifiable. To avoid the tyranny of the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship, the 1987 Constitution would be reversed by the proposed constitutional amendments: ending the ban on immediate presidential re-election and replacing the bicameral legislature tin a unicameral one.

According to the United Nations, two million Haitians are missing from voters list. A known problem, since the national citizenship registration and identification cards, which are used in Haiti for voting, are not credible. Three million Haiitians are missing their birth certificates. So, it is hard to to get national id cards.

Haitians are being returned to country from the U.S., some of them without proper Haitian ID documents.

If Moise then runs for re-election next fall, after his bogus constitutional plebiscite approves these amendments, the opposition is likely to close down Haiti indefinitely. Moise would then use repressive coercion through not only his politicized national police, but the armed thugs he indirectly controls. The U.S. needs to mediate a solution.

US officials are already expressing horror at recent developments, reversing the initial U.S. support for Moise. If elections are to be held, then the U.S. should insist on international monitoring and assistance. The US could face another wave of boat people.

Facing this looming peril, the U.S. should abandon its support for the Moise government, unless he holds credible, national and local elections and only if abandons his unilateral attempt to impose Constitutional Amendments without a supermajority of both legislative houses, as required by the Constitution. MINUSTAH was unpopular after its long stay in the country and is blamed for a catastrophic cholera epidemic imported by its soldiers. However, MINUSTAH did stabilize the country and removed most of the organized crime gangs that have taken over Haiti.

Biden should push the U.N. Security Council to return such UN peacekeeping troops until the constitutional order is reestablished. This means that the U.S. government should prepare to abandon Moise by April if he proceeds with his constitutional amendments instead of holding free and fair elections.