Business warns, Haiti close to ‘the edge of a precipice’

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

Following days of instability and renewed tension, Haiti’s Private Sector Economic Forum (FESP)has warned that the country is on the edge of a precipice.

The long standing body which groups the country’s principal chambers of commerce, industrial groups and financiers said in a statement: “no dialogue, the worsening of the economic and social situation, unacceptable insecurity, loss of control of geographical departments by the authorities, and with so many other problems known to all… The country is on the (edge of a) precipice”.

The FESP noted also that while the President, Jovenel Moïse, and the country’s Parliament had  inherited a dysfunctional country, “they have by a set of thoughtless and repetitive decisions, contributed to push Haiti further into the crisis and have proven that they are part of the problem and not the solution.”

Separately, Frantz Bernard Craan, the coordinator of the Forum and President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the President “has lost the confidence of all the population”, “hears but does not listen” and is failing to take the advice of experts.

The comments come as the situation on the streets continued to escalate as protesters calling for the resignation of President Moïse and the dissolution of Parliament barricaded roads and set vehicles ablaze in Port au Prince, Cap Haitien, Pétionville, and other parts of the country.

The latest round of demonstrations and a two-day strike paralysing the capital follow allegations contained in government audits suggesting that before taking office President Moïse was among those implicated in the misuse of US$2bn or about a half of the benefits Haiti received under Venezuela’s PetroCaribe arrangement between 2008 and 2016.

The most recent report delivered to Parliament at the end of May by the Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Litigation (CSC/CA) confirmed that there had been significant shortcomings in the planning and implementation of the PetroCaribe funded development programmes and projects.

Although the 610-page report noted that relevant documents were missing for most of the projects and contracts reviewed, it indicated that it had made a “troubling discovery”. It said that in 2014, for a project to rehabilitate a part of the Borgne – Petit Bourg de Borgne road, the State had signed two identical contracts worth about 40m gourdes (US$0.43m) with two separate companies, Agritran of which Moïse was the then President, and Betexs.

The report noted that the two companies had undertaken the same works separately on the same dates and referred to this as “a misappropriation scheme”. Subsequently, however, Guichard Doré, the Political Adviser to President Moïse accused the CSC/CA of having “manipulated the figures and data” and denied that Betexs was owned by President Moïse. President Moïse, has yet to speak publicly on the report’s findings.

The report had the effect of further radicalising opposition senators, radical political groups, and agitators linked to organised crime who see political advantage in instability; all of whom want to bring the Moïse Government down. It also resulted in calls for the President’s resignation and a commitment by members of Parliament not to ratify the appointment of Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin or any government proposed by President Moïse.

In related developments and in response to attempts close the first 2019 legislative session of the National Assembly and to open the second regular session and possibly consider demands by some members to impeach the President, protestors have blocked access to Parliament, resulting in its inability to sit.

Although hard to verify, there have been persistent reports of deaths and serious injury among protestors as police have responded, sometimes brutally, to actions by opposition groups and anti-corruption protesters. Several policemen have also been killed according to Haitian police reports.  

Other reports indicate that Haitian journalists have been subject to increasing attacks as demonstrations turn violent.  In one instance, Rospide Pétion, a radio journalist for RSF was gunned down on his way home after completing a broadcast critical of the President. The killing has been condemned by the Haitian government, the Paris based organisation Reporters Without Borders and multiple US media outlets. In related developments several journalists have seen the appearance of fake tweets using their Twitter handles.

The strikes reportedly have begun to affect the functioning of the public sector resulting in multiplying demands for huge wage hikes at a time of rapidly diminishing government revenues.  

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.