Measure of calm returns to Haiti but instability remains

Following days of widespread demonstrations against the Government of President Jovenal Moïse, which paralysed the economy, a relative calm appears to have returned in Haiti. It follows 10 days of anti-government demonstrations at least six deaths, and food shortages.

The latest bout of unrest began on 7 February following the failure of the government to address widespread concerns about the syphoning off of large sums of money from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe programme intended for social programmes in Haiti. Among those implicated were the President, other senior political figures, as well as individuals in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.

Protesters had demanded the resignation of Moïse, blocking roads, burning vehicles, and attacking ministries, businesses and the presidential residence, with Haitian para-military units and the police responding with force. Haitian reports indicate that protests took place in Gonaives, Cap Haitien, Los Cayos, Jacmel, as well as in Port-au-Prince in several areas including the city centre and Pétion-Ville.

In a belated response on 16 February, after nine days of silence, the Prime Minister, Jean-Henry Céant, announced on television nine emergency measures aimed at easing hardship and addressing allegations of corruption.

Céant said the Government will reduce its expenses by 30% and propose to the Presidency and Parliament that they do the same; abolish all unnecessary privileges to senior state officials; strengthen the judiciary by giving it additional resources to facilitate the completion of the Petrocaribe trial; have the Superior Court audit all autonomous state enterprises to identify diverted funds; recover customs lost due to the smuggling of goods; abolish all national monopolies affecting food production; try to improve the minimum wage;  recover monies lost from the Fund by appointing a new director of the Central Financial Intelligence Unit and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ULCC), and speed up related activities; appoint ‘functional’ Boards to returns to being a development bank’ and takes steps to reduce the price of staples such as rice.

His statement followed a 14 February television address by the President Jovenel Moïse which failed to calm protestors. He said in the pre-recorded speech that while he had heard the voice of the people, it was “unacceptable for people who have official functions to demonstrate alongside armed gang leaders”.  Moïse also said that the crisis the country was going through threated its democratic foundations. He also made clear that he intended to see out his full term in office.

In related developments:

  • The US State Department level of alert to US travellers remains at its highest ‘do not travel level’ at the time of publication. The US also ordered the repatriation of non-essential diplomats and their families. Other countries have issued similar warnings and, in some cases, closed their embassies and consulates.
  • Haiti’s Foreign Minister, Bocchit Edmond, met John Bolton the US National Security Adviser at the White House at the request of Moïse on 15 February.
  • The US Government issued a statement calling for ‘genuine dialogue and compromise to achieve transparent and accountable government’. It also encouraged all Haitians including those in politics not to engage in violence and for Government ‘to redouble its efforts to fight corruption and hold those involved in the PetroCaribe scandal accountable’.
  • Five heavily armed US citizens, a Russian, a Serb and a Haitian all of whom claimed to be on “a government mission” were held in Port-au-Prince on 17 February by the Haitian police while driving unmarked vehicles. According to Haiti Libre, among the items found in their possession were professional drones, satellite phones, and other military equipment. The Miami Herald additionally reported that lists of names had been found in their possession and that its sources had indicated that several individuals connected with the Moïse administration had tried to have the men released.
  • A former Police Commissioner, Jean Edinord, known as Flex, was arrested at the time of the protests on international warrants related to narcotics trafficking. He had evaded arrest for 24 years. He was handed to agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and then flown for trial in Florida. The case is expected to have serious high-level ramifications in several locations.
  • The Dominican Republic military continues to have an increased presence on the country’s border with Haiti. Concerned there could be an increase in migration, the Government said that the Army was stepping up patrols and sending special units to the border to ensure the country was secure. Haitian reports additionally indicated Dominican troops were guarding gas stations close to the border in light of fuel shortages in Haiti.

 

 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.

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