By Emma Fawcett*
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, inaugurated this week following an 18-month electoral crisis, is likely to have a short honeymoon before the country’s multiple crises hit him hard. While the transfer of power was long overdue – after a year of transitional rule by interim President Jocelerme Privert – questions remain about Moïse’s ability to govern. He is a 48-year-old businessman with no political or governing experience. The election delays suppressed voter turnout to a paltry 21 percent, so the 55 percent of votes that he won amounts to just 9.6 percent of registered voters. Tensions remain high among the other 53 former presidential candidates.
- Challenges to Moïse’s term in office have already emerged. While Haitian presidential terms are five years, some constitutional experts believe that Moïse lost a year due to the electoral crisis – that interim President Privert’s year in office counted – and therefore that he has only four years remaining.
- Moïse already faces allegations of corruption. In a case he claims is politically motivated, he has been under investigation for money laundering since irregularities in his bank transfers were first discovered in 2013. Four opposition senators last week requested additional information about the investigative judge’s findings, and another former presidential candidate has filed as a plaintiff in the case. The judge’s order and the prosecutor’s intentions have not been made public, but the investigation has been expanded to include interviews of Moïse’s wife and several other associates. Several senators boycotted the inauguration in protest.
Haitian economic and social problems remain severe. The mandate for MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission that has been in place for the last 12 years, expires in mid-April. Foreign assistance has continued to decline, although Hurricane Matthew caused $2.8 billion in damage last October and another 30,000 cases of cholera are expected this year. Thousands of Haitians have fled the island, including about 5,000 currently awaiting entry on the US-Mexico border. Inflation exceeds 14 percent a year, and growth for 2017 is expected to be -0.6 percent. Even the budget for Moïse’s inauguration was slashed by 50 percent in light of austerity measures, although several foreign presidents and a U.S. delegation led by Omarosa Manigault, a former reality TV star and assistant to President Trump, attended.
Moïse faces tremendous challenges – without anything resembling a popular mandate. If he is prosecuted, moreover, Haiti could be rapidly plunged back into political instability. But foreign media indicate that many Haitians hope that his business background as a banana exporter and auto parts dealer will help him revive the economy, especially the agricultural and textile sectors. Moïse has indicated repeatedly that he hopes to preserve and expand Haiti’s preferential trade agreements with the United States: “President Trump and I are entrepreneurs, and all an entrepreneur wants is results, and therefore I hope we’ll put everything in place to make sure we deliver for our peoples.” With the electoral uncertainty finally over, Moïse is slightly better positioned than his two most recent predecessors – transitional President Privert and embattled President Michel Martelly – to foster political stability, engage the diaspora, and encourage foreign direct investment. But with so many competing priorities and the distraction of his money laundering case, it will be enormously difficult for the new president to serve “all Haitians” as his inaugural address promised.
February 9, 2017
* Emma Fawcett is an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer at American University. Her doctoral thesis focused on the political economy of tourism and development in four Caribbean countries: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Mexican Caribbean.