By Emma Fawcett*
Newly inaugurated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse speaks with the Dominican press. / Karla Sepúlveda / Presidencia República Dominicana / Flickr / Creative Commons
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.
Posted by clalsstaff on February 9, 2017
By Emma Fawcett*
A citizen of Beaumont, Haiti unloads hurricane relief supplies from USAID on October 13, 2016. / U.S. Air Force / Photo by Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf / Flickr / Creative Commons
Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall on Haiti’s southwestern claw on October 4, devastated citizens’ lives, homes, and businesses – and set back much more across the country. Some 546 are reported dead, and 128 are still listed as missing. According to World Bank estimates, the Category 4 hurricane caused nearly $2 billion in damages, including $600 million in the agricultural sector. The hard-hit southern peninsula provides about one-third of Port-au-Prince’s food supply, and the losses of crops and fishing equipment have long-term implications for food security. Ninety percent of the homes in the South and Grand’Anse regions were damaged or destroyed, and according to the Environment Ministry, the storm sped up deforestation and has destroyed more recently planted trees. The relief efforts have been poorly coordinated by Haiti’s interim government, resulting in press reports of looted aid convoys and sporadic protests.
The storm has also set back almost every key initiative underway in Haiti.
- Just two months after the United Nations finally acknowledged its role in bringing cholera to the country in 2010 (for which it subsequently proposed an aid package that includes restitution to victims), flooding and contaminated water have led to a dramatic increase in the number of cholera cases. An estimated 3,400 new cases have been reported in just the last four weeks. With help from the World Health Organization, the Haitian Ministry of Health will begin administering 1 million doses of the oral cholera vaccine, but addressing cholera also necessitates serious improvements in access to safe water and sanitation.
- Haiti’s elections, scheduled for October 9 and already a year overdue, were rescheduled once more due to the hurricane. They are now set for November 20, but foreign observers and candidates alike indicate that major obstacles remain. More than 770 schools, which are typically used as polling stations, were destroyed by the storm, and roads throughout the south remain impassable.
Once again, it falls to the international community to lend Haiti a hand, but donors have been sluggish. During a visit in mid-October, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he was “disappointed by the response of the international community.” Less than a third of the UN’s $120 million appeal for immediate hurricane relief has been raised – and the UN was already struggling to raise funds for its separate cholera fund. Donor fatigue in the United States, where the government contributed several billion in tax dollars and more than half of citizens made private donations following the 2010 earthquake, has been deepened by widespread perceptions that money was wasted. Poor coordination, wasteful spending by aid agencies, and political stagnation have meant that Haiti has little to show for the $9 billion in earthquake relief. (The Red Cross, for example, spent $500 million on various projects, but, despite its stated focus on housing, famously built just six permanent homes.) Canada’s anticipated assumption of leadership of MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission, from Brazil by the end of the year may help energize aid efforts. Canada has a large Haitian diaspora population and Prime Minister Trudeau has signaled interest in taking a larger role in Haiti’s recovery, but Canada’s contributions to hurricane relief are still dwarfed by those of the United States. Once again, Haiti lurches from one crisis to another – and it will continue to until aid and development efforts are better coordinated and the country achieves some measure of political stability.
October 31, 2016
* Emma Fawcett recently completed a Ph.D. in International Relations 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.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 31, 2016