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 Eric Hershberg
Image courtesy of FLACSO-Costa Rica
Latin America has made important advances dealing with income inequality over the past decade, but sustaining this modest progress requires a deeper grasp of its underlying causes. Since Princeton sociologists Miguel Centeno and Kelly Hoffman in 2003 published their provocative article “The Lopsided Continent” probing Latin America’s infelicitous distinction as the region with the most unequal income distribution, the GINI coefficients – indicators of the gap between rich and poor – have declined in a number of Latin American countries. Most of the advances, which admittedly appear tenuous and were slowed by the Great Recession of 2008-2009, can be traced to the expansion of secondary education and, particularly in countries governed by the left, unprecedented investments in social programs that have benefited the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. Even now, however, income distribution in the region remains as unequal as anywhere on the planet – sapping productivity by depriving populations of opportunities to upgrade skills that could be deployed in knowledge-intensive economic activities. Inequality also provokes social dislocations that undermine the welfare of the poor and non-poor alike, place burdens on over-extended state institutions and generate pathologies, such as crime, that undermine economic performance. Moreover, the task of sustaining democratic political regimes is rendered much more difficult.
A new book by Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz, a sociologist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Costa Rica, takes a fresh look at the dynamics of unequal power that influence how the fruits of economic activity become concentrated in some individuals and social groups – and remain beyond the reach of large swathes of a country’s inhabitants. MERCADOS Y BÁRBAROS: La persistencia de las desigualdades de excedente en América Latina is in my view a landmark contribution to the sociological literature, and it identifies four intertwined processes that account for the disempowerment of important segments of the population, often characterized by subordinate status associated with gender, race, ethnicity or region.
- The prevalence of precarious employment in labor markets, as a result of which people are condemned to toil endlessly but never enjoy the benefits of having a stable job.
- The impossibility for most small-landholders or petty entrepreneurs to accumulate capital that might enable them to invest in the future of themselves, their families and their communities.
- The weakness or absence of state institutions that might contribute to forging social citizenship encompassing all of a country’s inhabitants, the result of which is that vulnerable individuals and communities are left to fend entirely for themselves.
- The overwhelming weight in Latin America of social categorizations – motivated by pervasive sexism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia – that define excluded populations as less deserving of rights and opportunities than others.
If societies are to be expected to invest in social science, then it is reasonable to expect that social scientists strive to illuminate the underlying roots of their greatest challenges, such as the yawning inequalities in Latin America, and the sources of their persistence over time. Through his historically informed and empirically rich analysis, drawing on theoretical insights from Marxian traditions and from the work of sociologists such as the late Charles Tilly, Pérez Sáinz has made an invaluable contribution to intellectual debates about inequality which should inform efforts to consolidate the modest gains we have seen in Latin America and thus help the region outgrow its enduring legacy of debilitating inequality.
December 4, 2014
Posted by clalsstaff on December 4, 2014