Haiti on the brink of revolution
Haiti is a small island state located in the Carribeans. It shares the island of Hispaniola on which it is located with another sovereign nation - the Dominican Republic. Everyone heard about that terrible 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of approximately 200,000 people. What’s happening right now in Haiti is also important - yet no one is talking about it. Here is the context of what’s happening at the moment, and why these protests are the result of decades of injustice, corruption, and foreign disruption.
In 2017, Jovenel Moïse was elected as Haiti’s President. Technically, he was democratically elected. In reality, the voter turnout was around 20% and much of the opposition rejected the vote. Now, keep in mind that much of the damage caused by the 2010 earthquake was due to poor and fragile infrastructure. The lack of preparedness for the earthquake comes from decades of governmental corruption and bad resource allocation, which has been perpetuated during Moïse’s presidency.
Jovenel Moise’s government found itself entangled in the so-called “PetroCaribe scandal”. This scandal all started in 2005 when Venezuela, hoping to further its diplomatic influence in the Caribean, provided Haiti with subsidized oil. Venezuela has respect for Haiti and its struggles. Haiti was the first independent black nation established in 1804, and the first successful large scale slave revolt led by Toussaint L’Ouverture against French colonists. Ex-Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even has an airport named after him. Money from the PetroCaribe scheme was supposed to help the people, but Haiti’s political elites filled their pockets starting with president Michel Martelly. During his presidency, $1.3 billion of the $2 billion available in the PetroCaribe fund went missing. Moïse is also accused of being involved in the scandal, considering he is Martelly’s handpicked successor. The people were still suffering and the government was still corrupt.
Then, Venezuela became engulfed in a large scale socio-economic crisis, with its currency achieving unprecedented inflation. This is largely due to economic non-diversification and government corruption. Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro is still clinging onto power, but by a thread. How does this effect Haiti? Well, no more Venezuela means no more subsidized oil. And no more subsidized oil means life gets even more expensive for Haitians who are already poor, and lack basic necessities. The Haitian economy went crashing, and Jovenel Moise had no choice but to ask for an IMF loan. And what do IMF loans imply? Austerity measures. Austerity measures are typically cuts in social services, in order to rebalance the state’s budget. Haitans weren’t having it, and they made the government understand that they weren’t. Protests have been going on for months now. Jovenel Moise is nowhere to be seen, and he gave a live address to the nation at 2am, an utter lack of respect for Haitians. To top it off, UN peacekeepers just finished their mandates and are heading home, leaving Haiti with no UN peacekeepers for the first time since 2004. The situation is dire.
Haiti is in a worse situation than many people realize. One of the underlying reason for that is the massive exodus of the middle-class, needed to rebuild a country. Haiti is now inhabited by on one side a very poor population, living in shanty towns and lacking water, electricity and gas, and on the other side the country’s corrupt rich billionaires. One of the reasons it got that way is the efforts of the Duvalier family that ruled Haiti with an iron first. First, François Duvalier “Papa Doc” came into power in 1957, with the idea that he had to get rid of the educated elite as well as middle class people that didn’t keep their mouths shut. The US liked him because he opposed communism and acted as a counterweight to the communist Castro regime in Cuba. His son, Jean-Claude Duvalier “BabyDoc” came into power in 1971 and fell in 1986. The US AirForce flew him to exile in France.
Haitians have been completely disregarded in recent years. The Obama administration’s (TPS=Temporary Protected Status) program to help undocumented Haitans following the 2010 earthquake was revocked by Trump’s administration. Haiti was one of the country’s Trump called a “shithole” in his now infamous tirade. Barbados’ Prime Minister Hubert Minnis launched a deportation program for Haitains living in Barbados without a permit. A funny success story would be Haitian integration in the Mexican city of Tijuana, which I encourage you to read more about here. However, the Haitian diaspora has increasingly struggled in recent years, due to the fact that they are not considered “natural disaster” refugees, even though much of the problems plaguing the country are due to environmental bad luck.
So what’s the solution to all of this? In my humble opinion, I really think Sudan can be a starting point when thinking about the possibility of a renewed Haiti. Sudan’s transition is far from finished and they still have a lot of work to do. But the transitional government was created by the people, a woman was appointed president of the Supreme Court, the new Prime Minister has been trying to broker a peace deal in neighbouring South Sudan, artists are out on the streets with no fear of repression and Omar Al-Bashir (former Sudanese dictator) is in jail, in Sudan. Sudan’s situation is inspiring because they have been through horrible situations that can be in some ways equated to what Haiti has gone through. A brutal dictator, Al-Bashir/Duvalier, horrendous humanitarian events, 2010 earthquake/Darfur genocide, and the protests sparked by general anger about decades of government abuse. Where Haiti’s situation is more complicated is because of the US’s suspected support for Moise, as well as the constant political instability it is facing. The middle class has to be active in reconstructing a Haitian government, based on equality, fight against corruption, and providing basic services to its people. In Sudan, the SPA (Sudanese Professional Association) which is a unified group made up of doctors, lawyers and artists, were fundamental in not only organizing revolts but also leading tough negotiations to establish a fair and efficient transitional government. If Sudan can do it, Haiti can do it. These protests have been violent, unprecedented, and Moise seems fragile. This might be the right time to make the final switch to a long awaited solid, stable democracy.
By Timothy Motte
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