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Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System

In 2015 and 2016, backed by the international community, political and economic actors made a Faustian bargain in the name of “stability.”

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Petrocaribe Protests in Port-au-Prince, Haiti., October 2018

The following is a lightly edited compilation of a thread posted on Twitter by Jake Johnston, International Research Associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) and lead author of the Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog.

You can draw a pretty straight line from the last electoral process to the current unrest in Haiti. Building for months, and frankly years, the country has now been shut down for five days as tensions – and violence – increase, threatening President Jovenel Moise’s mandate.

In 2015 and 2016, backed by the international community, political and economic actors made a Faustian bargain in the name of “stability.” They decided to allow fraudulent and violence-plagued legislative elections to stand, and rerun them at the presidential level.

The failure of that analysis is evidenced by the situation in Haiti today. In truth, it’s been international policy for more than a decade. Keep a lid on things, while sustaining the unsustainable status quo.

The incoming legislature was stacked full of “legal bandits” and to ensure a continuation of the Michel Martelly/PHTK government, Moise allied with some of the country’s most nefarious political actors. As I wrote at the time:

Senator Youri Latortue, a former ally of the president who has turned into a leading critic and “anti-corruption champion,” owes his seat in the legislature to dirty dealing and corruption in his home department of the Artibonite:

Moise received most of the votes in the presidential election rerun. However, with less than 20 percent voter turnout and a process that was deeply compromised, it was crazy to believe that the election would lead to stability.

When the #KoteKobPetrocaribea protests began this past August, most analysts viewed the movement as little more than a flash — a temporary spasm that was driven more by politics than citizen frustration.

But it should have been more accurately viewed as the manifestation of tremendous anger built up at a political and economic system that failed the people.

Again, the analysis of the government and its international allies was faulty. Believing the cries of the population could be ignored and a political solution reached, the government failed to adequately respond to the demands emanating from the street.

It didn’t help that the president built his campaign around a company that was a commercial failure and was found to have received Petrocaribe funds during the presidential campaign.

Now, facing generalized unrest, and with each day showing the government’s lack of control over the country, the people and the economy, the situation is approaching the brink. Enter the international community, again.

The Core Group — composed of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, the Ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United States of America, and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States — in its customary diplomatic language, once again called for elections as a way out of the crisis. Though the government surely viewed the statement as support, reading between the lines, it was perhaps the most critical statement I can remember.

Nevertheless, it shows the continued naivete of those in the international community. If elections are not held this coming October, then the terms of parliament will expire and, come 2020, the president may be ruling by decree.  

But thinking that elections will resolve the current crisis is patently absurd. As one diplomat recently conceded, rather than releasing tension, elections have the opposite effect in Haiti. It is the legal bandits who would once again dominate in this environment.

The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.