Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.
- Written by Jake Johnston
On February 17, Haitian police arrested seven Blackwater-like security contractors a few blocks from the country’s Central Bank. Driving in unmarked vehicles and transporting semi-automatic rifles, drones, and other tactical equipment, the contractors claimed to be on a government mission. Four days later the US “rescued” them. None are expected to face charges.
Over the course of just a few days, the case took on political significance much greater than the detention and release of the contractors. The chain of events initiated by the detention revealed the weakness of the nation’s justice system and the precariousness of the current Haitian administration; it exposed the close ties between criminal networks and the ruling party; and casts doubt on the idea that this was a simple security operation gone wrong.
Launch the investigation below.
- Written by Jake Johnston
Years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti: 9
Estimated number of aftershocks that measured 4.5 or greater: 59
Number of people who died in the earthquake, according to Haitian government: 316,000
Number of people displaced: 1,300,000
Number of people who remained in internally displaced persons camps, as of September 2017: 37,867
Estimated population of Canaan, a barren hillside north of the capital, pre-earthquake: 0
Estimated population of Canaan now: 300,000
Minimum number of new homes necessary to meet demand: 500,000
Estimated damage and economic losses from earthquake, in percent of Haiti’s GDP: 120 percent
Total amount of aid disbursed by donors, since 2010: $7,538,885,632
Amount of aid given to the government in the form of budget support: $280,844,071
Total amount of approved World Bank projects in Haiti since the earthquake: $1.167 billion
Total aid awarded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID): $2.3 billion
Of that amount, percent of which was given to organizations or companies located inside the Beltway (Maryland, DC, Virginia): 55.5 percent
Percent of which was awarded directly to Haitian organizations or companies: 2.3 percent
Total amount of contracts awarded to the DC-based company Chemonics International: $298.55 million
Total amount of contracts awarded directly to all Haitian firms: $52.95 million
Amount allocated by USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank to support the Caracol Industrial Park, the flagship post-quake project: $350 million
Number of miles from the earthquake epicenter to Caracol: 190
Date on which the industrial park was inaugurated: October 22, 2012
Number of jobs the State Department promised the new industrial park would create: 65,000
Total number of jobs at the industrial park, as of 2017: 10,214
Percent by which garment sector employment has increased countrywide since 2010: 93 percent
Minimum number of residents displaced by the construction of the Caracol Industrial Park: 400
Date on which those 400 residents reached an agreement with the IDB and Haitian government on corrective measures, including access to new land: December 19, 2018
Daily minimum wage in the garment sector: 420 gourdes (less than $6)
Daily minimum wage requested by unions: 1000 gourdes
Percent of garment factories noncompliant with social security and other benefit payments in 2018: 75 percent
Total remittances sent to Haiti in 2018, according to the World Bank: $2.5 billion
Haiti’s rank among countries with the highest remittances as a share of GDP: 5
Minimum number of Haitians who emigrated to Chile in 2017: 105,000
Number of Haitians living in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS): 59,000
Date on which then-candidate Trump proclaimed that he would be Haiti’s “greatest champion”: September 16, 2016
Date on which the US announced it was ending TPS for Haitians: November 20, 2017
Date on which it was reported that President Trump referred to Haiti as a “shithole” country: January 11, 2018
Date on which a trial in New York commenced contesting the US decision to end TPS: January 7, 2019
Ratio of per capita public health funding in Haiti compared to Cuba: 1:60
Percent by which child mortality decreased, between 1990 and 2015: 50 percent
Factor by which Haiti’s child mortality rate remains greater than the Latin America and Caribbean average: 5
Percent of health facilities that charge user fees: 93 percent
Percent of the national budget that went to health in 2004: 16.6
In 2016: 4.4
Percent of national budget that went to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies last year: 5.8 percent
- Written by Jake Johnston
More than two months have passed since an innocuous tweet went viral and a social media campaign targeting government corruption in Haiti began. Using the hashtags #PetrocaribeChallenge and #KotKobPetwoKaribea (“where is the Petrocaribe money?”), the campaign has shifted the paradigm in Haiti and forced a reckoning over alleged fraud and mismanagement in the $2 billion Venezuela-financed Petrocaribe program. This anticorruption movement, which has brought together disparate groups ― both formal and informal ― from across the political and economic landscape of the country, now faces a critical moment.
A Country on Edge
Tomorrow, October 17, is expected to be the largest demonstration yet; a prospect that has the entire country on edge. The US Embassy has issued a security warning requiring employees to “shelter in place.” President Jovenel Moïse, who, despite being implicated in the wrongdoing, has pledged to support an investigation, visited police stations across the capital region over the weekend in anticipation of the protest. “In the camp of power, the panic is palpable,” warned Mario Andresol, the former chief of police. Some 1,500 officers will be deployed throughout the capital. Businesses have already begun boarding up windows. Reports of money being distributed to keep people away from the protests have circulated widely, as have mysterious audio and video clips warning of a bloodbath. “As October 17 approaches, the authorities are doing all the ‘bagay’ [things] to defeat the announced insurrection,” Andresol said.
By focusing on the possibility of violence, the government is attempting to intimidate the population into not participating, while laying the groundwork for blaming opposition political actors if things do go south. Last week, Schiller Louidor, an outspoken government critic, was hauled before a court to answer questions after using the term “Petro-dechoukay,” a reference to dechoukaj (literally “the uprooting,” but more easily translated as rioting). However, what likely scares the government more than the possibility of violence is a massive and largely peaceful demonstration; a demonstration that the government is not able to demonize or use to deflect attention from itself and its lack of response to calls for greater accountability.
The reality is that this movement appears to have tapped into a deep reservoir of political frustration, and not just among those who have taken the streets for years in opposition to the ruling party. With inflation in double digits, the local currency continuing to depreciate, and the cost of living rising each week, the country’s economic malaise has reached the middle and even upper classes of society. If those calling for an investigation into the Petrocaribe accounts are to be successful, they will need the support of a broad-based coalition. Nevertheless, there is also a palpable fear among those tepidly supportive of this movement and tomorrow’s protests who are also deeply distrustful of the popular organizations that have been leading the opposition in the streets. There will be a lot riding on tomorrow’s protest for the future of this burgeoning anticorruption campaign, as well as for a government attempting to stave it off.
Haiti formally joined the Petrocaribe initiative in 2007. Under the program, Haiti ― as well as more than a dozen other Caribbean and Central American nations ― received discounted oil, paying a portion of the bill up-front and converting the remainder into a long-term concessional loan to be used for government investments and social spending.
In contrast to traditional donor support that generally bypasses the government entirely, Petrocaribe serves as direct support to the government. As the price of oil rose throughout the early 2010s, the Petrocaribe program filled government coffers. From 2012 to 2015, Haiti spent an average of $270 million a year through the initiative, a critical source of financing for a government sorely in need of additional revenue. Haiti has spent some $1.8 billion of Petrocaribe-related funds since joining.
However, Petrocaribe has been plagued by a lack of transparency. While some have warned for years of the dangers posed by such expenditures without proper oversight, it was elevated to the forefront of Haiti’s political consciousness by an unlikely source: Senator Youri Latortue, whom a former US Ambassador once described as the “poster-boy for political corruption in Haiti.” Though few trusted Latortue’s motives to be anything other than craven politics, his efforts in many ways laid the groundwork for today’s anticorruption movement.
- Written by Jake Johnston
It was 2:15 on Friday afternoon, July 6th, when I got the first WhatsApp message. The Haitian government was going to announce that fuel prices would increase the following day by up to 50 percent. It was also somewhere around the 13th minute of the World Cup quarterfinal match between Belgium and Brazil, the national team adopted by most Haitian soccer fans. Eyes across the country were glued to the TV when the official announcement came late in the game’s second half. Minutes later, Brazil had lost the match. And soon after, thousands of Haitians were in the streets, though not because of the game’s disappointing result.
Roadblocks and burning tires went up in smoke throughout the capital, and soon demonstrations had broken out across the country. By Saturday morning the situation had worsened. International airlines canceled flights in and out of Haiti. Parking lots at many private businesses were turned into car cemeteries. Digicel, the leading cell provider in Haiti, said its fiber optic cables were destroyed, blocking international phone calls, internet usage and other services. Helicopters could be seen evacuating individuals from their rooftops. At least three people were killed.
Less than 24 hours after the initial announcement, the government was forced to cancel the price increases. But the aftershocks of that initial decision have continued to reverberate.
The heads of both chambers of parliament (erstwhile allies of the president) as well as the most powerful private business organization have since called for Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant, a doctor and political novice, to resign. The Jovenel Moise administration is now facing its most significant test yet. But how the government found itself backed into this corner is about far more than fuel prices, and reveals as much about the failures of the international community as it does those of Haiti.
The price increase was not a surprise. In late 2017, faced with an increasing budget deficit, and a lack of donor funds, the government sought the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Before the government could sign a financing deal with the IMF however, it first had to complete a 6-month reform program. If that program was successful, the government could then sign a long-term deal with the IMF, and budget support from other donors would begin to flow again.
On June 20, the IMF issued a statement welcoming “the government's intention to eliminate fuel price subsidies,” a key step in completing the program. The IMF also noted that it “agreed on the importance of implementing key social measures to mitigate the impact of the subsidy reform on the most vulnerable segments of the population.”
According to World Bank research, 90 percent of the benefits from the subsidy go toward the wealthiest segments of the population. But, in a country with 60 percent youth unemployment, a majority of citizens living on less than $2.40 a day, and stubborn double-digit inflation, any increase in the cost of living can be catastrophic. And to make matters worse, kerosene, the fuel that the poor most rely on, was to see the greatest increase.
- Written by Jake Johnston
On March 13, President Jovenel Moise appointed six individuals to the high command of the recently reinstated Haitian armed forces (FAdH). All of the appointees, now in their sixties, were majors or colonels in the former FAdH, disbanded in 1995 after a long history of involvement in coups, violent repression, and drug trafficking. At least three of the officers appear to have held senior positions within the early-‘90s military coup regime. One of them is a convicted intellectual author of a civilian massacre, and another was a member of a committee that sought to cover it up.
Ministry of Defense press release from March 13, 2018 announcing the FAdH’s new senior leadership.
The makeup of the new leadership has raised concerns among human rights organizations over the trajectory of the new force and its commitment to the rule of law.
“The appointment confirms once again that the Haitian Armed Forces, remobilized by the [ruling Tét Kale party] is a militia whose hidden mission is to have the Haitian people relive the darkest hours of bloodthirsty Duvalierism,” wrote the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in a press release, referencing the illegal arrests, forced disappearances, assassinations, and other abuses that characterized the Duvalier dictatorship.
Haitian Defense Minister Herve Denis responded that the new high-command is “clean,” and that all were vetted for involvement in human rights abuses or drug trafficking.
In 1990, an outspoken liberation theologian priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected in the first democratic election in the country’s history. But within months, a group of Haitian military officers – backed by many of the country’s wealthiest families – overthrew the new government, imposing a military dictatorship that would last three years. It was later revealed that the CIA had supported certain military elements involved in the coup, and that leaders of a paramilitary group that waged a campaign of terror against Aristide supporters and other activists were on the CIA payroll.
The group, FRAPH, helped to prop up the coup regime of Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras, while also at times appearing to undermine and sabotage the official actions of Clinton administration to restore democratic government to Haiti. Thousands of Haitians were murdered under the coup regime and hundreds of thousands fled the country.
Colonel Jean-Robert Gabriel, the new FAdH’s assistant chief of staff, was the secretary of the general staff, and later a public spokesperson, for the Cédras regime.
Following the 1991 military coup, the US and the international community implemented sanctions against the regime, eventually instituting an embargo. After Bill Clinton became president in January 1993, and increasingly in 1994, the Congressional Black Caucus played a leading role in pushing for a more aggressive role against the dictatorship, and solidarity groups in the US and elsewhere also influenced policy.
In June of 1993, the Clinton administration announced individual targeted sanctions against those determined to be a part of the “de facto regime in Haiti.” The initial sanction list, published in July of 1993, named 83 individuals, including 29 military officers. Included in this initial list was Jean-Robert Gabriel.
Screenshot of the Federal Register from July 1993, listing Jean-Robert Gabriel as one of 29 military officers sanctioned for their participation in the coup regime.
In 1993, the UN mediated indirect negotiations between Cédras and Aristide (who had taken up residence in Washington, DC to lobby for his restoration to office). Known as the Governors Island negotiations for the location where they took place, the eventual accord did little to immediately overturn the bloody coup. According to official documents, Gabriel, as well as the newly appointed chief of the general staff, Sadrac Saintil, were members of the delegation, indicating their senior positions within the Cédras regime.
List of members of Armed Forces delegation to Governors Island.
The US temporarily suspended some of the sanctions during the negotiations, but when it became clear that Cédras and his regime would not back down, the sanctions were expanded. In October 1993, the administration revoked US visas and froze the US assets of 41 officials who were determined to be thwarting a return to democratic rule and contributing to the violence in Haiti. Among the 41 individuals was Derby Guerrier, recently named as an assistant chief of staff in the reinstated armed forces ― and then a lieutenant colonel.
Guerrier held a US passport, and a New Jersey address was listed next to his name. According to press reports at the time, Guerrier was the head of the military’s anti-drug unit. Though there is little public information about Guerrier, drug trafficking took off under the military regime.
A 1997 federal indictment in Miami alleged that Joseph-Michel François, a former military officer who helped topple Aristide in 1991 and later become the police chief under Cédras, “placed the political and military structure of the Republic of Haiti under his control” in order to facilitate drug shipments from Colombia. François, by that time, was living in exile in Honduras and managed to avoid accountability.
Back in 1994, with the situation in Haiti continuing to deteriorate, and more and more Haitians fleeing the country, the US expanded its sanctions policy. Some 550 military officers were added to the sanctions list, including all of those recently appointed to the FAdH’s new high command.
In April that year, around the same time the new sanctions were levied, Haitian military and paramilitary forces descended on the neighborhood of Raboteau, where many opposition supporters were apparently seeking refuge. At least eight, and likely far more, were assassinated.
The next month a military-led commission of inquiry was tasked with investigating the allegations that a massacre had taken place in Raboteau. Cédras named Lieutenant Colonel Sadrac Saintil as one of four members, according to official documents made public as part of the Raboteau trial. Unsurprisingly, the commission found no evidence of a massacre and the FADH high command accepted the commission’s recommendation that nobody be punished.
Communique signed by Raoul Cédras, appointing Sadrac Saintil to a commission of inquiry looking into the Raboteau massacre.
But in 2000, in a landmark human rights trial supported by the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (the same organization now denouncing the new armed forces’ leadership), a Haitian court convicted 53 former officers and paramilitaries of involvement in the Raboteau massacre. Among the military officers convicted was Jean-Robert Gabriel. Though he was not implicated in direct involvement, he was charged under the theory of “command responsibility” due to his position within the top echelons of the Cédras regime.
“It’s the same type of case made against the Nazis and (Slobodan) Milosevic,” Brian Concannon, an American attorney who helped form the BAI in the early ‘90s and who worked the Raboteau case, told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002. Concannon is now the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a partner organization to the BAI.
The Haitian government has pushed back on Gabriel’s involvement in Raboteau. “What I can tell you in all honesty,” the defense minister told the press, “the candidates were subjected to vetting, including Colonel Gabriel. There is nothing negative against him in the vetting with regard to human rights.”
- Written by Jake Johnston
When Donald Trump allegedly referred to Haiti as a “shithole” country earlier this year, the US Ambassador was called in to explain the comments, but the Haitian government stopped short of any type of retaliation. But since last week, the government has been up in arms after a UN mission with a mandate to support the Haitian justice system went so far as to welcome a judicial inquiry into corruption allegations. The government has recalled its ambassador to the UN in response.
In November, a Senate commission released a 650-page report on Petrocaribe-related corruption. The report implicated top officials from previous administrations in inflating government contracts, funneling money to ghost companies, no-bid contracts for projects that were never finished, and a host of other financial crimes. Even current president Jovenel Moïse was named, allegedly overbilling the government on a $100,000 contract to install solar lamps back in 2013 when he was a relatively unknown businessman.
Moïse has rejected the allegations as politically motivated, as have others implicated. And rather than follow up on their colleague’s report, the Senate has worked to bury it.
On February 8, four civil society organizations released a statement condemning the efforts to obstruct further investigation into the allegations contained in the Petrocaribe dossier. The organizations noted that the Senate had blocked a vote on the report for four months and then, in a “clandestine” session conducted once the opposition had left the building, passed a resolution condemning the report as politically motivated and sending the dossier to the Superior Court of Accounts ― a governmental body that had already signed off on the contracts in question at the time they were awarded. The civil society organizations wrote that these actions “expose the cowardice” of the Senate, and their desire to bury the report.
Anticipating the Senate’s lack of action, a private citizen, Johnson Colin ― backed by lawyer and government critic André Michel ― filed multiple cases at the Port-au-Prince Court of First Instance on January 29 and February 20. (The original filing is available here.)
The UN Statement
On February 25, the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) issued a press release welcoming “the assignment of investigating judges to pursue the Petrocaribe court cases filed by private citizens.” The mission noted that Haiti is ranked near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption report.
“I welcome the initiative and the active role of Haitian citizens and civil society who are engaged in the fight against corruption and impunity. Their actions demonstrate that the population is standing up for accountability and justice,” said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of MINUJUSTH, Susan D. Page.
The UN also expressed its regret that no investigating judge had been assigned to two cases of alleged human rights violations on the part of the Haitian police; one in Lilavois on October 12, 2017 and one, the alleged summary execution of civilians, in Grand Ravine on November 13, 2017. (The Grand Ravine operation was planned in coordination with the UN mission).
The mandate of MINUJUSTH, which took over for the previous UN mission, MINUSTAH, this past October is to “help the Government of Haiti strengthen rule-of-law institutions, further develop and support the Haitian National Police and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis.”
Of course, as many observers have pointed out (including here on this blog), the UN has its own terrible track record in terms of avoiding accountability for its actions. The UN’s introduction of cholera has killed more than 10,000 and sickened a million while the UN continues to dodge legal accountability or properly fund eradication efforts. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN personnel have been identified ― however in the overwhelming majority of those cases, the perpetrators were simply moved out of Haiti and avoided prosecution. How can the UN have the moral authority to call for justice in Haiti when the UN itself has yet to face justice for its crimes there?
Yet the UN statement was not so much surprising for its content, but for going against the Haitian government. Throughout its controversial history, the UN has rarely even hinted at criticism of the Haitian government. Then again, in this case the UN simply welcomed a judicial investigation.
Given its mandate to support anticorruption efforts and strengthen the judicial system, and its creation under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, the mission was within its rights to make those comments, argued university professor James Boyard.
The UN did not express an opinion on the content of the Petrocaribe dossier, and given the current state of Haiti’s judicial system, the likelihood of the current case leading to any meaningful accountability is slim. The statement posed little threat to those implicated in the dossier (who, if they believe they are innocent, should be welcoming an investigation into the allegations rather than letting the dossier be used by politicians for political reasons).
The Government’s Reaction
The first response to the UN statement came from Haitian foreign minister Antonio Rodrigue. Reuters reported that Rodrigue “said in a statement on Tuesday that Page had exceeded her authority and that her comments reflect an ‘attitude harmful to the political and institutional stability acquired during the past few years.’”
The Haitian government, rather than address the allegations in the Petrocaribe dossier, has doubled down on this response. “The country is fighting to defend its image,” President Moïse said. “People have to speak well of the country,” he added. (The Haitian government recently hired an international PR firm to help with “media relations services.”)
- Written by Jake Johnston
Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the US government has disbursed some $4.4 billion in foreign assistance to the tiny Caribbean nation. At least $1.5 billion was disbursed for immediate humanitarian assistance, while just under $3 billion has gone toward recovery, reconstruction, and development. Since many of the funds have gone toward longer-term reconstruction, there remains some $700 million in undisbursed funding ― in addition to annual allocations.
In our 2013 report “Breaking Open the Black Box,” we found:
Over three years have passed since Haiti’s earthquake and, despite USAID’s stated commitment to greater transparency and accountability, the question “where has the money gone?” echoes throughout the country. It remains unclear how exactly the billions of dollars that the U.S. has spent on assistance to Haiti have been used and whether this funding has had a sustainable impact. With few exceptions, Haitians and U.S. taxpayers are unable to verify how U.S. aid funds are being used on the ground in Haiti. USAID and its implementing partners have generally failed to make public the basic data identifying where funds go and how they are spent.
In response to that report, and others from USAID’s own inspector general and from the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress passed bipartisan legislation (the 2014 Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, or APHA) requiring greater reporting requirements from State and USAID.
These additional reporting requirements, which include information on subcontractors, as well as benchmarks and goals, represent a significant step in the right direction regarding transparency around US foreign assistance. However, limitations remain.
A joint review published in December 2016 by CEPR and the Haiti Advocacy Working Group found that the reports on US assistance in Haiti contain “omissions and deficiencies, including incomplete data, a failure to link projects and outcomes, and a failure to adequately identify mistakes and lessons learned.”
These weaknesses notwithstanding, the congressionally mandated APHA reports provide the most complete picture available of US assistance programs, whether in Haiti or anywhere else in the world, and remain useful especially for organizations on the ground looking to investigate or follow up on specific US-financed programs.
But a recent review of contract and grant information from USASpending.gov shows that USAID, and US foreign assistance generally, is still plagued by many of the same problems that have been evident for years. While USAID has drastically changed its rhetoric about partnering with local organizations and involving local stakeholders in the development of new programs, it does not appear to have made significant changes to its system of allocation of USAID funds. And now, what progress has been made appears threatened.
Some Progress with Local Partners, But the Beltway Bandits are Still on Top
The majority of US assistance to Haiti is through USAID. Since 2010, USAID has disbursed at least $2.13 billion in contracts and grants for Haiti-related work. Overall, just $48.6 million has gone directly to Haitian organizations or firms ― just over 2 percent. Comparatively, more than $1.2 billion has gone to firms located in DC, Maryland, or Virginia ― more than 56 percent, as can be seen in Figure 1. The difference is even starker when looking just at contracts: 65 percent went to Beltway firms, compared to 1.9 percent for Haitian firms.
Figure 1. USAID Awards by Location of Recipient (Percent of Total)
Source: USASpending.gov and authors' calculations
USAID has made it a priority to involve more local firms and civil society organizations ― holding informational sessions, meetings with stakeholders, etc. While there has been some slight improvement in the amount of funds going directly to Haitian organizations since 2010, the trend has more recently reversed direction.
In 2016, USAID assistance to Haiti was lower than in any year since the earthquake, totaling $140 million. However it was also the year when the greatest amount of USAID funds was allocated directly to Haitian organizations ― more than $15 million. This is primarily due to an increase in Haitian recipients of USAID grants. After totaling just $2.5 million from 2010 to 2014, Haitian grantees received more than $22 million in 2015–2016. A significant portion of this, nearly $6 million, went to Papyrus, a local management company, in order to increase the capacity of local organizations to partner with USAID.
In 2017, however, funds awarded to Haitian organizations were reduced drastically. Only one new grant was initiated with a local partner last year, totaling just $700,000. Though it remains too early to tell if this will continue into 2018, the decrease would appear to be consistent with the Trump administration’s stated “America first” policy.
- Written by CEPR
The UN has confirmed to CEPR and The Intercept for the first time that its mission in Haiti helped plan a raid in November 2017 that resulted in a massacre by police of civilians, though it distanced itself from the civilian deaths.
- Written by Jake Johnston
At least one person died, one remains missing, and more than a dozen were injured by the passage of Hurricane Irma off the northern coast of Haiti last week. As of September 11, nearly 6,500 Haitians remain in emergency shelters, according to the United Nations. Preliminary figures suggest that flooding impacted 22 communes, completely destroying 466 houses and badly damaging more than 2,000 more. As veteran AFP correspondent Amelie Baron noted on Twitter, “These are the damages of a hurricane passing hundreds of kilometers away from [the] Haitian coast.”
Compared to some other Caribbean nations, the damage to Haiti’s infrastructure pales. But as Jacqueline Charles reported for the Miami Herald, looks can be deceiving:
Though Haiti was spared a direct hit from Irma and the fallout is nowhere near the magnitude of Matthew’s 546 dead and $2.8 billion in washed-out roads, collapsed bridges and destroyed crops, the frustration and fears for some in its path are no less.
“We didn’t have people who died, but homes and farms were destroyed,” Esperance said. “Just because you don’t see a lot of damages, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t been left deeper in misery.”
Charles reported that “entire banana fields lay in ruin” across Haiti’s northern coast. “It took everything,” one local farmer said. As Charles points out, even before Hurricane Irma, Haiti was facing an extreme situation of food insecurity. Last October Hurricane Matthew swept across the southern peninsula, devastating crops and livelihoods and leaving some 800,000 in need of emergency food assistance. Even before Matthew, the World Food Program reported that Haiti was facing its worst food security situation in 15 years. Charles writes:
As recently as February, the food insecurity unit classified the northwest as being in an economic and food security crisis. As a result, [Action Against Hunger’s country director Mathieu] Nabot said, the focus has to be not just on the emergency response but on supporting farmers over the long term, to help strengthen their economic security and ability to cope with shocks.
Unfortunately, it appears as though little donor ― or Haitian government ― money went to supporting long-term agricultural development after last year’s storm. Less than 50 percent of the UN’s $56 million appeal for food security and agricultural support was ever provided by donors ― and the overwhelming majority of that was short-term emergency food assistance.
Of course, it’s not just the donor community that must do more to support Haitian farmers. Elected on a platform of agrarian development, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse has done little to address the problem since taking office nine months ago. Rumors of the commercial demise of Moïse’s banana plantation, Agritrans ― which was used to bolster his agricultural credentials during election season ― hasn’t helped, nor did putting scarce resources into a caravan across the country. And last week, just hours before Irma’s outer bands began lashing the coast, the Haitian parliament began discussion on this year’s budget. Peasant organizations held a press conference to denounce the fact that just 6.9 percent is allocated to agriculture.
With the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events ― and Haiti’s obvious vulnerability to such events ― many began advocating for donors and the government to take seriously the threat of climate change. According to the 2017 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Haiti is the third-most vulnerable country in the world. As Mark Schuller and Jessica Hsu note, it’s time to start talking about climate justice ― not just climate change:
Climate justice explicitly confronts basic inequalities: the world’s biggest polluters are not those directly affected by climate change. The big polluters are also the biggest “winners” in this economic system. It is no coincidence that higher climate vulnerability communities are largely communities of color and disenfranchised communities within the Global South.
To achieve climate justice requires making sure that communities most directly affected are directly involved in discussions, as well as solutions.
Like in many places in the world, peasant communities in Haiti have waged an ongoing struggle against corporate/private interests which seek to maintain control over natural resources, exploit cheap labor, and increase profit. These peasant communities are on the frontlines which may offer approaches to cool the planet, rather than the proposed solutions that bar those most affected by climate change from the discussions.
- Written by Jake Johnston
CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston published the following article at World Politics Review:
The UN’s Legacy in Haiti: Stability, but for Whom?
After 13 years and more than $7 billion, the “touristas” — as the United Nations soldiers that currently occupy Haiti are commonly referred to — will finally be heading home. Well, sort of. While thousands of troops are expected to depart in October, the UN has authorized a new, smaller mission composed of police that will focus on justice and strengthening the rule of law. But the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, is not just thousands of foreign soldiers “keeping the peace.” It is the latest and most visible manifestation of the international community’s habit of intervening in Haiti, a habit that is unlikely to change.
World powers have always had a difficult time accepting Haitian sovereignty. When a slave revolt delivered Haiti independence from France in 1804, gunboat diplomacy ensured the liberated inhabitants would pay for their freedom. For the next 150 years, Haiti paid France a ransom for its continued independence. In the early twentieth century, a new hegemonic power held sway, with US Marines occupying the country for more than 20 years.
Two hundred years after Haitian independence, when the UN Security Council created MINUSTAH, it also mandated the formation of the “Core Group,” which included MINUSTAH’s leadership as well as diplomatic representatives from foreign governments and multilateral organizations. Since its creation, the group has influenced — subtly and not so subtly — Haiti’s internal affairs, with the backing of a heavily armed military force.
Read the rest here at World Politics Review.
- Written by Jake Johnston
Last week US President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The president immediately came under heavy criticism, accused of obstructing justice, as the FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Two weeks earlier, in Haiti, President Jovenel Moïse fired the director of the country’s financial crimes unit (UCREF). During last year’s elections in Haiti, UCREF produced an investigative report on Moïse, raising questions of possible money laundering. No charges have been brought, but the investigation appeared to be ongoing.
While Trump’s moves have spurred increasing calls for impeachment ― or at the very least an independent investigation ― in Haiti, the move occurred with scant international attention. Local human rights groups, however, have sounded the alarm. Unlike in the US, where the president actually has the power to fire the head of the FBI, it appears as though the Haitian president had no such legal authority to fire the head of the UCREF.
The UCREF has been the recipient of millions of dollars in international support for years, much of which was from the United States. UCREF, however, has failed to produce many measurable successes. In 2016, the State Department reported:
The country’s financial intelligence unit (FIU), the UCREF, has continued to build its internal capabilities and to do effective casework. The UCREF has fifteen open cases but has not forwarded any cases to the judiciary in 2015. Continued issues in the judicial sector mean the UCREF’s progress is not yet reflected in conviction rates.
In recent years, Haiti has come under pressure from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) to make improvements to its safeguards against money laundering. If improvements are not made, CFATF has threatened to recommend member states impose restrictions on banking transactions with Haiti. Moïse took office in February 2017 already under a cloud of suspicion for his own alleged involvement in money laundering, and the hollowing out of UCREF’s independence will likely only exacerbate this, with potentially serious economic consequences.
In early May, the Haitian Parliament approved a new law on UCREF. Previously, UCREF’s director general was selected in a process directed by five representatives from independent bodies. The new law reportedly gives the president the ability to approve three of the five representatives, granting the executive de facto control over the entity.
But Moïse didn’t even wait for the new law’s approval to act. On April 19, he replaced UCREF Director Sonel Jean-François, just one year into a three-year term. A replacement, reportedly picked by Moïse, was supposed to be installed last week, but that process has been postponed indefinitely.
Maxime Rony of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations told the media that Moïse’s barely four-month presidency was based on a “governance of revenge,” noting that, in addition to the new law on UCREF, one of the first acts of the new Parliament ― controlled by Moïse’s allies ― was to pass a harsh defamation law. Haiti’s largest newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, wrote that since the UCREF report was released last year, its director had been “in the sights” of Moïse and his political allies.
Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network pointed out that the law governing the UCREF outlines a clear process for selecting a new director general, and that Moïse’s decision was “contrary to the law,” and “an extremely serious matter.”
- Written by Jake Johnston
After 13 years and more than $7 billion spent, the United Nations Security Council voted today to extend the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) mandate for a final six months. By October 2017 the last of the 2,000 plus foreign troops are scheduled to depart Haiti – already down from a high of nearly 9,000 in 2010. But far from representing a complete withdrawal of the controversial mission, the Security Council also approved a successor mission – MINUJUSTH – composed of some 1,000 UN police officers that will stay on with a focus on strengthening the Haitian national police and the country’s justice system.
In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald yesterday, Lauren Carasik, a law professor and human rights expert, outlines the inherent contradictions with this new UN mission, and its focus on increasing access to justice in Haiti:
Nowhere is the United Nations’ lack of accountability more glaring than in Haiti. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is responsible for causing a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and for crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), that have largely gone unpunished.
Against the backdrop of its transgressions in Haiti, the U.N. is voting this week on withdrawing MINUSTAH, a move long demanded by many who deeply resent the harm inflicted by those sent to protect them. The U.N.’s new secretary-general, António Guterres, favors winding down the force in six months and replacing it with a leaner successor mission that will focus on rule of law and police development. Yet Guterres failed to reflect on how the U.N. can purport to strengthen Haiti’s institutions when its own conduct fails to satisfy bedrock principles of democracy, or whether the $346 million annual budget would be better spent repairing the organization’s tarnished cholera legacy instead.
But in its resolution approving the gradual withdrawal of MINUSTAH, cholera is barely mentioned. The resolution simply welcomes the UN’s “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” which is currently just 2% funded. As Carasik writes, “despite the anemic reception to his fundraising efforts, the Secretary-General is tabling a move to assess mandatory contributions in the face of stiff resistance from certain member states.” And reports indicate that certain member states also pushed to weaken the cholera-related language in the UNSC resolution. From a report in What's In Blue:
[T]here were some differences over how much to focus on the humanitarian situation, human rights and peacebuilding and on the Secretary-General’s new approach regarding cholera. It seems that France and the US pushed for a shorter and more streamlined text, and had reservations about including proposed language on cholera, while Brazil and other Latin American countries felt it was important to reflect some of the observations on human rights and humanitarian challenges and the importance of peacebuilding contained in the Secretary-General’s report.
- Written by Jake Johnston
A preliminary independent investigation conducted in areas close to existing or abandoned bases for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brings to light the alarming magnitude of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) at the hands of United Nations personnel in Haiti. The purpose of this investigation is to determine if the initial unreported cases brought to the attention of the author were isolated incidents or are instead a result of a systemic problem present in the UN's mission in Haiti. In consultation with Haitian civil society partners, the following report considers that a further, in-depth investigation into these abuses is vital and urgent.
The results of our investigation strongly suggest that the issue of SEA by United Nations personnel in Haiti is substantial and has been grossly underreported. Using the same methodology in all areas where MINUSTAH bases are or have been located[i], a thorough and in-depth investigation would be expected to identify close to 600 victims who would agree to in-person interviews. This number in itself indicates a victim count that requires immediate attention and significant modifications to current MINUSTAH peacekeeping operations, including with regard to the manner in which UN SEA cases are investigated and reported. These preliminary findings are based on the work of one investigator during 27 days of investigation. Through a network of community contacts in eight areas where there currently is, or where there has been a MINUSTAH base, the investigation identified 42 UN SEA victims who agreed to be interviewed. With a professional investigative team, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise and the resources to cover the entire country, the likely number of documented UN SEA allegations from victims would be expected to be significantly higher.
The UN Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), under the Department of Field Services (DFS) documented 75 total allegations of UN SEA countrywide in Haiti[ii] from 2008-2015. In comparison, 40 of the 42 victims interviewed within the limited scope of this independent investigation allegedly suffered sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN personnel during this same time period. Of the remaining two individuals: one stated she was first a victim in 2005, and the exploitation occurred repeatedly until 2015. The other was a victim of a single incident prior to 2008. Only four of the 42 said they had previously reported the SEA in some manner to the UN, suggesting that the magnitude of the problem may be dramatically underestimated by the CDU. The victims we spoke to were not made aware of whether their cases were included in the 75 total allegations documented by the CDU. All four victims stated they were not satisfied with the subsequent investigatory process or its results.
In comparison to the CDU's 75 total allegations, the estimated total possible victims of SEA - during the years 2008-2015 – based on an extrapolation of the results of our investigation – is 564. Again, this is an estimate derived from the findings of a single investigator and based only on allegations from those who agreed to meet and be interviewed.
The preliminary results of our investigation show that actions taken, such as the creation of the CDU and the extensive efforts with the three pillars of prevention of misconduct, enforcement of UN standards of conduct, and remedial action, do not appear to have been adequate in preventing further SEA perpetrated by MINUSTAH personnel. These efforts have failed to interrupt a persistent cycle of exploitation and abuse followed by UN statements of regret and reform, and then additional incidents of SEA.
The UN has stated in numerous publications that while there has been an approximately 50 percent increase in UN peacekeeping personnel in the world, the number of SEA accusations has been steadily decreasing.[iii] However, within the seemingly disconnected array of the UN's SEA reporting and response mechanisms[iv], wide concern is expressed by UN personnel about the validity of the official numbers of UN SEA allegations. Many suspect that the numbers and their decline do not accurately reflect the occurrences of exploitation and abuse.[v] The results of this investigation thus far have shown that in Haiti, as UN personnel suspected, this downward trend of accusations is not due to decreased levels of UN SEA, but instead is caused by a reduction in victims' reporting of these acts.
The reforms and initiatives that have been taken over the years since MINUSTAH's 2004 inception appear to be inadequate to prevent UN SEA and fail to encourage victims to come forward. For these reasons, we strongly suggests that a professional independent investigation, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise in sexual exploitation and abuse, be undertaken in Haiti at all locations that currently have or have had MINUSTAH bases so to determine the level of sexual exploitiation and abuse by United Nations' personnel. In order for MINUSTAH to fulfill its mandate of assisting Haiti with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law and support efforts to "promote and protect human rights, particularly of women and children, in order to ensure individual accountability for human rights abuses and redress for victims"[vi], UN SEA victims must not remain hidden in the shadows. Instead, their existence must be officially recognized, and their voices must be a part of the discussion on the necessary reforms to the UN peacekeeping system.
Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Haiti has been extensively documented since MINUSTAH's founding in 2004.[vii] Notably, two years after the UN openly recognized SEA by UN peacekeepers as a problem[viii] and sanctioned the 2005 UN Zeid report focusing on UN SEA and describing specific actions to be taken to eliminate future abuse[ix], investigations in Haiti uncovered that the mission's peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were committing extensive sexual exploitation and abuse including rape and transactional sex. This led to a reported 114 soldier repatriations, a move presented as a model for other UN peacekeeping missions. Of those repatriated to Sri Lanka, none of the perpetrators were criminally prosecuted in their home country[x]. In response to the scandal, the UN assured that they remained committed to both to the zero-tolerance policy on SEA and to best practices in peacekeeping.[xi] Other highly visible cases, such as the repeated rape and subsequent kidnapping of a young special-needs boy by peacekeepers in Goniave, Haiti[xii], caused the mission to express outrage and the official response was that the mission would take their responsibility in dealing with abuses by UN personnel extremely seriously.[xiii]
- Written by Jake Johnston
Jovenel Moïse will be inaugurated as Haiti’s new president today as the country returns to constitutional order after a one-year extra-constitutional period of interim rule due to electoral delays. Moïse had previously come in first in an October 2015 election, only to have the results thrown out due to fraud. Rerun in November 2016 under the interim government that replaced former president Michel Martelly, the elections had Moïse securing more than 50 percent of the vote, winning in the first round.
But serious questions continue to dog Moïse as he takes office. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reports:
Since his win, Moïse has been on a countrywide tour, celebrating his victory, endorsing candidates for the recently held local elections — and battling money-laundering suspicions.
Moïse has dismissed the suspicions as the work of political opponents. The probe began in 2013 under Martelly’s administration when the anti-financial crimes unit was tipped off about a suspicious bank transaction, the current head of the unit, Sonel Jean-François, has said.
Over the weekend, an investigative judge assigned to the case sent his findings to the government prosecutor, but the judge’s order has not been made public. Government prosecutor Danton Léger has yet to say whether he will dismiss the case, send it back to the judge for further review, or prosecute Moïse.
Should he seek to prosecute Moïse, Haiti could find itself in an even deeper crisis than the one triggered by the annulled October 2015 presidential elections.
In a 7-page letter dated February 6, Leger, the government prosecutor, requested further information on the allegations against Moïse, ensuring it will continue to hang over the new president.
The money laundering allegations, however, are far from the only topic overshadowing Moïse’s inauguration today. A new report on Haiti’s November elections, from international legal observers, has raised questions as to how effective the new administration may be given the historically low turnout. The report’s authors also note that Haiti’s national identity office was hindered by significant problems, affecting the ability of Haitians to vote:
The report notes that despite many improvements in security and electoral administration over the 2015 elections, the 21 percent voter turnout represents the lowest participation rate for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945. “Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.
The report documents how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on November 20, due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.
The report’s authors also note with concern that Moïse could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former president Michel Martelly, who surrounded himself with figures from the Duvalier dictatorship and was criticized by human rights groups for his intimidation of journalists and imprisonment of opposition activists. “With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which published the report with the National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.”
- Written by Jake Johnston
To mark the 7th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a number of organizations belonging to the Haiti Advocacy Working Group released the following statement. For a full list of sponsoring organizations, click here.
January 12, 2017 – Washington, DC – On the seventh anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, human rights groups, faith-based organizations, policy institutes and humanitarian organizations would like to honor those who lost their lives in the earthquake, as well as those who lost their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters is the result of human policies, which can be changed. As the election crisis comes to an end, and President-elect Jovenel Moise is set to take office on February 7, 2017, there’s a unique opportunity for sustained change now.
January 12, 2010 Earthquake
The earthquake and the more than 59 aftershocks that followed took the lives of an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people, displaced 1,300,000, and directly affected 3,000,000. Despite the billions in aid offered, thousands remain homeless. As of September 2016, the International Migration Organization (IOM) estimated 55,000 people remain in spontaneous or organized camps. For hundreds of thousands of other Haitians “Building Back Better” left them in precarious ‘permanent’ housing vulnerable to natural disasters and the effects of climate change to which Haiti is ranked one of the most vulnerable countries.
Hurricane Matthew on October 4, 2016
The Category 4 Hurricane with winds reaching up to 145 mph tore through the country, causing widespread destruction of buildings, agriculture, infrastructure and human lives, directly affecting 1,400,000 people, taking an estimated 546 lives, displacing 175,500, and pushing 806,000 into extreme food insecurity.
The Haitian government, along with civil society, responded to Matthew with prior evacuations and warnings. Various Haitian agencies are now coordinating the hurricane response with civil society actors and international agencies, but funding is greatly needed. The government and UN’s Flash Appeal for $21 million to provide food assistance to 800,000 people over three months still lacks 44 percent of the needed funds.
Many Matthew victims continue to live in temporary shelters or shelters pieced together with scrap aluminum, tarps, and wood. Approximately 750,000 Haitians are without safe water, causing the number of cholera cases to double in some of the hardest-hit areas. An estimated 80-100 percent of the crops and 50 percent of livestock were destroyed in the country’s south and southwest. These livestock not only provide food, but are the savings bank for many who reside in the countryside – producing a decapitalization in rural Haiti reminiscent of the 1980’s Kreyol Pig eradication.
The devastation of the 2016 hurricane season follows on the heels of the worst drought Haiti has seen in 15 years. The opportunity to replant certain crops during winter planting season was largely missed due to insufficient access to seeds. The ripples of this are felt across the country with the Grand Anse department, the ‘bread basket’ producing 60 percent of the locally produced food. The damage to the Grand Anse renders communities dependent on imported food and increased food prices by 15 – 25 percent.
Although the earthquake, drought and hurricane may make Haiti appear condemned to suffer from natural disasters, in fact the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters is the product of human policies that can be reversed. The international community has today a unique opportunity to support Haiti in breaking free from its cycle of extreme vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, and to move away from aid dependency.
In the short-term, houses, hospitals, roads and schools still must be rebuilt. Haiti also urgently needs support to control and respond to the surging cholera crisis that took 420 lives and sickened 39,329 in 2016 alone. The UN’s new two-track cholera response announced December 1, 2016, promises to reduce cholera transmission and improve access to care and treatment. If funded, the response should control the outbreak in Matthew-affected areas as well as other parts of the country, and also promises to provide material assistance to victims of the epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010.
The international community must also be reliable over the long term. A key priority must be to fully fund the UN’s cholera response, which proposes to build the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to eliminate cholera from the country over the next 10-15 years. Haiti will also need reforestation and crop support to ensure long-term food security and address environmental degradation and climate change. Furthermore, ongoing support for disaster mitigation and preparedness is badly needed. Preparation is by far the best form of disaster response.
We encourage greater accountability and transparency of international actors in Haiti. With President-elect Jovenel Moise set to take office on February 7, 2017, any intervention in Haiti must reinforce the capacity of the government and local institutions, and include participation in project design and execution from aid recipients. This type of approach will make aid more effective and sustainable, and allow Haitians to move towards autonomy.
In solidarity with the grief suffered by families of victims of the 2010 earthquake and hurricane Matthew, we honor the memories of those who have passed by translating lessons into action. We can and must do better to address the current humanitarian, food and climate crisis.
- Written by Jake Johnston
UPDATE 1/6/2017: The federal indictment against Philippe has been unsealed. It is available here.
Guy Philippe, a paramilitary coup leader and DEA most-wanted fugitive who was elected to Haiti’s Senate late last year, was arrested on Thursday, just days before he would have been sworn into office and obtained immunity. Philippe has been wanted under a sealed drug indictment in the United States for years, but previous attempts at arresting him failed. Last year, the DEA confirmed to me that they maintained “apprehension authority” for Philippe, but would not confirm if any active efforts were underway to do so. He will now be extradited to the United States to face charges, though no indictment has been unsealed as of Thursday night.
Although Philippe has spent most of the past decade in Haiti’s rural Grand Anse department where he maintains strict control, he became more active in the country’s politics over the past year as he campaigned for senator. President-elect Jovenel Moise, from the PHTK party, openly campaigned with Philippe and his party allied with Philippe’s early in 2016. A PHTK adviser, Renald Luberice, tweeted shortly after the arrest that it was “illegal and arbitrary.” Fires and roadblocks almost immediately went up in Phillipe’s hometown and surrounding areas, according to local news reports.
After last year’s elections were scrapped due to fraud and Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor, Philippe became one of the most outspoken critics of the new interim government that took over. In February 2016, he threatened "civil war" if elections were not held by that April. In May, with elections still yet to occur, Philippe was alleged to be the ringleader of an armed raid on a police station in Les Cayes, in southern Haiti. Elections were eventually held in November 2016 and Philippe won a seat in the Senate, representing the Grand Anse department. Parties allied with PHTK and Philippe will make up the majority of the incoming parliament to be sworn in next week.
Over the summer, a source close to the Haitian government, who requested anonymity, suggested that the US would move against Philippe before he became Senator to “send a message” to the incoming parliament, which includes other figures accused of corruption and drug trafficking. Now that appears to have happened, but not before he helped his allies secure an electoral victory this past November.
Philippe, however, is widely believed to have been involved in murders, atrocities and other human rights abuses over the past 20 years, while serving a political agenda backed by Haiti’s elite and their international allies. He received training by the US military while a cadet in Ecuador in the early 90s before returning to Haiti in 1995. However former president Jean Bertrand Aristide had disbanded the military that same year, due its long history of involvement in atrocities, human rights abuses and coup d’etats. Philippe, who has, in his own words, “always dreamed of becoming a soldier,” instead became police chief in the Delmas neighborhood of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. During his tenure, according to Human Rights Watch, “dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed, mainly by police under the command of Inspector Berthony Bazile, Philippe’s deputy.”
In 2000, Philippe was accused of orchestrating an attempted coup d’etat against president Rene Preval, but before he could be apprehended he fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic. At first, the Dominican authorities told the Haitian government they would help arrest the fugitive police officer and his allies. According to a former Haitian government official, who requested anonymity, Dominican police apprehended Philippe and were set to hand him over to Haitian authorities, but later reversed themselves. Philippe would remain free until this Thursday.
From his safe-haven in the Dominican Republic, Philippe was accused of leading attacks on Haitian police stations and supporters of president Aristide, who had just been elected for a second time. In an interview with author Peter Hallward, Philippe denied his involvement but added, “don’t worry, when the time is right people will learn what really happened.” At the time, the Aristide administration was under attack both internally and externally. A “civil society” group calling itself the Group of 184, led by Evans Paul, Andy Apaid and Reginald Boulos among others (all now political allies or financiers of PHTK), advocated for Aristide’s ouster. Philippe, when asked about the role of the Group of 184 in the various police station assaults, responded, “I know that certain political leaders and representatives of civil society can help you with this, since they know everything about what happened … Since they’re cowards, however, they’ll just tell you that they know nothing about it.”
- Written by Jake Johnston
More than two weeks after Haitians went to the polls to elect a new president, 16 Senators and 25 Deputies, preliminary results from all races have finally been released. Presidential results have already been contested by the second, third and fourth place finishers while many legislative races will likely be contested as well. However, if the preliminary results are upheld, the November 20 elections will have consolidated nearly unprecedented political power in the hands of PHTK, the party of former president Michel Martelly. While PHTK and its allies appear to have scored electoral victories at both the presidential and legislative level, their political success has occurred in a context of extremely low turnout, raising questions about the significance of their mandate to govern moving forward.
At the presidential level, Jovenel Moïse of PHTK came in first place with 55.67 percent of the vote. If these results hold, Moïse will secure the presidency without having to compete in a second-round election. In second, third and fourth place were Jude Celestin of LAPEH with 19.52 percent, Jean-Charles Moïse of the Platfom Pitit Dessalines (PPD) with 11.04 percent and Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas (FL) with 8.99 percent.
While the top four vote getters in the 2016 election were exactly the same as in last year’s election, the results of which were thrown out due to widespread irregularities, the composition of the vote changed dramatically. Jovenel Moïse, who was widely believed to have benefitted from fraud in the 2015 elections, was the only one of the four to increase their vote total over last year. This appears to largely stem from the far wider geographical support that Jovenel Moïse received in 2016, coupled with the other top candidates losing substantial ground.
As can be seen above, Jovenel Moïse received over 50 percent of the vote in each department except for the Artibonite and the Sud Est. Similar to in 2015, the strongest areas of support were in the north of the country, where he runs a banana export business. But perhaps the most surprising result this year was that he also received 50 percent of the vote in the Ouest department, home to some 40 percent of registered voters. In 2015, he received just over 20 percent of the vote in the Ouest. This accounts for nearly the entire increase in the number of total votes received by Jovenel Moïse this year.
Still, even with Jovenel Moïse increasing his votes from 2015, the main reason why he was able to win in the first round was that all three other candidates lost significant numbers of votes. Celestin received 185,000 fewer votes, Jean-Charles 104,000 and Narcisse 14,000. If these candidates had simply received the same number of votes as last year, Jovenel Moïse would not have been able to win in the first round.
The long campaign, and the consolidation of private sector funding behind PHTK certainly helped in this regard. With more resources, PHTK was able to more actively campaign and build support throughout the last year. It takes significant money to have party staff across the entire country, an especially important factor in getting one’s supporters to come out to vote on election day. As a result, PHTK had a wider national presence of political party representatives than other parties, according to local observer organizations.
Another factor that contributed to the vastly different result was that many more voters were either unable or unwilling to participate in this year’s election. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), announced that participation was just 21 percent, compared to 26.6 percent last year. However the rate announced by the CEP includes many thousands of votes that were not counted due to irregularities. If one looks just at valid votes, the participation in this year’s election drops to 17.3 percent. The 26.6 percent figure from last year was based on valid votes.
- Written by Jake Johnston
Ever since the first democratic elections in 1990, the influence of foreign actors over Haiti’s political process has only increased. Foreign donors have financed Haitian elections, UN troops have transported ballots and guarded polling stations, international observers have granted (or withheld) legitimacy to electoral outcomes, and foreign embassies have intervened when postelectoral crises erupt. Due to this preponderant role played in elections, the so-called international community ― the polite term for the dominant powers, organized now as the Core Group ― has often had the last word in Haitian politics.
This state of affairs has engendered even greater distrust in the political process. Sensing that it was not voters but foreign diplomats who decided who could be president, Haitians’ participation in elections has plummeted, from greater than 50 percent participation a decade ago to only about 25 percent last year. But with the developments over the past year and a half, that cycle looked to be breaking down.
The decision of the Haitian authorities, with the support of civil society, to rerun the election was a huge blow to the US and its allies in the international community. The Core Group (which brings together the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, the European Union, and the special representatives of the Organization of American States and the secretary general of the United Nations) had vigorously opposed calls for a verification commission and the formation of a transitional government after the October 25, 2015 elections. Many advocated for a continuation of last year’s vote, despite the protests of political actors and civil society, and the boycott of second-place finisher Jude Celestin. As Haiti expert Robert Maguire noted at the time, “the objective seems simply to be able to check an ‘elections done’ box.”
The US and the Core Group was also worried that new elections might give the Lavalas-aligned candidates (Maryse Narcisse and Moïse Jean-Charles) a better chance at the presidency. “They're not thrilled with Aristide’s forces coming back,” a US congressional source told Reuters regarding the Obama administration’s reaction to the antifraud protests. Another concern for the Obama administration was keeping Haiti ― where Hillary Clinton had developed a negative reputation ― out of the headlines during the US presidential campaign.
An organized and mobilized civil society rejected the dictates of the foreign actors and the interim government that took over when former president Martelly’s term expired responded to these demands. Confronted by this stunning development, European Union observers pulled out of the country after the decision to rerun the presidential election. The US withdrew $2 million in funding that remained in a UN-managed election basket fund and, with Canada, pledged not to provide additional money for this year’s election. Foreign aid was reduced over the last year, with many embassies refusing to attend meetings with the provisional president, or even go to the National Palace over the last nine months.
- Written by Jake Johnston
The devastating passage of hurricane Matthew has changed the dynamics of the upcoming election in Haiti. Following last year’s fraudulent elections, the new electoral council has been making changes in order to produce a more legitimate outcome this year, but the hurricane has raised new concerns.
A significant number of voting centers in the affected area have been destroyed or damaged. Many are also being used as temporary shelters. Efforts have been ongoing to repair or set up tents to replace voting centers, and the electoral council has stated that 80 percent of damaged voting centers have been repaired, and that all are able to be reached. However, the true test will come Sunday.
Additionally, many communities remain almost completely out of contact and unable to be reached. Electoral materials have been distributed throughout the country, but there is a high probability of delays on Sunday morning in some hard-to-reach areas. Damage to infrastructure, and ongoing flooding in parts of the country could also dissuade voters from going to the polls. Turnout ― which has already reached abysmal levels in recent elections ― will be a key indicator.
Many voters also lost their identity cards in the storm. Though it is unclear how many Haitians were impacted, and the government has pledged to provide new cards to those in need, the full scale of the problem is still unknown. The government agency responsible for providing the ID cards said last week that only 2,000 new cards have been requested, indicating that many may simply be dealing with basic necessities like having a roof over one’s head or securing food, rather than voting. This has created uncertainty around the ability of Haitians in the southern peninsula to exercise their democratic rights.
Beyond the technical problems that have been created by the hurricane, there are severe humanitarian issues. Hundreds of thousands across the southern peninsula have been left with no homes, no crops and no safe water. Relief efforts are ongoing, but have been inadequate to address the many needs. Is it simply too soon to ask the Haitian people most impacted by this storm to think about an election?
Between 10 and 15 percent of registered voters reside in the storm-ravaged southern peninsula, and many more in the northern departments that have more recently been affected by heavy rains and flooding. It is clear the election in these areas will be significantly impacted, and many will be disenfranchised. It’s also possible that with lower turnout in more rural provinces, it will be, more than ever, Port-au-Prince determining who the next president will be.
This is likely to reinforce centralization in the “republic of Port-au-Prince”, further isolating rural provinces and towns that have long felt disconnected from the political and economic elite in the country’s capital.
- Written by Jake Johnston
Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here.
Read Part 2: Presidential Candidates and Their Parties, here.
Often lost in the discussion of Haiti’s presidential race is the fact that many legislative seats are up for grabs as well, including more than half of the Senate. Currently, the parliament is pretty evenly split between political factions but with such a high number of seats left to be decided the balance of power could shift dramatically this weekend. Control of the legislative body is especially important in Haiti’s political system, where it is parliament that approves the new prime minister and government program.
The presidential election was scheduled to coincide with the expiration of one-third of the Senate. Ten Senators had been elected to six-year terms in 2010, so ten first-round races for senate seats will be conducted on November 20. Six second-round Senate races and two dozen second-round races for Deputy will be held as well. The second-round races are the continuation of last year’s fraud- and violence-plagued elections.
For the ten first-round senate elections (one in each department), 149 candidates have registered, coming from 43 different political parties. Interestingly, it is Fanmi Lavalas and Pitit Dessalines who have registered the most candidates of the four major presidential parties with 10 and 9 respectively. With candidates competing in all ten departments, it could bolster rural votes at the presidential level. PHTK and LAPEH, on the other hand, have registered 7 and 6 candidates respectively.
For the second-round senate races still to be competed, parties allied with PHTK make up the majority of candidates. Due to high levels of fraud and violence in the August 9, 2015 legislative election, first-round reruns were conducted for these races in 3 departments (Center, Grand Anse and Nord) last October. Nine of the 12 Senatorial candidates participating in this Sunday’s second round are from PHTK, Bouclier and Consortium (all allies) while no other party has more than one candidate. With two senators being elected from each of these races, PHTK and its allies are guaranteed at least one additional seat in each department.
At the deputy level, there are 25 second-round races that will be completed on Sunday. Again, it is PHTK and allied parties that make up the largest number of candidates, accounting for 40 percent overall, putting them in a good position to pick up seats in the lower chamber. The number of races, broken down by department is as follows: West (6), North (6), Artibonite (4), Center (2), Grand’Anse (2), South-East (2), South (2) and North-West (1).
- Written by Jake Johnston
Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here.
In a crowded field of 54 presidential candidates, the top two finishers in last year’s elections were Jovenel Moïse (PHTK) and Jude Celestin (LAPEH). Third and fourth were Moïse Jean-Charles (Platfom Pitit Dessalines) and Maryse Narcisse (Fanmi Lavalas). Although the earlier vote was plagued by fraud and irregularities and the results were eventually discarded, the top four finishers on October 25, 2015 are expected to lead the pack of 27 candidates participating on Sunday, November 20. Here is a closer look at the principal candidates heading into this weekend’s election:
Jovenel Moïse is PHTK’s candidate. Prior to the 2015 elections when former President Martelly selected Moïse as his successor, the lanky agricultural businessman from the North was a political unknown. Moïse’s company Agritrans runs a banana plantation primarily for export in Trou-du-Nord and was set up with government financing under Martelly’s administration. During the campaign, Moïse has branded himself as “The Banana Man” (Nèg Bannann Nan). He promises to revitalize Haiti’s neglected agriculture and to remobilize Haiti’s military, which was disbanded in 1995.
While in office, Martelly campaigned aggressively for Moïse and was accused of using state resources to promote his party’s candidate. For this reason, Moïse was perceived by many as a weak Martelly surrogate. One irony of the long delay since last year’s vote is that PHTK’s Moïse may actually be in a better position now. Time has allowed him to step out from under Martelly’s shadow, posing as an opponent to the provisional government rather than the ruling party’s candidate. PHTK and its political allies in the parliament have accused the interim government and the CEP of being biased in favor of “Lavalas” and claimed that the elections may be rigged against them. They have also consistently questioned the legitimacy of the provisional president, even at one point calling on police officers to disobey orders.
After the Hurricane, PHTK leaders threatened the provisional government with street protests and legislative action if elections were not held within weeks of the storm and have been publicizing polling (notoriously suspect in Haiti) that shows Jovenel Moïse with the highest level of support among presidential candidates.
Haiti’s interminable election cycle has depleted the finances of many parties, but although PHTK is facing similar problems, they are likely the party with the deepest pockets. With greater access to resources, the party was able to continue to campaign - including in the hurricane-hit south where Moïse distributed aid to victims. Well-financed and with a cadre of international election advisors, PHTK has many factors working in their favor.
In their quest for the presidency, PHTK has allied with local politicians that, in some cases, have been tied to corruption, drug trafficking and other wrongdoing. Though the campaign has distanced itself from Martelly, there is lingering dissatisfaction with the previous government, bolstered by recent allegations of corruption, which could weigh on voter’s minds Sunday.
Jude Celestin, the second-place finisher in last year’s election and the leading figure in the boycott movement, is the candidate of Ligue alternative pour le progrès et l'émancipation haïtienne (LAPEH). In the 2010 election, Celestin competed under the banner of INITE, the party of then-president René Préval. Those elections were also plagued by widespread fraud, violence and irregularities, many stemming from the fact that elections were held in the same year as the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left more than a million displaced. An Organization of American States (OAS) commission recommended changing the results, removing Celestin from the race and replacing him with Michel Martelly, without providing evidence that Martelly had actually received more votes than Celestin. The US then issued diplomatic threats, including a possible cut off of desperately needed post-earthquake aid, in order force the Haitian government to accept the changes.
Many expected Celestin to eventually call off the boycott and participate in last year’s second-round election, but his position was unwavering and led to the cancellation of the election. His supporters consider him a savior for preventing the fraudulent elections from standing; adversaries see him as the primary cause of the political instability of the last year. After 2010 and his role in cancelling last year’s election, Celestin hasn’t made many friends in the international community, though many close to him have worked over the last year to reestablish a relationship.
Celestin has championed his boycott’s role in getting the rerun, and has pointed to his experience at CNE, the national construction company, to present himself as a builder who knows how to get things done. After the Hurricane, Celestin offered to rebuild a key bridge and construction equipment was seen plastered with his campaign image.
With the provisional president Privert coming from an allied political party, Celestin is perceived to have benefitted from the change in leadership. But it is important to note that the interim government consists of politicians from many different movements and it would be a mistake to think all, or even most, are willing or able to help his campaign.
Still Celestin, similar to PHTK, has received significant private sector backing and can likely count on support from those sectors that have historically been allied with President Préval, giving him a political machine that should be able to generate votes on election day. Still, it is interesting to note that of the three former presidents currently active in politics, Préval is the only one to not openly endorse a candidate. University professor Jacky Lumarque was Préval’s chosen candidate, but was excluded from participating by the previous electoral council under Martelly.
Moïse Jean-Charles, a former Senator from the North department, finished third in last year’s election and is once again expected to be a top vote getter. Jean-Charles was the leading opposition voice against the former Martelly government and led street protests against his rule. Jean-Charles joined Celestin in rejecting last year’s election results and initially supported the interim government and the decision to rerun the elections from scratch.
More recently, however, Pitit Dessalines has struck a similar tone as the other leading candidates in calling for elections to be held as soon as possible after hurricane Matthew. The party has also expressed discontent with the electoral apparatus and interim government and called for greater transparency, especially in the vote counting process.