Written by: Ishaque Rahman Sadat
Sitting in an archipelago on the lush Caribbean Sea, Haiti is a country that has suffered from political instability and poor economic conditions for a long time. Jovenel Moïse, serving as Haiti’s President from 2017, was assassinated on July 7th, close to the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, by a group of unknown assailants in the bedroom of his own private residence. This has only fueled more fire to the long flames of political unrest. Sounds of gunfire and the smell of tear gas were witnessed by the attendees of the funeral as police clashed with protesters outside the venue. Currently, investigation is still ongoing to ascertain the perpetrators of the murder.
What we are witnessing now is the result of years of growing social and political unrest. Haiti still faces ongoing recovery from the 2010 earthquake, a tragedy that caused an estimated 300,000 deaths, displacing more than a million people and damaging nearly half of all structures in the surrounding vicinity of the earthquake. It is estimated by the United States Geological Survey, a scientific agency of the US Government, that the cataclysmic event crippled over 60% of Haiti’s administrative and economic infrastructure. Overall losses from the disaster have been projected to be between US $7b to $14b; which is 100%-200% of Haiti’s GDP, making this earthquake event incredibly damaging for the country in both economic and social scales. Added to this is the swirling chaos brought by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, affecting 2 million people in the poorest regions of the country and causing a cholera outbreak as the vaccine supply chain at that time was destroyed by the hurricane.
The Hurricane’s impact prompted an emergency $50m in aid from the World Bank which helped rehabilitate damaged schools, shelters, sanitation and restore the immunization infrastructure for the vaccine supply chain. Nevertheless, the morale of most people were shattered as they went through insurmountable life-changing events. The US, being very close in proximity to Haiti, has historically aided the country, notably giving $505m in funding after the 2010 crisis. During the Trump Administration aid funds have steadily reduced, as $128.2m was petitioned for aid funding in FY2021, which was a 34% reduction in aid money compared to two years ago.
Even though Haiti had support from international agencies and powerful countries, the struggle to develop the economy was still keenly felt. Widespread corruption and mismanagement of aid funding led to shoddy development projects. Locals suffer from a lack of sustainable job opportunities, which means the government has little avenue to collect taxes on its citizens’ earnings. Haiti’s politics is also negatively affecting its economy, the legislature did not pass a 2019-2020 budget – this impacted the collection of aid money as policy was not effectively ironed out. Most notably, a multi-year loan deal with the IMF worth over $229m expired without anyone addressing its approval or logistics. Practically, regular people also have low mobility to invest, and consumer price inflation was over 17% for 2019. Economic growth over 2020 was projected to be less than 1% by the EIU. It is evident institutional weaknesses, holes in fund collection, and corrupt policymakers have significantly halted Haiti’s economic growth potential.
Added to this is poor political conditions that have over time gotten worse. Tensions stewed into an ever growing melting point in November 2017, when the Haitian Senate’s Special Commission of Investigation reported high-ranking Haitian officials were involved in mismanaging $2b in loans from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program. Strong protests rang out in 2017 and 2018 against reforms that would increase government revenue by imposing greater taxes. The legislature in September of 2017, not taking note of the collective angst, took measures that raised taxes on necessary commodities. Primarily because the public felt increased tax revenue was wrongly used and not getting allocated to important sectors like health and education, street protests and civil unrest became a regular occurrence during Mr. Möise’s rule.
Things got worse soon afterwards. In May 2019, Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors officially claimed Mr. Möise alongside his close associates laundered money and embezzled millions of dollars. In winter 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human RIghts noted Haitian security forces killed 19 people, and armed civilians killed many others in protests that called for Mr. Möise’s resignation. Mr. Möise during that time said he would not resign. No official elections were held since 2015, which very interestingly led to the Senate having nearly two-thirds of its positions vacant without any officials. This effectively meant Haiti had no legislation from that point in time. Functioning outside of mandated constitutional norms, and not recognizing the many screws it needed to tighten again, the UN, the OAS, and the Vatican facilitated political dialogues aimed at ending the crisis. Notably, the dialogues failed to reach a mutual agreement for all actors, and as a result a solution could not be mandated and followed to end Haiti’s political turmoil.
The Trump Administration at that time wished for efforts to clear up the political gridlock, and had advised Haiti to not delay their elections. It became increasingly clear then that Mr. Möise’s reign would fall any time, as IHS Global Insight predicted he could be ousted due to increasing political and public isolation.
And now, over years of continuing turmoil, in the early hours of the night, Mr. Möise’s life and reign ended inside his own house. What happens next? A power vacuum that will have many eying for the empty throne. Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim Prime Minister, has said he has taken command of the police and army, yet has rivals that are quick to challenge for the new role. Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department of the US, and a top UN official has backed up Mr. Joseph’s claim as the Prime Minister – yet it is still unclear in which direction Haiti will go next. What everyone agrees on though, is that establishing order and preventing clashes by armed factions is the main concern. Time will tell where the country basking in the Caribbean sun will go next.
- U.S. Department of State. (2021, July 8). Press briefing by Department Spokesperson Ned Price, 8/7/21. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-july-8-2021/.
- Marta Hurtado, “Press Briefing Note on Haiti Unrest,” Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, November 1, 2019.
- Evens Sanon, “Haiti President Breaks Silence, Says Will Not Resign,” Associated Press, October 15, 2019.
- U.N. Security Council, United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti—Report of the Secretary General, S/2020/123, February 13, 2020, p. 3.
- Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: Haiti, February 10, 2020.
- Carla Selman, “Haitian President’s Mention in Court Corruption Report Raises Ousting Chances, Power Vacuum over Coming Months Highly Likely,” IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, June 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Relations with Haiti,” Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet, January 6, 2020.
- U.S. Department of State, Haiti 2018 Human Rights Report, March 2019.
- Congressional Research Service, “Haiti’s Political and Economic Condition”, March 5, 2020.
- U.S. Geological Survey, “Overview of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake”.
- World Bank Result Briefs, “Rapidly Assessing the Impact of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti”, October, 2017.
Featured Image Credit: CNN