Ten years after the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 that killed an estimated 160,000 people, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere remains in political and economic crisis. Haiti’s unpopular President Jovenel Moise, who is ruling by decree after the expiration of parliament, says he wants to overhaul the constitution. It’s not clear what specific changes Moise is calling for, but he’s signaled that the goal is to increase the power of the presidency beyond provisions in the 1987 constitution that had limited executive authority in the wake of corruption and abuses suffered during the Duvalier family dictatorship.
Since early 2019, anti-government activists across Haiti have clashed with police, protesting rising prices, high inflation, unemployment and corruption. Protesters have long demanded that Moise step down over charges that he received millions of dollars as part of an embezzlement scheme that defrauded the country’s poor by stealing from the Petro Caribe aid project funded by Venezuela.
Many opposition politicians don’t support Moise and his effort to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Andre Michel, a leader of the opposition Democratic and Popular Sector said, “It is illusory to believe a president who is rejected by the people could change the constitution.” Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Kim Ives, an editor with the Haiti Liberté newspaper, who talks about the ongoing political and economic crisis plaguing Haiti.
KIM IVES: For these past 18 months since July 2018, Haiti has been in a state of pure rebellion. It’s every month, sometimes every week, sometimes every day that the country is just what they call “peyi lock” – Haiti on lockdown – and the barricades are everywhere, general strikes. Businesses aren’t functioning, government offices, schools, everything’s shut. And right now, there’s a bit of a lull; things are somewhat functioning, things are realigning. But, it’s for sure it’s gonna start up again soon.
SCOTT HARRIS: The president now, Jovenel Moise, is ruling by decree. Can you explain to our listeners a bit about what happened? The terms of the legislators in the legislative branch have expired and there’s been no election.
KIM IVES: Right. Well, it’s a big mess because most of the parliament, ironically, were either senators and deputies from Jovenel Moise’s party and right-wing allied parties. The parliamentary elections were just about as compromised and corrupt as the presidential election that brought Moise to power. So it’s ridiculous for Jovenel to say, “It’s not my fault. It was the parliament didn’t vote an electoral law. They didn’t vote a budget for the election.” That’s his defense. Well, it’s a very thin defense because he had essentially power over that parliament. He was able to mobilize them to get rid of his prime minister back in March of last year. The prime minister was really challenging him and saying, “The people want you out, you better go. ” So he mobilized his troops in the parliament and got rid of the prime minister. No easy feat.
But, he didn’t want to do that to mobilize them to hold elections. And so I think basically he calculated and probably with the support of the U.S. that well, you know, they’re not going to vote in an electoral law and the budget. Well, you know, the parliament will expire and then we’ll have free rein to rule by decree. And the U.S. is very much supporting this. The Donald Trump group, have been supporting Jovenel since Jan. 10 of last year. Basically a year ago, he voted for the first time with Washington against Venezuela despite this tremendous solidarity Venezuela showed to Haiti for over a decade. But they voted to say that Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate.
So every week there’s another OAS, U.S. State Department or U.N. Or Vatican. And everybody’s coming in there trying to support Jovenel and tell the opposition to have dialogue and compromise with him. Washington is propping him up. That’s the only real backing he has. But people want him out. The opposition wants him out. But Washington wants him in, so he’s still there.
SCOTT HARRIS: The president who’s ruling by decree, Jovenel Moise is now talking about drafting a new constitution to replace the constitution that was put in place in 1987.
KIM IVES: Right. He’s really pushing the envelope here. The guy can’t even collect the garbage, you know, around Port-au- Prince. It’s just mountains of garbage you see everywhere and now he somehow thinks he can marshal enough consensus to get the constitutional assembly and redo the constitution saying that the president needs more power. Essentially, the constitution, which was written in 1987, a year after (Haitian dictator Jean-Claude) Duvalier fled, they very much emasculated or tried to emasculate the executive branch and they made the president essentially bound by his prime minister under a sort of Byzantine structure where he appoints the prime minister, which the parliament has to ratify. It’s supposed to be from the majority party in the parliament and many of the former powers that the president had – that Duvalier had, then of course he made them even greater because he was functioning in a completely dictatorial way – were removed.
So yeah, it was checks and balances with a lot of checks on the executive. So Trump, now Moise, wants to sweep that all the way. I don’t really see how he’s going to be able to do that. The street demonstrations are going to continue. We are facing just a terrible economic situation. I mean 4 million people, according to the U.N. Are severely food insecure right now. That’s out of a population of about 11 million and about 1 million of those people are in a basically a food emergency situation where they don’t have food for tomorrow morning. The World Food Program gets about 300,000 daily meals to school kids in Haiti. So the situation is very grave. Businesses aren’t functioning and, I really don’t see how he’s going to be able to bring about any kind of a constituent assembly to reform the constitution.
For more information, visit Haiti Liberte Newspaper at haitiliberte.com.