November 22, 2019
IntelBrief: Protests in Haiti
The anger and frustration of millions of Haitians over endemic corruption has led to more than two months of large-scale protests across the island nation. The Haitian protesters represent a broad swath of the population, from the poor to those who are gainfully employed but still struggling financially. Demonstrators fanned out across the country, flooding prosperous neighborhoods to signal discontent, while burning tires and erecting makeshift roadblocks. The protests have echoed widespread calls for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who assumed office in 2017 and has three years remaining on his term. The immediate focus of the protesters’ anger is allegations that Moïse siphoned millions of dollars from a fund called PetroCaribe before he was elected president. But while the allegations against Moïse—stemming from official investigations that protesters pressured the president to begin last spring—were the catalyst for the protests, what has sustained them is corruption, patronage politics, and a lack of provision of basic services, along with rising prices for everyday necessities, including fuel.
For 33 years, since the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, Haiti has limped along in a state of durable disorder. The Caribbean nation has struggled through decades of dictatorial and corrupt rule, but there was a reasonable glimmer of hope that Port-au-Prince could begin to reverse years of abysmal governance. Progress has been more difficult to achieve than many expected, but Haiti remains politically free to a degree, even as it remains economically imprisoned. The government has failed to meaningfully reduce poverty, and it has not yet successfully tackled the country’s legacy of egregious corruption. These protests are the expression of cascading resentment over successive governments that have repeatedly wasted foreign aid through mismanagement and corruption.
At least 18 people have been killed in the protests since mid-September. In recent weeks, the scale of the street protests has dwindled but they are still sizable and disruptive. In particular, schools have been affected, with many shutting their doors, while businesses have also shut down and major transportation arteries have been clogged or disrupted altogether. The protests have also exacerbated the already insufficient food delivery systems for Haiti, which depend heavily on food aid from the United Nations (UN) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A report by the Haitian government estimated that roughly one third of the population—some 3.6 million people—could be in some stage of a food crisis or emergency. This has led USAID to increase its emergency food supplies to Haiti by nearly 2 million metric tons.
More than half of Haiti’s population survives on a meager monthly income that amounts to less than three dollars. It is both a moral imperative and in the self-interest of the United States to increase its support to Haiti. This would mean providing aid but also helping nurture democratic organizations, encouraging the region to step up, and addressing corruption in Haiti. Haitians have fled the island in massive numbers in the early 1990s, and the best way to prevent a reoccurrence is to address the root causes of the problems. An unstable Haiti, which has long been home to U.N. peacekeeping missions, including the United Nations Missions for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) also stresses the neighboring Dominican Republic and the Caribbean region more broadly. Preventing further economic and humanitarian stress in Haiti—along the lines of what is happening in Venezuela—should be a priority for U.S. foreign policy in Washington’s own backyard.
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