Haiti’s economy is paralyzed. Weeks of violent protests have shuttered businesses and kept 2 million children from going to school for more than a month. The unrest, coupled with rampant corruption and economic malaise, have led to soaring prices, a disintegration of public services and a galloping sense of insecurity and lawlessness.
Though the country has been trapped for years in cycles of political and economic dysfunction, many Haitians say the current crisis is worse than anything they have ever experienced. Lives that were already extremely difficult, here in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, have become even more so. Widespread layoffs have compounded chronic poverty and hunger and uncertainty hangs over everything.
At least 20 people have been killed by police in the demonstrations and more than 200 have been injured.
Source of Current Crisis
The current crisis is a culmination of more than a year of violent protests, and the product, in part, of political acrimony that has seized the nation since President Jovenel Moïse, a businessman, took office in Feb. 2017 following an electoral process that was marred by delays, allegations of voter fraud and an abysmal voter turnout.
Outrage over allegations that the government misappropriated billions of dollars meant for social development projects provided the initial impetus for the protests. But opposition leaders have sought to harness the anger to force Moise’s ouster, calling for his resignation and the formation of a transitional government.
The protests intensified in early September, at times turning violent and bringing the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities and towns around the country to a standstill.
Business groups, church leaders and human rights organizations also have joined the call for Moïse to step down amid anger over corruption, inflation and scarcity of basic goods including fuel.
Among those who marched was businessman Anthony Bennett, who sought to run for president in 2015 and said the private sector also was suffering.
“I think it’s time that everyone understands that things cannot continue like this anymore,” he told reporters. “Everybody is just hoping to get a visa to run away. ... The Haitian population has had enough.”
He said he won’t accept anything except Moïse’s resignation, adding that he was encouraged by Sunday’s demonstration, noting it included the bourgeoisie.
“That gave us even more confidence,” he said. “There’s a lot of misery in Haiti ... the people are fed up with this situation.”
Looming Constitutional Crisis
The United Nations noted in a recent report that Haiti has not had a functional government since the president’s second prime minister resigned in March. It also warned of a “looming constitutional crisis” given the failure to organize local elections scheduled for this month, noting that the terms of many legislators expire in January. In addition, a new budget hasn’t been approved for two years, prompting organizations like the International Monetary Fund and others to withhold aid.
President Moïse, who had been silent since the second week of protests, broke his silence last week saying it would be irresponsible for him to resign amid Haiti’s unrest.
Moïse said during a surprise news conference at the National Palace that he was constitutionally elected and would relinquish power only through a legal process like elections. He reiterated that he is open to any negotiations leading to a peaceful resolution of the political crisis, saying that the opposition should agree to a dialogue with his government to address the country’s problems.
“However long it takes, I am ready for dialogue. We don’t want to have another 1986,” Moïse said, referring to the year that then President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti following lengthy demonstrations against his regime.
U.N. Peacekeepers Pull Out
Moïse spoke on the day that the U.N.’s Mission for Justice Support in Haiti ended its mandate, marking the first time since 2004 that there is no U.N. peacekeeping operation in Haiti. The U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti will take its place and play an advisory role.
As the peacekeeping operation wrapped up, the United Nations appealed to the Haitian people for political dialogue, an end to violence and compromise, saying that is the only way to resolving the political crisis.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, told the Security Council that progress since 2004 had been “considerable but the achievements of stability are still fragile and must be deeper rooted in democracy and development.”
Lacroix said “mistrust is making compromise difficult” but forming a unity government as Haiti’s president called for “may well provide a way forward to lasting political solutions that are desperately needed.”
Dozens of people from political parties old and new are vying to become the country’s next leader. Despite unifying outrage at Moïse’s political and economic mismanagement, protesters say the absence of a charismatic leader and a clear strategy is fueling chaos and the sense of an unending crisis.
Opposition leaders range from a wealthy grocery-chain owner to a collection of veteran politicians with murky pasts, some with allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime.