By Alberto Giovanelli
This Wednesday, Haiti woke up to the news of its president, Jovenel Moïse, having been shot to death by a group of individuals who attacked his private residence in the Pelerin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince at dawn.
This event once again highlights the state of the catastrophic situation in the country and the region, plagued by political and social turmoil and by the concatenation of natural disasters that permanently overwhelm the poorest country in Latin America. In Haiti, it is calculated, according to information from international organizations, that more than 70% of the population lives on less than $ 2 a day, the UN estimates that almost 5 million Haitians, out of a population of about 11.5 million, suffer from food insecurity. A fifth of the population, about two million people, has been forced to emigrate. 11 years ago the country was also devastated by one of the biggest natural disasters in recent history, a magnitude 7 earthquake that had its epicenter in Léogâne, about 15 kilometers southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. It was the strongest earthquake to have occurred in Haiti since 1842. The earthquake and the two aftershocks that followed left 316,000 dead, 350,000 injured, thousands of houses collapsed, which is why it is estimated that around 1.5 million people were left homeless and 60% of the medical infrastructure was destroyed.
It would not be the only natural disaster to strike since then, because in 2016 Hurricane Matthew swept through the southwest of the country causing 573 deaths and leaving some two million homeless; and Hurricane Laura passed through the country in August 2020, also causing dozens of deaths and material damage in its wake. Likewise, epidemics have decimated the population. The 2010 cholera infected 520,000 people and killed at least 7,000. This epidemic became endemic and, although the cases have decreased, coronavirus has once again put the already almost non-existent Haitian health system in check, since control tests are not carried out, there is no type of reliable data and the arrival of new variants is incessantly multiplying the rate of contagion. In this situation of humanitarian catastrophe, political and institutional instability is the foreseeable result, with numerous armed gangs, paramilitaries and drug traffickers being the ones who truly exercise control in the country. Just in June, official records (never reliable) declare more than 150 people murdered and another 200 kidnapped in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. The Army, which was eliminated in 1994 to prevent coup attempts (and reinstated in 2017), has barely 500 soldiers. The 15,000 police officers in the country are divided into numerous sub-gangs that fight each other to occupy and exploit different areas of the territory. This explains the numerous complaints against these forces that have been accused of committing indiscriminate killings and even the the UN Security Council has asked Haiti to investigate the La Saline massacres of 2018 and the Bel-Air massacres of 2019, in which dozens of civilians were killed.
As we said in previously, this murder confirms that political instability is a constant in the country. Just as an example, we can highlight that since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) in 1986 until today, more than 20 governments have passed without achieving the slightest “institutional order”. Quite the contrary, probably as of 2015, the crisis has taken an exponential jump. In that year, then-president Michel Martelly ended his term, and Moise was to succeed him after controversial elections that forced the appointment of an interim president of another party. More than a year later, the electoral authority recognized the victory of the now murdered, Jovenel Moïse, who was a “successful” businessman, who despite his humble origins managed to become one of the richest men in the world with agricultural enterprises, mainly bananas. But in 2015 he was still a total stranger in the political world, when former President Martelly nominated him as a candidate for the presidency of the center-right party Tèt Kale, copying the then very fashionable postulation of “a new outsider.” According to the opposition, the entire Moise administration, traversed as we said, by crises, mobilizations, epidemics, earthquakes, protests, assassinations, etc., had to culminate on February 7, when the end of Martelly’s government was five years old. Moïse, however, insisted that he should govern for another year because he did not take office until February 7, 2017. In January 2020, Moïse dissolved Parliament and since then ruled Haiti by decree, being “the sole and exclusive power in the country.” The wave of protests that this situation generated was also fueled by new corruption scandals in which government officials have misappropriated US $ 3.8 billion in aid from PetroCaribe, an oil assistance program. We must also remember, and it is impossible to ignore, the nefarious role of “humanitarian missions” and the military interventions of international organizations in this crisis. After the coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, Haiti was militarily intervened by the United States, France and Canada. The US found an ideal and unexpected ally in Brazil, at that time governed by Lula, who was an enthusiastic promoter of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) between 2004 and 2017, sending the largest military contingent (almost 30,000 soldiers ) and maintaining the mission´s command. The result was catastrophic, hundreds of Haitian women were raped and their children abandoned by blue helmets. The “children of the Minustah” are added to a long list of evils that includes, in addition to sexual crimes, summary executions and the excessive use of force against the poorest population.
The assassination of Moïse took place with each of the imperialist initiatives having failed and only two months before the presidential elections, called for September 26. An election in which Moïse could not be a candidate, many questions are now being raised about how the immediate events will unfold. For example, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, who reported the death of the president and declared himself in office, has wanted to call the population to calm and ratified the elections, but obviously there are no certainties in troubled Haiti. The only thing we can affirm without hesitation is that until the root causes that condemn the Haitian people to misery are modified, everything will continue to crumble at the cost of hunger and the lives of millions for whom the “international community” does not have answer, other than accentuating plunder, decay and death.