“Impunity & Corruption”: Haiti Protesters Demand President Moïse’s Resignation Amid Failing Economy

StoryOctober 02, 2019
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In Haiti, massive anti-government protests calling for the resignation of U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse continue to escalate. The worsening economic crisis, a shortage of fuel and food, and corruption allegations against Moïse have sent protesters to the streets on and off for over a year. Hundreds demonstrated in the capital Port-au-Prince Monday, and another protest is scheduled for today. Much of Port-au-Prince has been on lockdown for the past two weeks, and at least four people have been killed in recent days after Haitian police opened fire on protesters, using live ammunition and tear gas. From Miami, we speak to Jacqueline Charles, Haiti and Caribbean correspondent at the Miami Herald and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show in Haiti, where massive anti-government protests calling for the resignation of the U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse continue to escalate. The worsening economic crisis, a shortage of fuel and food, and corruption allegations against Moïse have sent protesters to the streets on and off for over a year. Hundreds demonstrated in the capital Port-au-Prince on Monday, and another protest is scheduled today. Much of Port-au-Prince has been on lockdown for the past two weeks. At least four people have been killed in recent days, after Haitian police opened fire on protesters, using live ammunition and tear gas. This is Haitian protester Charles Fanfan.

CHARLES FANFAN: [translated] We demand a clean slate to change the system. The potential departure of Haitian President Jovenel doesn’t mean that things will just change. We’re going to continue fighting to achieve change in this diabolical system. They won’t be able to kill us all. I am certain that we will have victory.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters are also demanding a deeper investigation into accusations that President Moïse and other Haitian top officials embezzled billions of dollars in proceeds from the Venezuelan-subsidized oil plan Petrocaribe. Haiti hasn’t had a prime minister since July, as the opposition has rejected Moïse’s pick. As of last week, a new round of votes was indefinitely postponed after a ruling party senator pulled out a gun and shot at protesters, injuring an AP photojournalist and a security guard. As a new round of protests threaten to paralyze Port-au-Prince today, Moïse, who was elected in 2017, still refuses to step down.

For more, we’re joined by Jacqueline Charles, the Haiti and Caribbean correspondent at the Miami Herald. She has reported on Haiti for over a decade and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Jacqueline, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you describe what is happening and what’s behind, fueling these protests — and now a number of deaths in the protests?

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, as you mentioned in the introduction, I mean, the economy is just freefalling. The inflation right now is about 20%. The country actually has not had a prime minister since March, although there are two individuals that have the title, but neither one has been confirmed through Parliament. I mean, the economy is worsening. Haitians are frustrated. And there are these chronic fuel shortages. I mean, Haiti’s fuel bill right now is about $130 million that they owe. And what we have been seeing is that every couple of weeks, you can say, there’s no fuel, or people can’t get fuel. So you have these long lines of individuals standing with these yellow jugs, trying to get fuel.

What we saw with the corruption allegations, I mean, there was a little bit of a quiet time, and then, on May 31st, the Superior Court of Auditors, they released this 600-plus-page report where they talked about the embezzlement of the Petrocaribe dollars, which Haiti currently owes Venezuela, about $2 billion. And current president, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, is among those who have been indicted or implicated — implicated, actually, in that report.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse addressing the nation last week at 2:00 in the morning. His speech came one day after a ruling party senator opened fire — he fired a gun — to disperse protesters outside the Haitian Parliament, injuring an AP photojournalist and a security guard. This is President Moïse.

PRESIDENT JOVENEL MOÏSE: [translated] We have verified the Senate is not able to fulfill its constitutional obligations to give the country a legitimate government, rejecting the ratification of a general policy statement by two successive governments, ignoring the forms of the laws of the republic and the democratic principles. Seven months ago, we registered two rejected sessions. I take notes. … I have canceled the trip that I should have taken to participate in the U.N. General Assembly. I made that decision to address the country’s problems. I am talking about the political, economic and social situation. Haiti has long been facing difficult situations, situations of misery, unemployment, insecurity and political problems that block the functioning of schools by paralyzing other activities.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Haitian President Moïse. Jacqueline, can you tell us where he is right now?

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, I heard that yesterday he finally did make it to the palace. Interesting enough, that speech, which was a prerecorded address that he provided at 2 a.m. in the morning on Wednesday of last week, no one had heard from him or seen him in over a month. The last statements he had made or the last public appearance was on August 14, when he announced the re-establishment of the Haitian armed forces. And then, after that address that came in at 2 a.m. in the morning, we had not heard from him. In fact, this week, he called it in. He had a Cabinet meeting with, you know, his government officials, and he did it over the telephone. Yesterday, the Miami Herald wrote an editorial where basically it says, “President Moïse, you need to come out of hiding.” And, you know, we’d like to take a little bit of credit to think that he had read that editorial and decided to actually go down to the palace yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in an op-ed published in Al Jazeera Monday, political economist, climate policy expert Keston K. Perry wrote, quote, “The crisis started last year and was compounded by natural disasters that have repeatedly devastated the island nation: Hurricanes destroyed housing, food production, livelihoods and infrastructure and a severe drought dried up the island’s water resources. While international media has focused on a familiar story of corruption and mismanagement, what lies beneath this debilitating crisis is much more serious — a deadly combination of neocolonialism, neoliberalism and climate injustice. Indeed, what is happening now in Haiti is extreme and should scare us all, as it foreshadows what could happen to the rest of the planet if we do not take immediate action,” he wrote. Can you respond, Jacqueline Charles?

JACQUELINE CHARLES: You know, I’ve seen that editorial, and there’s a lot of chatter that’s going on about it. But honestly, the root of this is the issue of corruption. I think, similar to what you’re seeing in Hong Kong, this new generation of Haitians are saying, “Listen, we’re not going to go to Chile. We’re not going to go to Brazil or try to come to the United States. This is our country, and we need to change it. The system that was put in place after the fall of the dictatorship in 1987, it’s not working anymore.” I mean, they are just basically fed up.

You know, when this incident happened, this latest round of protests, the same day where you had the senator opening fire — days before, you had parliamentarians who went on the radio and publicly admitted to accepting bribes, you know, to install President Jovenel Moïse’s latest choice for prime minister. And then you had another parliamentarian, a senator, who in fact says, “I don’t know any government in this country that has been confirmed without money passing hands.”

So, when people heard that vote buying, and they can’t get fuel, they can’t put their kids in school, their purchasing power has fallen by over 100% in five years, it’s just enraging the population. And so, when we look today, we see Haitians up in arms all over the place. Yes, the country has not recovered from the 2010 earthquake. It is still dealing with the fallout of Matthew. It is at a high risk of climate change. It passed a huge — dodged a huge bullet just a few weeks ago with Dorian; we saw what it did to the Bahamas. But, for Haitians, if you talk to them, when you hear them on the streets, what they are denouncing is impunity and corruption that is happening. Their feeling is that because of mismanagement of the economy, because of the corruption, this is why the social situation is the way that it is. This is why there isn’t fuel or there’s these chronic fuel shortages.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the Bahamas. And you have, since the earthquake a decade ago in Haiti, thousands of Haitians fleeing to countries like the Bahamas and now hit extremely hard in the Bahamas by that latest hurricane. Can you talk about this mass migration? Also, last night, Hillary Clinton gave a talk in Brooklyn, and there were Haitians protesting outside. I remember coming to Haiti after the earthquake and seeing President Clinton, President Bill Clinton, saying, “The only two things that matter to me now are my daughter’s wedding and the rehabilitation of Haiti.” The U.S. deeply involved with Haiti for so many years, and much of that not exactly constructive, Jacqueline Charles.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Yes. I mean, in fact, I was in the Bahamas just a couple of weeks ago, and the Haitians who were there are very concerned about their future and what’s going to happen. I mean, when we look post-earthquake, there’s been a huge migration, not just to the Bahamas, but to a country like Chile, where there’s 100,000 Haitians that migrated in one year. That’s 10% of Haiti’s population. We also have Haitians on the U.S.-Mexico border today. I mean, Haitians have just gone anywhere they can go in order to try to get some sort of relief. And every time we see that the situation turns volatile in Haiti, we see Haitians either trying to get out by boat, or they’re trying to get out by plane.

And yes, after the earthquake, what you saw was President Clinton and the international community, especially the U.S., saying, “You know, we’re going to do this. We’re going to change things.” I think there was a lot of promises that were made, including $13 billion, which I’ve been asking people in the last couple of weeks, “Do you think $13 billion came here?” And they’re telling me, “No, the $13 billion did not come here.”

Haitians have very mixed views. What they find is, under President Obama, with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the U.S. was really involved, especially in terms of the elections. So a lot of them hold the U.S. responsible for what’s happening here with President Jovenel Moïse, who was the handpicked successor of former President Michel Martelly. But with every Haitian elections, there’s always allegations of fraud. There’s always issues.

And even today, as Haitians are fighting for this change — right? — in the back of their mind, or at the forefront of it, is: Where does the U.S. stand on this question? You know, just recently, a few days ago, you had members of the opposition who sat down with the U.S. ambassador, the U.N. representative and others from the donor community, and that meeting did not go very well, because what they are looking for is support in their mission, in their push to get President Jovenel Moïse to resign, and he says he’s not going to step down.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the Haitians that are in this country, who are demanding that TPS be extended, President Trump wanting to kick them out. Your response?

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, Nancy Pelosi is going to be in Miami tomorrow, and she is going to be meeting with about 10 members of the Haitian community — she’s going to be having a roundtable discussion — and U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who represents the largest constituency of Haitian Americans, who are going to be there, and they’re going to hear from them, where clearly the issue of temporary protected status is going to come up. I mean, imagine right now you see what’s happening in Haiti, you see the protests, you see the economic situation, and you’re in this country, you have temporary protected status, which is supposed to expire in January, albeit there are about five legal cases going through the courts right now. But to live with that kind of uncertainty and to hear —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: — and to hear the Trump administration say everything is well in Haiti, it very much has been agonizing.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, thanks so much for being with us. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!

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Anti-Government Protests Continue in Haiti; New Details Emerge About Role of U.S. Mercenaries

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