Thursday, February 14, 2019

Chaos in Haiti - who cares

SOYMB always wonders why some events get headline news and the attention of foreign political leaders yet others are hidden away by the media and ignored by other countries. 

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, with three-fifths of the nearly 11 million population living below the national poverty line of $2 a day. Poverty levels have been exacerbated by plummeting economic conditions in recent years.Since 2016, the country has faced a two-digit inflation, the national currency lost half of its value over the course of the last four years. And half of this decline actually happened last year.

According to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report in July 2018, some 1.3 million Haitians depend on food assistance. Each year, thousands of young people flee as illegal migrants, including to nearby Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.

 Haiti has been mired in a political crisis since February 7 that has left at least seven people dead and everyday life in the largest towns paralyzed by protests and barricades.

A wave of demonstrations against Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse and his government’s mishandling of development funds has left a seventh protestor dead after a week of violent clashes. A young man died at a crossroads near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and a  journalist was wounded by .gunshots. Demonstrators, who come mostly from poor neighbourhoods, are demanding Moïse’s resignation over graft scandals and for failing to tackle widespread poverty.

“This government is seen as incapable of tackling the economic crisis or the corruption,” said Jake Johnston, researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) and author of its Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog. "It's a popular uprising. Haitians are occupying the streets to make it clear that Jovenel (Moïse) has no choice but to resign," said demonstrator Prophete Hilaire, who was marching across the capital. "A government that cannot give its people nourishment and water must step down," he added.

The current demonstrations kicked off when Moïse found himself at the heart of a corruption scandal over the Petrocaribe fund, under which Venezuela supplied Haiti and other Caribbean and Central American countries with oil for years at cut-rate prices and easy credit terms. Investigations have shown that nearly $2 billion intended for development projects were misused from the program. In January, a report on the case revealed that a company, then headed by Moïse, was a beneficiary of funds from a road construction project. The company never a signed contract, according to the report.

Moïse is not the only Haitian leader to have seen his legitimacy disputed.According to Johnston, “there is a crisis of legitimacy concerning Haitians politicians who weren’t able to respond to the population’s needs”. Moïse’s case is even worse. Haiti’s current president only came into power in 2017 after a second poll, the first one having been cancelled over reports of massive fraud. “When the second election took place, less than 20 percent of the voters showed up. Even though no irregularities were found during the second ballot, such turnout rate could never lead to a stable term,” Johnston adde
Although many protestors have been killed in the current turmoil, Moïse and his prime minister have remained dead silent. Neither has reacted to the latest events, despite the violence sometimes breaking out only a few metres from the presidential palace.

Ignoring once again the people’s legitimate demands is a guarantee that the crisis will last a long time,” Johnston agreed “Authorities seem to blame the turmoil on a political opposition willing to seize power. They presume that it will run short of money and the movement will then cool down and the country will be calm again.”

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