Is Haiti Unraveling?

A version of this article was first published by the Global Americans on February 15, 2019.

While attention is rightly focused on Venezuela’s politico-humanitarian crisis, the precarious situation that has been evolving in Haiti over the past year has gotten dramatically worse. The crisis has rocked Haiti, and part of it links back to Venezuela.

Increasingly violent demonstrations have paralyzed the Port-au-Prince region since late last week. At work is a messy cocktail of political forces opposed to the Jovenel Moïse presidency. This is fueled in part by a judicial report issued in January that outlined massive embezzlement of Venezuela’s discounted oil PetroCaribe program to Haiti. The report highlights individuals from no fewer than three successive Haitian presidencies, and follows a parliamentary report issued more than a year ago that covered many of the same allegations—all left unanswered.

The Moïse presidency has been unable to get ahead of the rolling public protests since coming into office two years ago. Despite good intentions, it has been increasingly hobbled by a growing public perception of ineffectiveness. The economic outlook for a majority of Haitians is desperate, the value of the national currency (Gourde) keeps plummeting, and a boatload of Haitians drowned trying to reach the Bahamas early this month—a worrisome indicator of what may lie ahead.

These scenes of chaos have triggered expressions of concern from a range of international stakeholders, notably the United States, the UN, the OAS, key EU countries, and Canada, as well as the CARICOM group. Calls for a national dialogue appear overtaken by events. Most troubling to the international community is the open talk for the ouster of the Moïse government; drawing from past experience in Haiti, this extra-constitutional development would likely end badly—and would guarantee the reinsertion of the international community at a time when the existing UN apparatus (the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti—MINUJUSTH) is being prepped to be downgraded by the 2nd half of this year.

Adding to the government’s woes are several overlapping pressure points. The first and most notable has been the pressure it has been under—most notably from an increasingly irritated Washington—to break ranks with Venezuela’s Maduro regime, which it finally did early this month. The Maduro regime in effect tried to bribe Haiti by offering to reprogram some of the PetroCaribe funding, but the Moïse government didn’t back down.

This is not likely to be the end of the story. Although the Haitian government has broken with Maduro, the latter’s diplomatic envoy is still in Port-au-Prince, rumored to be creating mischief in an already unsteady Haitian capital. An indicator of this unsteadiness was the reported arrest last Monday of a former member of the National Police who was attempting to pass himself off as part of Moïse’s security detail. The undercover security agent suggested to some observers a possible assassination attempt against Haiti’s president.

Considering the government’s precarious finances, Haiti will need Washington’s help to secure sources of development support and investment; the current wave violence won’t help. The removal this week of Haiti’s long-standing ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, added more uncertainty to Haiti’s diplomatic efforts. Altidor’s departure was less surprising than the somewhat perplexing timing. Among several moving parts, Haiti’s next ambassador will have to manage the impact of a potential phase-out of the U.S. temporary protected status (TPS) program, affecting some 46,000 Haitians. Added to that now are this week’s events in Haiti.

Georges A. Fauriol is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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