Haiti Update: Insecurity reigns, while talk of elections continues

On Sunday, April 11, 5 priests, two nuns and family members of a priest from Galette Chambon were kidnapped. As of this writing, they have not been released.  The group was ambushed and taken on route to the installation of Father Jean Anel Joseph as parish warden of Galette Chambon. Those taken:

  • Father Evens Joseph, Société des prêtres de Saint-Jacques (PSJ)
  • Father Michel Briand (French citizen), PSJ
  • Father Jean Nicaisse Milien, PSJ
  • Father Joël Thomas, PSJ
  • Father Hugues Baptiste, priest of the Archdiocese of Cap-Haïtien
  • Sister Anne Marie Dorcélus, PSST – aunt of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
  • Sister Agnès Bordeau (French citizen), sister of Providence of la Pommeraye
  • Madame Oxane Dorcélus, mother of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
  • Miss Lovely Joseph, sister of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
  • Mr. Welder Joly, godfather of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ

In response to the dramatic rise in kidnappings of which this attack is a part, the Episcopal Conference of Haiti issued a strong statement condemning the kidnapping and calling for Catholic institutions across the country to stop work on April 15. The statement reads in part, 

We denounce and condemn with all our might the dictatorship of kidnapping in our country. We must not let bandits continue to kill, rape, kidnap others…We must unite in prayer, in striving to have another country similar to the one God wants us to be. The risen Jesus is the strength for all living Christians in the struggle for life. Thus, like the apostle Paul, we can say: “We are troubled but not despairing, we are under persecution, but we are not alone. They have struck us, but they have not killed us ”(2 Corinthians 4: 8-9).

It is in this sense that we, the Conference of Bishops and the CHR (Haitian Religious Conference), to protest against these evil deeds in the country, we ask all Catholic schools, presbyterals, congregants, universities and all other institutions. we are due to stop work next Thursday, April 15th. We ask the pairs and all the consecrated, all the pastoral agents to accompany and keep the people of God in hope as Pope Francis has just told us: “Do not let difficulties overwhelm you.” But we look forward with confidence and hope ”. We ask that on Thursday, April 15, throughout the country all bells be rung at noon and that we celebrate Mass in all our churches to ask God for change for Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, Mass will be celebrated in the church of St. Peter Petion-Ville and all the Bishops of Haiti on the same day at noon.

Full statement here (in Haitian Creole).

On April 15, 50+ businesses in Haiti announced that they would join with the church on the day of protest and Quisqueya University closed in solidarity.

A New Prime Minister

As the situation of insecurity continues to worsen, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe resigned April 13th, and Moise nominated Charles Joseph, the current foreign minister, as his replacement. 

In accepting Jouthe’s resignation, Moise referenced the security situation and the need to continue to press for some kind of compromise solution to the ongoing political stalemate.

Charles Joseph is set to become the 5th prime minister to serve under Jovenel Moise since massive protests against the government led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant in July 2018. The others were Jean-Henry Céant, who resigned in March of 2019 following another round of demonstrations. To be followed by Jean-Michel Lapin and then Fritz William Michel – who was never confirmed by parliament. Joseph Jouthe was made prime minister by Moise in March of 2020 and thus served one year during which Moise ruled by decree. 

Haiti’s government holds a “town hall  meeting” in the United States to sell referendum

Determined to press ahead with a referendum on the constitution, the government held a special town hall meeting for Haitians living in the United States. Under provisions of earlier constitutional reform, Haitians living in the United States will be able to vote in the referendum. It is important to remember that earlier constitutional reforms are themselves controversial, and secondly, a referendum of this kind is not allowed under the 1987 constitution. 

That said, the government seems intent on moving forward, though neither the United States nor the UN office in Haiti support the referendum. It is not clear that either the US or UN will seek to block the process, but both argue that legislative elections need to happen first, and that constitutional questions should be settled in consultation with that new legislature.

From the Miami Herald: “At this stage, the process is not sufficiently inclusive, participatory or transparent,” the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti, which is headed by La Lime, said in a tweet. “National ownership of the draft constitution requires the engagement of a wider range of political, societal, including women’s and religious groups across the country.”

The proposed constitutional reforms have only been available in French – not Haitian Creole. The referendum is scheduled for June, but it is very unlikely to happen – at least not with much in the way of participation. Many organizations see the reforms as illegitimate and thus plan to boycott the process. Further, as many people have pointed out, the security situation in the country makes holding the vote impractical, indeed, dangerous.

The United States still doesn’t get it

In addition to the kidnapping of the group attending Father Jean Anel Joseph’s installation, gangs attacked an orphanage, killing a guard and sexually assaulting two children over the weekend. The previous week witnessed another attack in Croix de Bouquet that led to several deaths and mutilations. Days earlier gangs from Delmas under the leadership of Jimmy Cherizier attacked the community of Bel Air – claiming to be a response to a previous attack from Bel Air, but which others argue was an effort to quell opposition to the government.

Twitter is daily filled with reports of gang violence, kidnappings and assaults on women and girls. For much of the country, Jovenel Moise should no longer be president. His tenure, according to organized sectors of civil society, constitutional scholars, and Supreme Court Justices, should have ended on February 7, 2021. He remains. Those organized in opposition do not support Moise overseeing elections. There is no consensus on a specific solution to the stalemate, but there is broad agreement among opposition forces on the need for a transitional government to oversee elections. And one of the main reasons is that many view Moise as responsible for the reigning insecurity, i.e., gangs have been mobilized to secure political positions – not simply as criminal operations.

Into this fray, which has been fraying for almost three years now, the United States has entered with a consistent mantra: elections must happen. The problem is that aside from Moise and his political allies, hardly any one else in Haiti is saying that. Rather, much as with the referendum, people are saying that the security situation is not conducive to holding elections. Further, if Moise is responsible (either through incompetence, or complicitity) for the main source of instability, i.e., the gangs, then any election overseen by him is likely to be poorly attended and widely seen as illegitimate – not to mention dangerous. In other words, elections in and of themselves, will solve nothing. 

So it comes as no surprise that amidst the deepening crisis, the State Department’s comment on the change in Prime Ministers:

Tone deaf.

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Biden must halt expulsions to Haiti

Yesterday morning I had two messages on Haiti in my inbox. One noting that the 27th removal flight to Haiti since February 1, 2021 was scheduled to land in Port-au-Prince later that afternoon. The other message was about a gang attack in the Marin 26 neighborhood in Croix-des-Bouquets not far from the airport in Port au Prince. On Wednesday this week (April 7), three young men were shot and at least one of them beheaded. Initial reports indicated that members of the gang “Chen Mechan” were responsible for the attack – one of the victims being the leader of a rival gang. 

The two story threads have been consistent since Biden took office. Two or three times a week (back in February, three times in one day!) expulsion flights are leaving the United States for Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, there are daily reports of gang attacks, kidnappings, or assassinations in Haiti. I keep wondering how Biden’s folk are unable to connect these dots, and stop the expulsions. 

The sad truth is, Biden’s people know all this – and they keep returning Haitians anyway; Women, children, men, families, are being expelled without having a chance to request asylum. This needs to stop. 

“May face harm…”

Toward the end of February, there was an interagency meeting held to discuss the dangers that people removed to Haiti may face. A document summarizing the meeting was leaked to Hameed Aleaziz of Buzzfeed News. His report of the document’s contents on March 2, 2021, says: 

“[B]ased on a recent analysis of conditions in Haiti, USCIS believes that Haitians removed to Haiti may face harm upon return to Haiti as follows.” The document goes on to explain the conditions in the country and relies exclusively on publicly available information, including a State Department travel advisory from August that recommended not traveling to Haiti due to “crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and COVID-19.”

By the end of February, the Biden administration had ramped up expulsions to Haiti, deporting more people during the first three weeks of February (963) than Trump had deported in all of Fiscal Year (895). Since this interagency meeting was reported (it is not clear when the meeting itself was held), and despite the clear observation that people “may face harm,” another 700+ people have been expelled to Haiti. 

There is widespread opposition to these expulsions to Haiti within the U.S. Congress, and among human rights organizations, public health experts and others. Nevertheless, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security has been unrelenting. 

Two weeks ago we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impact on Haitian Migrants. The report concerns the Trump era Center for Disease Control public health order claiming authority under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to expel people absent an asylum review or access to other humanitarian relief.  Though public health experts have lined up repeatedly to denounce this order as having no public health justification, Biden currently insists on keeping it in place.

For most people, Title 42 policies mean summary expulsion back into Mexico. Well over 90% of the people expelled are removed within 2 hours of first encounter by Border Patrol. One result is that many simply try to come back again. Nearly 40% of those removed this way, try again (this is one reason why the number of apprehensions have been increasing in recent months, even before Biden took office). However, for the vast majority of Haitians, Title 42 does not mean quick expulsion back across a bridge into Mexico. For Haitians, Title 42 means being placed in detention for weeks, and then put on a plane and sent back to Haiti.  

As we document in this report, most of the people arriving at the United States/Mexico border today left Haiti years ago. They are arriving from Brazil, Chile and other countries in Latin America where tens of thousands fled after the Port-au-Prince earthquake in 2010. So, after years of migration, fleeing violence and racism in other countries, on a journey across thousands of miles and seven to ten countries, people arrive at the U.S. border to make a claim for asylum. This they are denied. They are summarily expelled to Haiti without being heard

Another distinction for Haitian removals is that a large portion of them are families. Title 42 policies have no exemption for families and as a result, families have been expelled along with everyone else. Though there is some evidence that Biden is expelling fewer families overall in recent weeks, Haitian families are still being removed at alarming rates. Again, they are not allowed to request asylum or another kind of humanitarian relief. They are denied access to attorneys. They are held in very poor conditions. Most are not able to communicate with the people detaining them. From The Invisible Wall:

“Roseline” is a 37-year-old wife and mother who fled Haiti after being kidnapped, beaten, and raped by a group because of her political affiliations.“They had kidnapped me so I could give information about the political group I was a coordinator of. They beat me up, they raped me… I said I didn’t know any- thing. They let me go and asked me to search for information to bring to them.” After the attack, Rose- line tried to go to the Haitian police, but they refused to provide any form of protection.“I went to the police with what had happened, the police just laughed. They act just like bandits and said I didn’t get killed but I’m still complaining.”

Roseline and her husband fled Haiti in July of 2016. She gave birth to their first son while they were traveling through Mexico. After a long and grueling journey, Roseline entered the United States on Feb- ruary 1, 2021, and was expelled on February 11, 2021 under the Title 42 policy.

In the United States Roseline did not have a chance to speak to an immigration officer about her fear of returning to Haiti. She was never given a Haitian Creole interpreter nor were any of the documents she was given translated into Creole. Roseline did not get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer nor present her case to a judge. She was detained for 11 days without access to a shower or to brush her teeth:

I was in prison, they kept me there and did not give me access to a shower or to brush my teeth or wash myself. I couldn’t do anything and they put me on a plane back to Haiti…. Anywhere in the world it’s known that a woman cannot go two days without bathing. I spent 11 days there without any access to clean myself with a 4-month-old baby. When I got wipes for the baby, I had to use the wipes to wash my private parts. The baby had pooped on the clothes. I asked if I could change the baby’s clothes and I had to put the dirty clothes in a plastic bag, and they said they had no clothes for me. I wanted to get access to our stuff to get clean clothes but they didn’t allow me so I had to put the clothes with the poop on the baby again, and those are the clothes the baby wore on the plane…. I had in- fection when I returned to Haiti because I spent the whole time without bathing.

Roselyn’s case is not unique. While difficult to confirm with DHS, we estimate that Haitian families make up at least half of these expulsions. Advocates working to halt removals have encountered full expulsion flights of all family units, including dozens of young children. The optics of expelling children, some just months old to Haiti are not great for the administration. However, the optics of treating them decently seems to scare Biden more. So, while there is often buzz about this or that deal on Title 42, the only public gesture Biden’s administration has made regarding Haiti immigration is the U.S. Embassy posting warnings to Twitter, telling people not to come to the United States.

Meanwhile, the conditions in Haiti that people are being returned to are deteriorating rapidly.

The psychosis of fear

The administration’s observation that people returned to Haiti “may face harm” seems laughably obtuse – except that there is nothing funny about the collapse of governance and rising insecurity in Haiti.

“Practically every Haitian is living in a psychosis of fear,” [Michelle] Obas told the Miami Herald. “Every time you see a vehicle, you jump. Even your child. You are taking them to school and they are afraid. … The country’s traumatizing and we are in a situation that is chaotic with no idea when we will get out of it.” 

The topic on everyone’s mind at the moment is the rise in gang violence. The reality is that gangs are a manifestation of a deep structural crisis involving long-term unemployment, crowded, underserviced cities, and the parallel collapse of state capacity, as public agencies have been gutted by decades of neo-liberal reform. All of this has occurred alongside an utter refusal to stem the flow of weaponry to the country (despite a “weapons embargo” thousands of small arms have entered Haiti since 2004/5, most from the United States and the Dominican Republic).  

The result is that gang violence has been steadily on the rise over the past few years, and shows no sign of abating. While the refrain that the government is “behind the gangs” is probably not true across the board, there have been multiple reports that some armed groups, such as the federation G-9 under the control of Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, are backed by – or at least tolerated by – the government in exchange for keeping a lid on opposition activity. 

Just this week the situation in Port-au-Prince exploded again, as Cherizier’s gang attacked the community of Bel Air, burning out families in a rampage that left an untold number of people dead. From the Miami Herald,

They arrived unannounced, brandishing heavy artillery as they scaled the rooftops of houses, firing shots and setting homes ablaze.

While some residents managed to escape amid the billows of black smoke and tear gas, others became trapped and died inside their burning houses. The Thursday assault on residents inside the poor, pro-opposition neighborhood of Bel Air in Haiti’s capital was the third large attack in less than two years.

It occurred within walking distance of Haiti’s presidential palace and was perpetrated by gang members affiliated with Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a fired policeman-turned-powerful gang chief who is wanted in several massacres, including the slaughter of dozens of men, women and children in a 2018 attack in Port-au-Prince’s La Saline slum.

Cherizier does not deny attacking Bel Air, but claims he was defending his neighborhood (Delmas) against attacks from rival gangs in Bel Air. Cherizier argues that Haiti’s opposition is “supplying guns and cash to Bel Air so residents could attack his alliance.”

Human rights leaders said it had nothing to do with gang rivalry, but “was to break the resistance of Bel Air, which is considered an opposition stronghold, and to prevent residents from taking to the streets in anti-government protests, which have increased in recent weeks. . . . The attack is also the result of the impunity that Chérizier and his fellow gang members have come to enjoy under the administration of President Jovenel Moïse, Gilles added.” 

It is worth noting that days before the attack, people mobilized in large demonstrations against the government.

While the motivations and alliances underlying the gang phenomenon are multi-faceted, and vary in different parts of the country, one thing that should be abundantly clear to the U.S. Embassy and thus the Biden administration is that gang violence in Haiti right now, whatever criminal activity accompanies it, is political violence. Period. People who are fleeing this situation are as much refugees as people fleeing a war zone. 

For the time being, however, Biden’s team keeps sending people back into the heart of the conflict. And, to be clear, not just sending them back, but doing so without even allowing them a chance to make a claim for humanitarian relief. It is infuriating to watch, and it must stop. What political calamity does Biden fear so much that he is willing to send families back to Haiti without even pausing to ask them why they fled? 

What can be done?

Among the recommendations we make in our report, the big ticket items are 1. Rescind Title 42 policies, 2. Re-designate temporary protected status (TPS) for Haiti, and 3. Halt all expulsions and deportations to Haiti.

Title 42 is just lousy policy. When implemented it was widely viewed as a political stunt by Steven Miller, Trump’s anti-immigration advisor, to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an end around federal courts, which had blocked several Trump efforts to shut down asylum. Title 42 also bypasses Congress altogether.  Public health experts have repeatedly bashed the CDC order as unnecessary, and have offered multiple sets of recommendations that could replace it and actually provide enhanced public health measures at the border without closing off asylum claims.

Biden has agreed to review the policy – and the CDC order will have to be revoked eventually, one would think. For now, every day thousands of people are being expelled with no due process by the president who promised to rebuild asylum. He needs more time, he says, and blames the whole situation on Trump. We don’t think this is good enough.

The message to Biden: Revoke Title 42, and replace it with real public health protections and expanded asylum processing.

Second, re-designate TPS for Haiti. Temporary Protected Status is a designation that the president can make that protects most people currently in the United States from a specific country from removal. People who are unauthorized, or unable to return home, can get permission to work for some period of time, rather than be deported. Haiti was granted TPS following the earthquake in 2010, and it was redesignated in 2011 (meaning anyone from Haiti living in the United States as of July 23, 2011 was protected from removal). 

Trump tried to kill TPS for Haiti by refusing to renew it in 2018. This set off a court battle that is still underway.

The demand being made now is that Biden re-designate TPS for Haiti. This would end the uncertainty Haitians previously designated have been living with since Trump starting dismantling TPS, and it would also protect others currently in the United State who are more recent arrivals.

Politically speaking, there is no reason not to do this! Members of the Senate, including Republican Marco Rubio, have called for redesignating TPS for Haiti.This week, House leadership on the foreign relations committee joined in the call for a redesignation of TPS for Haiti. This seems to be the most likely remedy. 

Unfortunately redesignation does nothing about the Title 42 expulsions. Anyone from Haiti arriving after the re-designation date, will still be expelled. At the same time, halting Title 42 expulsions, while reducing the number of people being removed, does not mean people get to stay unless Haitian asylum claims are taken more seriously.

So, we support all of the above. But the simplest demand is to stop the expulsion of Haitians! No more removals until the political situation stabilizes. 

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At the border: 2019 was worse. What can we learn from this?

CNN reported on Thursday, April 1, “There were about 17,650 unaccompanied migrant children in US government custody….including 5,767 in CBP custody.” So, 5,767 in Border Patrol custody, leaving “about” 11,883 in the custody of Health and Human Services (or in the process of being transferred into HHS custody).

In July of 2019, there were well over 14,000 children in HHS custody. Indeed, between October of 2018 and September of 2019, the average daily population of kids in HHS custody never dropped below 11,000!! 

Meanwhile, Border Patrol facilities were packed: A daily average of people in custody hovered at 16,000 in June of 2019 – including children, families and single adults. The people evaluating detention practices at Border Patrol stations were shocked at conditions, and the publication of their findings led to a widespread outcry.  In an interview with The Atlantic, Warren Binford, an attorney inspecting facilities, said:

Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

At the border today, there are again a large number of unaccompanied minors, in numbers that apparently exceed current capacity at HHS shelters to receive them (though it is not clear why). The scenes of kids in crowded pods are a striking reminder of the sorry state of U.S. border policy. However bad that it is, it does not approach the catastrophe that faced migrants, including children, on our border in the late spring and summer of 2019. 

One reason is that there are fewer people in custody today. While the number of kids in custody is high today, this is not true of the overall population – which is actually very low by historical standards. In fact, the vast majority of migrants apprehended attempting to cross the border are single adults and they are being expelled immediately under “Title 42.” Title 42 is an abusive policy which claims authority under public health provisions of the federal code to expel people. 536,000 people since last March. We oppose this program. Last week we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack Network documenting multiple problems with Title 42, with a particular focus on harms to Haitian migrants. The fact that people are being summarily expelled in this manner is a shocking abdication of responsibility. 

What this also means, however, is that there are far fewer people in custody right now than any point in recent history. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention soared during the summer of 2019, reaching an all time peak of 55,000 people in custody a day by August. Currently the number of people in ICE custody is less than 14,000 (data sheet linked here – updated weekly) – the lowest level in over 20 years.

As noted, Border Patrol facilities were well over-capacity in 2019 – above and beyond the number of kids in custody. In addition, record numbers of people were being redirected for Federal Prosecution for “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry” at the time as part of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. As a result, at least 23,000 people were either in Federal Bureau of Prison or Marshall Service custody on any given day serving time or in pre-trial detention. Indeed, as we reported at the time, there were approximately 100,000 people in some form of immigration detention in July of 2019. We are nowhere close to that now.  In addition, there were tens of thousands of other people (approximately 50,000 in summer 2019) waiting in Mexico to make an asylum claim under the Migrant Protection Protocol. 

Comparing 2019 to today raises a couple of important points. 

First, the U.S. immigration system remains broken. It is a disgrace that people are treated this way. But the situation now is by no measure worse than we saw in 2019. Talks of a 20-year high in apprehensions ignore that 80% of the people apprehended are pushed back out of the country within two hours of being encountered by Border Patrol under Title 42. Ignoring this fact also seriously mischaracterizes what is happening right now compared to other periods in history, when detention was much higher and conditions far worse. Also, while we may hit a 20 year high in total apprehensions before the year is over, we are still below 2019 at this point (April 2, 2021).

Secondly, we want to shout at Biden and his team with every decibel we can muster: Deterrence DOES NOT WORK!!! It is increasingly infuriating to hear the media talk about this increase in numbers as a result of the perception that Biden is going easy on people. There is anecdotal evidence of this, of course. Reporters can always find people who will say they expect Biden to be nicer. The administration needs to ignore this narrative, which implies generosity is an invitation to crisis, and, therefore, deterrence works.

A far worse human rights debacle was visited upon migrants, amidst a larger increase in border crossings while Trump was president. Trump’s DHS brutalized people, proudly and on camera, under the delusion that doing so would keep others from trying to come. It did not work! The twenty year peak in apprehensions actually happened while Trump was president – the year after his administration decided that taking people’s children would be an effective deterrent. If Trump’s immigration program failed to “deter,” Biden needs to rethink the idea that staying tough-ish is the answer. 

People are fleeing desperate circumstances and their decisions to leave home generally have nothing to do with U.S. border policy! For example, people from Haiti arriving at the border today generally left Haiti years ago, and are actually arriving from Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere. Yet, the U.S. embassy in Haiti this week is posting pictures of Biden telling Haitians “not to leave.” It is a patronizing and frankly ignorant response to the criticism Biden has received for expanding removals to Haiti.

Finally, Border and Customs Services proudly proclaims it processes 650,000 people a day. Given that, I have to ask how on earth 400 unaccompanied kids crossing a day is crippling the system? So, rather than doubling down on Title 42 expulsions, and co-opting Mexico to yet again play enforcement partner, as Biden is currently doing, resources should be redirected to facilities that improve processing  at the border so these kids are spending minimal time in custody (more asylum screeners and less Border Patrol for example). Also we need to be sure that adults and families can also be interviewed quickly, screened for COVID-19 and released safely upon the revocation of Title 42 – which must happen now.  People will keep coming – we need to be clear on that and adapt our approach to be far more humane. The media sensationalizing the border situation, however, is not helping.

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Media Release: The Invisible Wall: New Report on Title 42 and impact on Haitian migrants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Nicole Phillips, Legal Director, Haitiian Bridge Alliance, nmp.law@gmail.com, +1 (510) 715-2855

Tom Ricker, Policy Director, The Quixote Center, tomr.quixote@gmail.com, (301) 922-8909

Biden’s Invisible Wall: New Report Describes the Hardships that Title 42 Expulsions Create for Haitian Migrant Families and Calls on Biden to Stop Expelling Migrants to Haiti

San Diego, California, March 25, 2021 — Today, one year after the “Title 42” policy was enacted, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Quixote Center and UndocuBlack release the report, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impacts on Haitian Migrants, and call on the Biden-Harris Administration to immediately revoke Title 42 and end expulsions to Haiti. According to Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of Haitan Bridge Alliance, “Most if not all of the expulsions to Haiti are per the Title 42 policy, which was adopted  under a false pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Title 42 is Trump’s invisible wall that effectively closed the U.S.-Mexico border to migrants.” “Our Report,” says Ms. Jozef, “presents the voices and hardships of Haitian migrant families who have been abused in immigration custody and then expelled under the Title 42 policy without the opportunity to seek legal counsel or request asylum or other protection.”

On February 1, 2021, the first day of Black History Month, the U.S. government drastically expanded removals and expulsions to Haiti. Rather than dismantle the Trump Administration’s invisible wall, the Biden-Harris Administration doubled down. More Haitians have been removed per the Title 42 policy in the weeks since President Joe Biden took office than during all of Fiscal Year 2020. The Report provides the narratives of Haitian families who were apprehended at the U.S. Mexico border within the last year under the Title 42 policy and were subject to expulsion to Haiti or Mexico. 

The Report explains how Haitian migrants are expelled under the Title 42 policy without being informed whether or when they will be expelled, and without the opportunity to seek asylum or other forms of protection.  “Abigale” (name changed), a Haitian woman interviewed for the Report, describes the cruelty of immigration officials during her family’s expulsion, “None of the officers ever confirmed that we were being deported. No one would even say the word deportation. None of them, through this whole process. All the families were crying on the bus, for over an hour. My husband and others kept asking what was going on, if they were deporting us. They would not tell us anything despite our desperation. It was all extremely emotional.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration has continued cruelty against immigrants,” said Patrice Lawrence, Co-director of the UndocuBLack Network. “We hope that this will not be their legacy. It is cruel to use Title 42 as a loophole for deporting immigrants in general and Black migrants in particular. It is a euphemism for removals and deportation of immigrants which the Trump Administration deemed expendable in the wider context of its eugenic agenda of creating a Whiter America and atmosphere of nativism. The invisible wall named Title 42 keeps at bay brown and Black people fleeting war, violence, poverty and disasters under the pretext of protecting Border Protection officers from COVID-19 and to minimize the number of persons in congregate settings, such as immigration detention centers. The Biden-Harris Administration continues to ignore the cry and plight of immigrants that are being forced to board a plane and are taken to the very places they escaped from. The xenophobic language of the previous Administration might be gone, but the practices still remain.”

“There is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants,” says Tom Ricker, Policy Director with the Quixote Center.  “The idea for the policy came not from public health officials, but from the Trump White House. The entire justification for the Title 42 policy is the claim that the United States lacks the capacity to safely detain people. Yet, the United States is holding people for weeks only to then put them on crowded planes. How do you deny someone asylum who has been placed in detention – with no legal representation at all – based on the argument that there is no capacity to detain them?”

The Report also describes the high security risks that Haitian migrants face when they are expelled to Haiti or Mexico. As one woman who was recently expelled to Haiti under Title 42 describes, Now the country is in more turmoil so I’m even more afraid to leave [my home]. If these people find us, they would just kill us this time around.” 

“Haitian migrants flee violence, instability and persecution in Haiti, then travel a long and treacherous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking safety and security in the United States,” says Nicole Phillips, Legal Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Instead of security, they are abused by immigration officers and – under the Title 42 policy – summarily expelled back to the country they fled without any chance to seek protection. As this Report explains, these expulsions are not only tragic, they are illegal.”

The authors offer nine recommendations. “First,” says Ms. Phillips, “the Title 42 policy must be revoked immediately. It is also critical that asylum processing resumes, while migrants are released to shelter in place with their loved ones in the United States rather than being detained. Incarceration must stop.”

The Full report can be read here.

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A “State of Emergency” Declared in Haiti

On Monday, March 15, Jovenel Moise declared a “state of emergency” in Haiti in a decree endorsed by his Council of Ministers. According to news reports,

A decree adopted by the Council of Ministers said:  “The state of emergency is instituted in gangsterized areas for one month, during which certain rights can be suspended in neighborhoods concerned, in order to allow the PNH (National Police of Haiti) to regain control of the situation.”

The decree defines the state of emergency as “a situation in which a regime applies restricting certain fundamental freedoms and exceptional powers of the executive which are justified by a situation of proven or imminent national disaster, terrorist attack or serious breach of public order challenging the police and endangering national security and requiring the adoption of urgent measures.”

Though a “State of Emergency” is defined legislatively, the Council of Ministers amended legislative provisions in order “to give the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) the means to combat banditry and crime, and to empower the PNH and the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH) to work in synergy to combat.” 

Specific areas named in the decree include: Village de Dieu, Grand-Ravine, Delmas 2, and Savien (in the Artibonite). However, the decree allows for the emergency declaration to be applied in other areas defined by the Council, so enforcement could ultimately reach anywhere.

With declaration in hand, Moise met with officials at the Organization of American States on Monday, and the United Nations on Tuesday to ask for “technical and logistical” support for police activity. 

Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, restated U.S. qualified support for Moise during hearings last week. Blinken’s statement was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday: “I share concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocratic actions that we’ve seen. Decrees need to be limited to essential functions. We need to see the Haitians organize, with international support, genuinely free and fair elections this year.”

The moves this week all point toward Moise attempting to consolidate his grip on power in the wake of the bloody and disastrous police invasion of Village de Dieu last Friday. The police effort to take control of Village de Dieu, reportedly a location where many kidnapping victims are held, and under the control of the “5 Seconds” gang, ended in disaster. Armed groups in the area seized one of the police’s armed vehicles, burned another, and killed four police officers, while wounding another eight – three of whom required emergency surgeries. Gang members shot video of the violence, including desecration of the bodies of the police officers; videos were shared widely on social media.

The whole episode has magnified criticism of the government – including, now, from members of the police force. For over a year, some members of the national police have been organizing periodic protests against the government in disputes over pay and dismissals. Formally, demands for better pay and treatment have come from the Syndicat de la Police Nationale d’Haiti (SPNH17). Informally, some members of the police have mobilized under the banner of Phantom 509, which has ridden through sectors of Port-au-Prince on motorcycles and burned vehicles during various protests over the past year.

This week, Phantom 509 issued an ultimatum to the gangs in Village de Dieu to hand over the bodies of police officers killed in the operation last Friday. Then on Thursday, Phantom 509 marched again with other police officers. Under the auspices of SPNH17 some police officers issued a call for the resignation of Chief of Police Leon Charles. Members of Phantom 509 also invaded a police station to set free members arrested in other actions.

Where does this all lead? If one interprets the police operation in Village de Dieu last Friday as an effort to establish credibility on Moise’s part, it clearly backfired – massively. Moise is now seen as even more inept, with calls for his removal widening even further (see #FreeHaiti). Among rank and file police officers Friday’s disastrous attack has only widened divisions further.

So, now Moise is retreating to where he always has – seeking support from international bodies and the U.S. government. 

Over the weekend the U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere stated, “The vile murder of Haitian National Police officers in Village de Dieu highlights the broader insecurity challenges in Haiti. We call on the Haitian government to provide the police with the resources it needs to protect the Haitian people from gangs.” (emphasis added). Moise has taken this “advice” to heart with the declaration of a State of Emergency, providing expanded powers to the police, alongside the prospect of joint operations with the Armed Forces of Haiti (presumed to be loyal to Moise). 

Biden may well tire of standing with Moise, as the situation continues to unravel. Of course, Moise would not be in power were it not for the machinations of the last administration of which Biden was a part. Obama’s team at the State Department under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped put the PHTK in power back in 2010-2011, and U.S. pressure helped put Moise himself in power. Accountability for such interventions being foreign to the United States, I don’t expect Biden to actually change course now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Haitians are left to reap what the elite and their allies in D.C. have sown.

 

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Amidst the political turmoil, life goes on Gros Morne

Throughout February, as Haiti was facing an ongoing political crisis that has kept much of the country on edge, work continued. For the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center this meant visiting community organizations, presenting workshops, checking in with people and their livestock with the mobile clinic, and talking to farmers about the quality of the recent sweet potato harvest. I capture some of these activities below, with updates from the team. 



In the top-left photo above, participants in the goat program bring their goats to a mobile vet clinic led by Songé; in the top-right photo, Songé speaks with a young man who has brought a chicken in for a check-up. The goat program is built around the concept of “paying it forward.” Community groups receive training on the program and care for the goats, and then “cohorts” are formed including 10 female goats and one billy goat. When the goats have kids, they are shared with other members of the community. The chicken program works in a similar fashion, with community organizations involved in the distribution of chickens, which provide another source of food as well as eggs that can be sold in local markets.

On the bottom left, Aneus, a member of the agronomy team, holds a community meeting with people who are using a cistern to water their yard gardens in Bigue. The cistern project has been a major undertaking (funded by Focus on Haiti, a project of the Sisters of Mercy). More on this below. In the bottom right photo, Teligene, another member of the agronomy team, shows workshop participants how to prepare a smoked fish.

In this photo, Teligene & Songé hold a formation about land preparation before the spring planting in Baden. The spring planting is the primary one for the year (there is another in the fall). These kinds of trainings are one of the benefits for participants in the seed bank, through which farmers can purchase seeds at subsidized rates and hold them “in deposit” at the bank until preparations for planting are complete. The timing and success of plantings is highly contingent on rainfall, which has become increasingly unpredictable. 


Above is a map of program sites where the agronomy team is involved in training and other support for farming communities. You can see the various places where the goat and chicken programs have been launched, where work is being done with planting gardens, and in training on the planting of weevil free sweet potatoes. 

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More people removed to Haiti in last 4 weeks than all of FY2020

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From February 1 to 26, 2021 the Biden administration removed 981 people to Haiti, including at least 270 children.  In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti through ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.

What is going on? The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 460,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of January 31, 2021). 

For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. Which means most Title 42 removals to Haiti are done by plane. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in additions to number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.

There are many layers to this. One is that Haitians have always been treated poorly by immigration authorities in the United States. The determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitains at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.

Each of these steps eventually led to an erosion of rights for everyone seeking protection at our borders. Metering, for example, was expanded by Trump, and in a twisted turn, underlay the logic of the Migrant Protection Protocols which forced 72,000 people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.  

The fact that Haitians are typically treated more harshly is a by-product of the idea that deterrence is an important framework for immigration enforcement measures. In various ways, deterrence has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades. Certainly, jailing Haitians seeking asylum was intended to discourage others from trying. The same “logic” was used by Obama to justify the metering system and expanded deportations. 

Of course, deterrence ultimately targets everyone. Trump detained all asylum seekers, to deter more from coming, and his administration explicitly cited deterrence as the reason for the child separation policy employed in 2018. The Migration Protection Protocol was followed by the Transit Ban, which denied people access to asylum if they crossed a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border without first applying for asylum there. The message all around: Don’t bother trying to come here, you won’t get in at all.

This is sadly the same message Biden is currently sending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday: “To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is:  Don’t do it.  We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures.  The border is closed to irregular migration.”  The Secretary of Homeland Security is offering a similar message. From the NY Times:

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum. “They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”

For the Biden team, this message is justified by two things: 1. COVID-19 is still a threat and thus the CDC order must remain in place. 2. Biden is committed to reforming border policy but, he notes, it will “take time.” In the interim, his administration is afraid that liberalizing rules too quickly will lead to a “surge” of immigration.

There are a number of problems with these arguments. The CDC order was a political stunt from the beginning, not a serious public health measure. A surge in the number of people seeking entry is certainly possible, as a result of the ongoing deterioration of conditions in the countries people are fleeing rather than a misreading Biden’s generosity. The idea that treating people humanely makes for bad politics is a strange notion indeed. 

But none of these arguments mean much for folk from Haiti. Haitians apprehended are mostly placed in detention until they can be removed, which means they can be tested, are in effect being quarantined, and so on. There is no reason to then deny them due process, certainly not a public health argument. The deterrent argument, generally flawed to begin with, makes no sense for Haitians either – most of whom left Haiti years ago, and are arriving now via Brazil, Chile and Peru. They no doubt try to read the situation at the border the best they can, so they can decide when it is best to try and cross. But deterrence has little impact on their decision to travel thousands of miles to begin with.  

Considering all of the above, and given the ongoing political crisis in Haiti, the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitians at this rate is unconscionable. There are many ongoing efforts to halt the expulsions to Haiti (latest letter here), as well as efforts to end Title 42 enforcement, and deportations more generally. As with Trump’s DHS team, Biden’s folk seem unmoved by these efforts. Congressional outrage, editorials from the New York Times and Washington Post, and even simple reason seem to not matter much – there was another removal flight to Haiti on March 2. Meanwhile, Biden’s administration does seem to fear the daily scorchings they are receiving on Fox News. If Obama’s presidency holds any lessons for Biden, it is that they will be scorched on Fox News no matter what they do – so why not do something bold? Or in this case, do what is right: Halt removals to Haiti! 

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Haiti update, and call to stop removals!

On February 7, Jovenel Moise refused to step down from the presidency of Haiti. As we reported last week, there has been a flurry of activity since, as Moise has sought to secure his position and attack opponents. On the morning of February 7th, Moise had 20-23 people arrested, including a supreme court justice and police inspector, on charges that they were plotting to kill him and take control of the government. The coup narrative, reported widely around the world that day, served its purpose of deflecting attention away from the source of the crisis (Moise’s refusal to step down) but has mostly been met with skepticism since. 

Later that evening a segment of the opposition selected another supreme court justice, Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis , to serve as a provisional president. The next day, police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building, and Moise, later “retired” three more justices. The retirements were likely not legal, and neither was Moise’s appointment of three replacements on Friday. With the Supreme Court recast in his image, and Parliament defunct, Moise has contained any institutional opposition to his continued rule. 

Not surprisingly, of course, over the past week there have been demonstrations against the government. In several of these demonstrations police very clearly targeted journalists, two of whom were shot. Mobilization from popular neighborhoods in the capital are dangerous, as many of these neighborhoods are under the control of gangs aligned with the government. The biggest demonstration of the week came on Sunday, February 14.

Moise is still holding the executive office, and is pressing ahead with plans for a referendum on a package of constitutional reforms to be held in April (though when or if this happens is still an open question). The reconstitution of the Supreme Court takes on increased relevance here, as the referendum itself is likely unconstitutional. If Moise proceeds, he is likely to use the new court to approve the various measures he is attempting to roll out.

The “opposition”

While many people have rallied behind Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis  as a provisional president, he is hardly a consensus choice. This underscores an important point for all of us reading the crisis from abroad: The opposition is not a singular entity. In March of 2019 Commune published an article by the Kolektif Anakawona that provides background on different facets of the opposition, a rubric that is still largely applicable and worth a review.

There is, of course, a “partisan” opposition, made up of current and former parliamentarians. These folks were the focal point of attention when parliament was still in session, but many of them struggle with legitimacy among grassroots and popular organizations. Youri Latortue, for example, led the charge in investigations of abuse of PetroCaribe funds, yet has himself been the target of corruption investigations. If one focuses solely on the disputes between opposition members of parliament and Moise, it gives the appearance that the crisis is rooted in partisan wrangling. That is certainly how the White House under Trump and now Biden has viewed it. This would be a gross oversimplification.

People have been mobilizing not for a change of party but for structural change. What this means might vary group to group, but ultimately it is a demand for a more inclusive society – not simply better elections. Nou Pap Domi, a grassroots organization that grew out of the PetroCaribe protests, for example, issued a “Message to the Nation” on February 6, 2021 that said, “NOUPAPDÒMI does not recognize the legitimacy of the rest of the senators in parliament, nor some civil society actors as well as some politicians who were involved in all the wasteful negotiations and initiatives that got us into this crisis, to organize any dialogue or play any role in the country’s governance after the presidential term ends. There will be a RUPTURE from all the people, all the groups that never worked for the well-being of the people, who are up to their elbows in everything that got us into this state of turmoil today.”   

Though there is a diversity in the long and medium term vision of where Haiti needs to go – from politicians seeking new elections and new positions in a newly reformed government, to youth organizations seeking a rupture with the past and reconstitution of political and economic forces – there is near unanimity that Moise’s term has expired and a transition must begin immediately. Again, reading the crisis from the United States, we are confronted with the fact that our government’s position stands against the vast majority of Haiti’s political organizations and civil society. That said, we must keep in mind that no one group “speaks for the people of Haiti,” an obvious fact that somehow gets glossed over. From the U.S. then, we should demand that Biden’s State Department drop its support for Moise’s mandate extending to February 7, 2022 – but not argue about who gets to take charge, or how. Under no circumstance should we demand that the U.S. play any role in removing Moise. 

As we’ve said many times, the U.S. needs to get out of the way of a solution rather than promote the one that seems most conducive to U.S. interests. By simply saying, some variation of “the United States supports the people of Haiti in deciding the way forward…,” the Biden administration would make a solution far more likely. Currently, however, what we see is a stream of patronizing platitudes raining down on Haiti from the U.S., O.A.S., and U.N. that endorse Moise’s tenure. The expressions of concern, cautions about constitutionality and the expressed need for dialog all become pretty vacuous when enjoined with, “and we think Moise’s mandate ends February 7, 2022.” 

Biden has removed more people to Haiti in three weeks than Trump did in all of FY2020

Yes that is true. The Biden administration is expelling people to Haiti at an insane rate. And they continue to, After flying people out nearly every day (there were three expulsions flights to Haiti in one day last week!), this week there was a short break due to the weather – not principle – with transportation and energy infrastructure in Texas largely shut down. That said, there were still removal flights to Haiti on Monday and Friday.

According to ICE’s recently released annual report for FY 2020 (which runs from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), 895 people were removed to Haiti during that year – which includes Title 42 removals from March to September. While precise numbers on the flights this month are not known (flight manifests are not public) there have been 13 flights since February 2, some full with 135 people, others with fewer. But estimates are that at least 900 people have been removed so far this month, most of whom have been part of family units. Including infants.

So, Biden’s ICE isn’t any nicer than Trump’s. Amidst the current crisis in Haiti, this level of removal is unconscionable. 

What you can do?

For now, we are very much focused on ending the expulsion of people to Haiti. There are a number of petitions and statements circulating that you can join onto. While these actions do not address the roots of the crisis in Haiti, they are directed at one of the inhumane responses of our government to that crisis – continuing to expel people.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance is circulating a letter calling for a halt to removals to Haiti. It is a strong letter and open to organizations and individuals. You can view the letter hereand sign here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is circulating a sign-on letter for congregations and other organizations, calling for end to removals. You can sign your group on here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is also circulating a letter for individual faith leaders to sign. View that here

Faith in Action is also circulating a statement to end removals to Haiti in the context of the political crisis. You can sign that here.

There is a growing movement to press Biden to revoke Title 42 sooner rather than later. The Latin America Working Group has launched a petition to the effect which you can sign here.

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Political Crisis in Haiti

As many of you know, Jovenel Moise refused to step-down from Haiti’s presidency on Sunday, February 7, 2021. Moise is arguing that a delay in his inauguration (he did not take office until 2017) means he should serve until February 7, 2022. The United States government and Luis Almagro, OAS General Secretary are standing by Moise. Meanwhile, most of Haiti is not.

Woy magazine published one of the clearer explanations of the argument about Moise’s term, sighting the section 134-2 of the Constitution, as amended in 2012: The president elected enters into his functions on 7 February following the date of his election. In the case where the ballot cannot take place before 7 February, the president elected enters into his functions immediately after the validation of the ballot and his mandate is considered to have commenced on 7 February of the year of the election.

Moise won election in 2016 (following allegations of fraud during the original 2015 election), hence, his mandate is considered to have begun on February 7, 2016. Seems clear enough.

That said, another president might have garnered the benefit of the doubt. But not Moise. He has been the target of ongoing demonstrations since July 2018. At that point frustration with economic decline, revelations (some implicating Moise) of billions of dollars stolen out of PetroCaribe funds, and an IMF mandated cut in fuel subsidies all combined to send thousands of people into the street, and ultimately led to the collapse of the government and resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant.

Moise, however, survived.  Over the last two and half years, there have been ongoing protest cycles that have locked the country down repeatedly, the one consistent demand: Moise’s resignation. Another Prime Minister was forced to resign following protests in February of 2019, and a new government, at least one approved by Parliament, never materialized. Yet, Moise remained. Then in January 2020, the terms of the House of Deputies, and the majority of Senators expired. Since then, Moise has been ruling by decree and the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated even further.

Moise’s refusal to step down was not a surprise. He has been indicating that he intended to stay in power for some time now. He has proposed a constitutional referendum for this April, to be followed by two rounds of elections in the fall. The Electoral Commission he appointed to oversee all of this, was not approved by most sectors and is widely seen as illegitimate. The opposition, though divided in many ways, remains united in the demand the Moise step aside and allow a provisional president or council to oversee elections. There is precedent for this. Mosie’s predecessor, Michele Martelly stepped down in 2016 despite there being no replacement, to allow a provisional president to complete the electoral process (delayed for wide spread accusations of fraud) that brought Moise to power.

Timeline of activity this week

Events since Sunday have evolved quickly – too quickly to offer much detailed analysis (below the timeline I point to some resources that give a deeper understanding of the context of events). Here I simply offer a summary and highlight stories and statements

Sunday

Moise announces a foiled coup attempt from the airport, (on his way to Jacmel). 

Those arrested include a Supreme Court justice Yvickel Dabrésil and police inspector Marie-Louise Gauthier

Many are skeptical of the coup story.

Later in the day, Moise issues a pre-recorded message, declaring his intent to remain in office and hold a referendum on Constitutional changes. 

Opposition leaders select Supreme Court Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis as provisional president. He gives a brief statement.

Monday

Monday morning, Haiti National Police surround the Supreme Court

Moise issues an order “retiring” three Supreme Court justices

Many are skeptical of the legality of this order,

The Haitian military (FAdH) release a press statement citing responsibility to “assure national security” and defend “democratic order.”

During protests on Monday, two reporters are shot (both still alive)

Tuesday

OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro Issues a statement expressing concern, but endorsing Moise’s position.

The United States Embassy issues a statement claiming to be “deeply concerned” about order to remove judges. However, the U.S. does not walk back form its support of Moise’s decision to remain in power.

Guerline Josef from the Haitian Bridge Alliance appears on Democracy Now to discuss the Biden administration’s resumption of removal flights to Haiti after only a one day suspension.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, students demonstrate in Port au Prince

The demonstration is broken up by the police, who once again target journalists covering the march.

Moise announces a new agroindustrial park – apparently on behalf of the Apaid family (apparel industry giants, among other business interests in Haiti)

Thursday

Supreme Court justice Yvickel Dabrésil, one of the accused in the alleged “coup” plot, is released from jail.

Demonstrations are announced for the coming Sunday

Resources/Background

Some reactions from Haiti’s civil society to the arrests and forced retirements from the last few days (List from Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti)

More Haitian civil society statements (most have been translated) on crisis on the new Haiti Watch blog

More back ground, see Mark Schuller’s excellent NACLA article,”The Foreign Roots of Haiti’s ‘Constitutional Crisis’”published online February 6, 2021

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s most recent report on the human rights situation

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Stalemate over Haiti’s elections continues

Haiti’s president, Jovenal Moise, and his electoral council have proposed a timeline for elections that include a referendum on a new constitution. At the same time, there is disagreement about Moise’s tenure in office, with opposition leaders and some legal scholars saying Moise should step down on February 7 this year. Moise, disagrees. The timeline his electoral council has submitted assumes he stays in office another year. 

Overdue elections

Haiti has not had a sitting parliament since January 13, 2020. Parliamentary elections, supposed to be held in the fall of 2019, were not held in time. As a result there were not enough members of Parliament to achieve a quorum (and vote on a new election law). Later in the year terms for most local officials also expired without elections to fill posts. One estimate is that there are only 11 elected officials serving in the entire country at the moment. Since January 2020, Moise has ruled by decree. 

It is important to keep in mind that massive demonstrations in the summer of 2018 brought about the resignation of the government. A new prime minister was then forced out of office again amidst protests in February of 2019. During the fall of 2019 lasting through the beginning of 2020, the country was locked down as the result of protests calling for Moise to resign. 

With U.S. backing, Moise has prevailed through it all. Over the last year, with Moise ruling by decree, there has been an increase in violence by non-state actors (evidence suggests in many cases they are aligned with police), including political assassinations. Protests have been met with state violence as well. In December Moise issued an executive decree increasing penalties for protest and initiating new intelligence services.

Opposition voices, both in the streets and among a divided political class, are demanding Moise leave – before elections and constitutional reforms proceed. Moise’s election was itself problematic. He “won” in a highly contested election – one with two rounds of balloting as the first round was cancelled due to accusations of corruption. Because there was a delay in Moise taking office, he has argued his tenure should extend another year. The opposition says no! He must leave on February 7, 2021 as originally scheduled. Moise’s predecessor, Michel Martelly, left office on February 7, 2016.

With most eyes in the country on February 7 (which this year marks the 35th anniversary of Jean Claude Dulavier’s resignation and flight from the country amidst widespread protest), Moise is looking ahead.

Election timeline

What Moise is proposing is a referendum on changes to Haiti’s constitution in April of 2021, and then to hold national elections on September 19, 2021, for parliament and the presidency. On November 21, local elections will be held, alongside runoffs (as needed) for national posts. To approve and implement this timeline, Moise appointed a 9-member electoral commission, by decree, of course. Which is to say, the whole process is already illegal, at least under the existing constitution. 

As far as the new constitution goes, it has not been made public yet. However, some of the changes possibly in-store were leaked. From the Miami Herald:

Among the biggest changes, according to an interview with Louis Naud Pierre on Port-au-Prince-based Magik 9 radio station earlier this week, is the elimination of the post of prime minister and the Haitian Senate, and the introduction of governors for each region.

The United States and the Organization of American States, which split intervention duties in Haiti when it comes to elections, have given divided messages. Both are standing with Moise, and his authority to oversee elections, but the U.S. wants those elections held immediately. The OAS agrees with a quick timeline for elections, though has, in previous statements, accepted the extended tenure for Moise. Biden’s campaign has only said he would “work with the international community” to ensure elections happen soon. What the U.S. position will be concerning the election timeline once he takes office is not exactly clear.

Meanwhile, the opposition is arguing for Moise to step down on schedule (Feb 7, 2021), to be replaced by a transitional authority that would oversee new elections. Such an exercise in self-determination is not likely to be supported by the U.S. or the OAS, but we’ll see. Perhaps the Biden administration will be too busy dealing with fallout from our own electoral crisis to weigh in too heavily on Haiti’s.

So, we wait. The days leading up to February 7th and whatever follows, could well lead the country into another lock down, and/or much more violence. Moise seems determined to hold power – for now – and has decreed himself an enormous amount of authority to use force if he decides it is necessary. The opposition is still refusing to accept a process that involves him, which for now leaves them the bully pulpit of opposition media, and the streets. For the majority of Haitians this means a good chance that there will be more disruptions to their lives and work. Even if most are sympathetic to opposition demands, people are clearly weary of the conflict.  

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