Haiti: Ten years and a week after

Aerial view of Port au Prince

Sunday, January 11 marked the ten-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, centered near Port-au-Prince, that killed 220,000 or more people, and displaced millions. Being a ten year anniversary, there were a number of retrospective political analyses looking at the current crisis through the lens of events in the ten years since the quake. The weakening of the economy, corruption in the deployment of development assistance, the cholera outbreak brought on by UN carelessness in 2010, and additional disasters in the intervening years like Hurricane Matthew, all punctuated by controversial election processes, serve as a backdrop for discussions of the current economic crisis and protests calling on president Jovenel Moïse to step down. What lessons emerged in a week of commemoration? Let’s see….

One lesson, apparently, is the need for new legislation in the U.S. Congress: The Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act. I’m not sure the intent of the title, but it comes close to just being the HAITI Act – which is…clever? This act was introduced specifically to mark the anniversary of the earthquake. The bill requires a number of investigations: Investigations into the massacre at La Saline, how to better protect the freedom of the press, how to better take action against corruption through investigating individual governmental and non-governmental leaders, and assessing delivery of U.S. disaster assistance, including investigation of the Caracol industrial park (the only major U.S.-funded project anyone can really point to in the last ten years, and not usually positively). None of this is particularly controversial. I mean who could argue against investigating human rights violations, corruption and assessing the impact of U.S. aid, right? But as the primary mechanism for these investigations in the bill is the U.S. State Department in “consultation” with the non-governmental sector, I am not holding my breath for a substantive re-evaluation of anything, assuming the bill even gets a vote.

Meanwhile, over the last week the major transition in Haiti was the departure of two-thirds of the Senate, and all of the lower house. In the absence of elections, originally scheduled for last October, all of these Parliamentary terms expired. The ten remaining senators cannot form a quorum. As a result, starting Monday, January 13, President Jovenel Moïse began governing through decree. His first act was a commitment to allocate the money saved by not having to pay salaries to members of Parliament to build 10 new schools. From Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, “The amount, about $16.3 million, would have gone to pay 118 members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies and 19 senators this year. The entire budget of the Parliament is roughly $60 million. Moïse did not say what he plans to do with the rest of the money.” By sending a message that Parliament is unnecessary and/or wasteful, the symbolism of Moïse’s first decree is somewhat alarming – though in the short-term it is likely to play well. Certainly the country needs new schools.

Toward the end of the week Moïse was indicating he would use his decree power to offer a new constitution that would be put to a vote through a popular referendum. Reuters reported, “The president aims to get the new constitution drafted within three months of being started, the source said, and voted on in a referendum by year-end.” Specific proposals are not yet drafted, but the sense is that a new constitution would seek to weaken the authority of the Prime Minister/Parliament in Haiti’s system of dual executive rule. In times past, a presidential, or unitary executive, has been promoted with mixed reception. Hard to say where all of this will go.

With the partisan opposition sidelined (along with parliament), perhaps Moïse will have more space to operate. However, while members of parliament may have been the most vocal opponents, they were hardly the only ones. Certainly among the younger generation of activists represented in some sense by the PetroChallenger movement, most of the political leadership is viewed as corrupt. Which is just to say Moïse may not be the best person to lead constitutional reform, given that the country has periodically erupted into massive protests over the last 18 months in an effort to get rid of him. 

Everybody knows this, of course. It is just worth repeating, as the U.S. government and international organizations continue to act as if the problems in Haiti are institutional design problems, and somehow Moïse’s political survival would be emblematic of successful design. “Moise won his election, after all,” they’ll say, “he should finish his term.” Without a parliament, Moïse can write his own electoral law and offer constitutional reforms. The United States will have Moïse’s back because ultimately the U.S. government only wants enough stability to keep Haiti profitable for those who seek to use it (not the people who live there). The Trump administration made this clear by parading a series of officials through Haiti in December for photo ops in order to demonstrate their commitment to Moïse.

Which brings us back to the elephant in the hemisphere: U.S. policy. One consistent theme over the last ten years -—  really the last 216 years — is the sense of entitlement with which the U.S. government lectures Haitians (really everybody, but I am trying to focus here). It is a bizarre dance whereby the U.S. government intervenes on behalf of a relatively small elite, to keep them in power over the express desire of most Haitians, while keeping the impoverished majority at bay (or at least unrepresented). It was the Obama administration that gifted Martelly and then Moïse to Haiti, after all, in the name of appearances. Then, when things don’t go well, some U.S. policy maker or congressional committee steps up to the mic to critique that same elite for lousy governance. I’m not sure the critique helps so much. What might help? Stepping out of the way so an actual democracy could emerge in Haiti. Then Haitians could hold each other more directly accountable. They would do a much better job I think. They could hardly do worse than the UN/US/Core Group-installed government they’ve been saddled with.

That, at least, is one lesson one might draw from the last ten years.

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Celebrating Haiti’s Independence

On January 1, 1804 Haiti became the second independent republic in the western hemisphere, and the first to abolish slavery. Unlike the U.S. war for independence, in Haiti there was a true revolution of social forces. People who had been enslaved in Haiti rose up against the French colonial authority and won their freedom and with it the country’s independence. The only successful rebellion of people enslaved known to history came with the defeat of the military super-power of the time – France under Napoleon Bonaparte. The ultimate defeat of France’s forces in Haiti forced Napoleon to sell colonial possessions in North America to the United States to meet expenses from the failed expedition. The resulting Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the United States.  The revolution in Haiti was, however, not otherwise welcomed by the United States. Rather than celebrate another independent republic in the western Atlantic, the U.S. joined with European colonial governments in blockading Haiti. The goal was to strangle the revolution and the example of freedom it represented to those enslaved in the United States and throughout the colonial Caribbean and Latin America. Haiti’s independence survived but at a price of isolation and international indebtedness. The United States did not recognize the independent government of Haiti until 1865. In 2020, Haiti is still fighting for independence. The current government is widely viewed as an instrument of U.S. policy-makers, as both a bulwark against more popular democratic forces and wedge for unencumbered investment for the pillaging of Haiti’s resources. Protests against the government, which have shut down the country intermittently since July 2018, have slowed in recent weeks. But things are far from settled, as Parliamentary tenures expire and no agreement on new elections seems to be forthcoming.  President Moise, not surprisingly, used the Independence Day address to once again call for unity and establishment of a national dialogue. “This January 1 should be an opportunity for us to reflect…to define together the path to take the country.”  It is an invitation he has been repeating for months now, with few takers. We’ll see what the new year brings. The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Haiti on its independence that read, “The story of the founding of Haiti, from the uprising of slaves to the creation of a Republic based on democratic principles, testifies to what can be accomplished when individuals are determined to work together for the greater good.” It was a message clearly speaking to the present moment – the U.S, as noted, hardly welcomed this fight for the “greater good” 216 years ago. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic, in anticipation of new protests, sent an additional 1,200 troops to the border. There are now 11,000 Dominican troops on the border with Haiti attempting to stop the movement of people fleeing insecurity, looking for work, or simply returning from holiday visits with relatives. What the new year has in store is hard to read at this point. The United Nations is estimating that 4.5 million people – nearly half of the population – will be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming year as the economy continues its collapse. The Associated Press reported last month,

Haiti’s economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Moise insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti’s currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The fight for independence today is in the economic realm – particularly food production. Haiti was self-sufficient in food production forty years ago, and now is deeply dependent on imports, and even where domestic production exists, transportation costs impact prices dramatically. Much of this is the result of tariff reductions demanded by the U.S. government and enforced through international financial institutions lending requirements.  The work in Gros Morne we are doing with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center continues to focus at the intersection of food and ecological renewal through reforestation. Our work and similar work by Haitian groups throughout the country, is committed to the regeneration of the agricultural sector, a necessary precondition for economic independence, and long-term stability. The other precondition is limiting U.S. intervention. That remains the bigger struggle.
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Haiti: A tale of two meetings

People march in Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti during a protest to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

On Tuesday this week, in Port au Prince and in Washington D.C., people gathered to talk about the crisis in Haiti. In one meeting, demands for restitution and accountability rang out from the voices of activists gathered from around the world. In the other, a mixed message of a need for change in the U.S. position, but no mechanism or real direction for how that should happen. In one meeting, a passionate call for justice and a new social order. In the other, political posturing more attuned to partisan differences in the U.S. than the crisis in Haiti. 

The first convergence was a collection of civil society organizations, mostly with deep roots in organizing for human rights and broader social equity in Haiti – groups that work within Haiti and organizations that partner across borders. This gathering was primarily focused on creating a framework of accountability concerning foreign intervention in Haiti – specifically the 15-year UN occupation of the country. From the People’s Dispatch:

Since December 7, over 100 Haitian and international delegates have been participating in the International Colloquium “Occupation, Sovereignty, Solidarity: Towards a People’s Tribunal on Crimes of the MINUSTAH in Haiti,” to continue on the long road to justice. The colloquium, organized by Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA), the Office of International Lawyers/ Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (BAI/IJDH) and Haitian Movement of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (MOLEGHAF), seeks to bring to account the people and structures culpable in the 15 years of UN occupation and the crimes committed by the MINUSTAH.

Participants at the meeting included representatives from organizations in Puerto Rico, who joined in discussions about international debt, and the need for restitution. Representatives from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina were also present to contribute to the broader discussion on creating a people’s tribunal to document the crimes of the United Nations and other foreign entities.

During the 14 panel discussions and workshops organized as part of the colloquium, international delegates hailing from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, the United States, France, Martinique, Mexico, Nepal, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, as well as Haitian delegates from over 100 organizations, reaffirmed their bonds of solidarity, shared strategies to ensure justice and expressed their support for the victims and survivors of the atrocious crimes committed by the MINUSTAH. 

This first convergence was thus an act and a statement of solidarity to press for accountability for decades (if not centuries) of foreign intervention in Haiti. Though not strictly speaking a response to the current crisis, there is a clear linkage between that history of intervention and the political and social cleavages evident in the streets of Haiti today as people are still protesting conditions and demanding that president Jovenel Moïse resign.

The second meeting was a U.S. House International Relations subcommittee hearing titled “Haiti on the Brink: Assessing U.S. Policy Toward a Country in Crisis.” Exactly what Haiti is on the brink of was not really clear. Apparently this was the first such hearing in nearly 20 years. When one thinks about all that has happened in Haiti in the last 20 years – and the United States’ deep involvement in much of it, it is telling that this is the first time there was an official public discussion in Congress about U.S. policy since the Clinton administration. Unlike the first convergence discussed, the framework for this meeting was not accountability, certainly not on the part of the U.S. government. The witnesses in the hearing covered the gamut – from representatives of the International Republican Institute to Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network. 

The strongest statement came from Maxine Waters, who emphasized the lack of accountability of the Moïse government regarding the La Salin massacre in November of 2018. 

In April of this year, I led a delegation to Haiti, which met with residents of the Lasalin neighborhood of Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas, who described acts of unconscionable violence that occurred in November of 2018. The Lasalin massacre resulted in the deaths of at least 71 civilians, in addition to the rape of at least 11 women, and the looting of more than 150 homes. Survivors expressed concern that government-connected gangs, working with police officers, carried out the attacks to punish Lasalin for participation in anti-government protests.

The protests in Lasalin – as well as many other anti-government protests throughout Haiti since the summer of 2018 – were sparked by the disappearance of millions of dollars of assistance provided to Haiti by Venezuela under the PetroCaribe program.  Through PetroCaribe, Venezuela sold oil to Haiti and allowed them to defer the payments for up to 25 years and pay a low rate of interest on the debt. Haiti was supposed to sell the oil and use the money to pay for social programs. Instead, at least $2 billion went missing.  That is almost a quarter of Haiti’s total economy for 2017. The corruption in government was confirmed in a report delivered to the Haitian senate by official auditors on May 31, 2019. This corruption occurred under the leadership of Haiti’s current president, Jovenel Moïse , as well as his predecessor, Michel Martelly.  Haitians began demonstrating against this government because they knew that they never saw the benefits of the PetroCaribe program. 

Waters noted that the Trump administration continues to support Moïse and, absent any mention of corruption, is simply pressing for a dialogue with opposition groups – who have thus far refused – as the only strategy on the table. Waters concluded: “The president of Haiti needs to take responsibility for the current political crisis in his country, and the protests will not stop until he does.” 

It is doubtful that much will come from the Congressional hearing. Though it was one of the best attended subcommittee hearings anyone can remember, there seems to be little momentum in Congress to tackle anything substantive regarding Haiti. The administration itself seems to have no plan other than sticking with Moïse and calling for dialogue. In doing so, the United States is basically demonstrating that there is no sympathy for the concerns of those protesting. If this lack of imagination means that the United States stays out of further intervention into this crisis, that is not really a bad thing. However, the Trump administration’s reflexive defense of Moïse is in essence a form of intervention in and of itself. 

At some point Haiti’s destiny will be decided by a group of people sitting at a table trying to reach a compromise about the future. Those people will be driven to that table by events in the streets. But once there, will activism inspire and frame the conversation, or not? If not, there seems to be little hope of real change. Process and participation matter. This week we got a glimpse of that. The official discourse is offering little, and must be opened up to new voices if change is going to happen.

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Haiti Update, Program in Gros Morne

The agronomy team prepares to deliver sweet potato cuttings

This week United States ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, met with president Jovenel Moïse in Haiti, in what most saw as a gesture of support for his government. This was not a gesture welcomed by the majority of Haitians.

Though Haiti’s Moïse remains under intense pressure to resign, there seems to have been little movement in the positions people have staked out. Moïse refuses to talk about stepping down, and the opposition refuses to sit down with him and negotiate anything but the terms of his departure. As protests continue [five more people were killed this week in demonstrations] and the resulting lockdown on the country’s economy goes on, people are living under increasing stress. Food shortages have been endemic in recent years. However, the current crisis is threatening to create even more hunger as transportation difficulties and fuel costs send food prices up – when food is even available. Estimates are that up to 4 million people out of 11 million will lack access to adequate quantities of food by next year. 

In Gros Morne, as in the rest of the country, children are unable to go to school. Over the last week the primary hospital in the city was facing closure for lack of supplies. As of now, the hospital is holding on with limited resources.

For our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center the work of reforestation and environmental renewal continues. There is no doubt that the cost of fuel, frequent blockades, and general instability are making the work more difficult. But the agronomy team is still delivering workshops and supplies – via pack mule when needed. The mobile veterinary clinic is still visiting to care for animals – if on a reduced schedule. And trees are still getting planted. While we remain concerned about the broader instability of the country and increasing political tensions, we do want to pause to celebrate the incredible work that goes on in Gros Morne – especially in these difficult times.

Through the first nine months of the year, here is a taste of what has been achieved through work at the Jean Marie Formation Center.

50,000* trees distributed from nursery at Grepen Center.

25,000 Haitian gourdes earned from the harvesting of 1,000 pounds of weevil free sweet potatoes by farmers in Baden during spring.

18,000 trees distributed from Satellite nurseries.

15,000* trees planted in Perou in coordination with the Lorax Project.

1,000 families received seeds at subsidized rate from seed bank (January through April).

800 eggs a day produced at the hen house in Campeche, powered by solar technology.

305 farmers took part in trainings. 

174 goats treated by mobile veterinary clinics (April-September).

75 farmers join the sweet potato program from June through September.

17 base communities participated in an environmental conference with local officials to deal with plastic waste.

15 episodes of the radio program “The Earth is Our Mother” produced (April-September) to educate the local community on environmental issues.

Being witness to the work in Gros Morne over the last fifteen years, and visiting other grassroots organizations during these years as well, I know that there is a deep spirit of cooperation and incredible ingenuity, wrought from years of struggle, among activists in Haiti. The Haiti we read about in the news is not the Haiti that lives and breathes, resists and strives for independence. Our work in Gros Morne touches one small part of the possibilities that exist. We thank you for joining us in supporting our friends in Gros Morne.

*In the newsletter we had slightly different figures. While the total number of trees planted remains the same – there more trees planted through the Lorax partnership than we originally reported, and fewer trees delivered directly from the Grepen Center.

If you would like to support the project, click the link below.

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Daily Dispatch 11/1/2019: Trump’s attack on asylum is a redux of Reagan’s attack on Haitians

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Daily Dispatch

November 1, 2019

Haitian refugees lined up in cots in the McCalla hangar in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Dec. 5, 1991. AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

As despicable as Trump’s immigration policies are, and they are truly despicable, we often try to remind people that they did not emerge solely from Trump’s head or the pixel-pages of Breitbart, but from U.S. practices manifested over a long history of discrimination at our borders and beyond. Most people know this, of course. We just don’t think too much about the long-term structural features of the system while battling the latest incarnation of nationalism in the White House. The balance we need to fight this fight, however, must include some reference to history because if Trump leaves office tomorrow we will still have a lousy immigration system, just as we had before he moved into the White House and made it worse.

This week I ran across a journal article from 2014 that documents the development of detention in the United States – and its diffusion as an approach to immigration enforcement across the globe, particularly to the European Union and Australia. The author is Michael Flynn of the Global Detention Project, and the article is certainly worth reading in its entirety. For this dispatch, however, I am simply focusing on one historical section that struck me as holding many lessons for what Trump is doing today.

As we and others have discussed recently, our current detention and deportation infrastructure has been developed over the course of the last 40 years. Detention in the U.S. was largely an ad hoc system from the early 1950s following the closure of Ellis Island (the west coast version, Angel Island had closed in 1940 – though in some sense replaced by war-time detention of Japanese and U.S. American families), until the 1980s when immigration from and within the Caribbean increased dramatically. The response of the Reagan administration to Caribbean migration provided two important precedents to the current approach being employed by Trump. The first was detaining (or trying to detain) targeted groups. Initially, Haitians fleeing the slow collapse and violence of the last years of the Duvalier regime. 

The modern U.S. immigration detention estate first emerged in the early 1980s, when the Reagan-era Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began systematically apprehending unauthorized migrants from certain countries in response to growing migration pressures from the Caribbean. The INS opened a number of new detention centers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland to cope with the resulting surge in detainees (Frenzen 2010, 377). According to Welch, “Prior to the 1980s, the INS enforced a policy of detaining only those individuals deemed likely to abscond or who posed a security risk” (2002, 107).

In a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case, Jean v. Nelson, the court overturned a mandatory detention policy put in place in 1981 that strictly targeted Haitian nationals. According to one migration scholar, “To a large extent once the Jean v. Nelson decision came down and the Reagan administration did not have the authority to detain only Haitians, the current detention system was born, i.e. detain all nationalities.”

The second approach utilized by Reagan’s administration was to offshore enforcement to keep people from ever reaching U.S. soil.

At the same time that immigration authorities were busy rounding up Haitians and “excludable” Cubans on US territory, the Reagan administration began a policy of interdicting migrant boats in international waters. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation in which he “suspended” the “entry of undocumented aliens from the high seas” because it had become “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

He subsequently ordered the Coast Guard to board foreign vessels in international waters to determine whether passengers had documentation to enter the country (Frenzen 2010). While the United States officially acknowledged that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugee’s prohibition against non-refoulement applied to people interdicted during these operations, Haitians were given summary asylum hearings on board Coast Guard vessels that lasted only minutes. The vast majority were then sent back to Haiti under an agreement the United States had established with the Duvalier regime. Of the estimated 23,000 Haitians interdicted by the Coast Guard during this program, only eight were judged to have bona fide asylum claims (estimate from Cheryl Little, cited in Frenzen 2010, 380). As one scholar writes, “Washington wished to deal with Haitian migrants outside U.S. territory, since if they reached U.S. shores they could often delay deportation through a series of claims within the US administrative and courts systems” (Mitchell 2000, 87).

The offshoring of enforcement also included agreements to detain people outside the United States – this included establishing detention space on Guantanamo. Reagan also sought to establish agreements other Caribbean states to take Haitian immigrants.

In the early 1990s, a political and humanitarian crisis in Haiti spurred by the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide prompted a new large-scale migration to the United States, which was followed in 1994 by a significant upsurge in Cuban balseros. This time, however, the United States faced political challenges in returning the interdicted migrants because of the brutality of the Cédras junta that had ousted President Aristide. While the United States sought out third countries to send Haitians fleeing the violence— including Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Venezuela, Honduras, and Suriname (Frenzen 2010)—“those intercepted were kept on the decks of Coast Guard cutters, under jury-rigged tarpaulins to ward off sun and rain,” writes Mitchell (2000, 88).

Conditions on the vessels quickly became unmanageable … and camps for the migrants were hurriedly constructed at the nearest offshore U.S. facility: The Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba. At other times, detained refugees were held on U.S. bases in Panama, and on a hospital ship anchored in the harbor at Kingston, Jamaica. (ibid.)

According to the Congressional Research Service, the administration of George H.W. Bush began using the Guantánamo naval airbase to detain Haitians in 1991. It reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses this “Migrant Operations Center” to hold no more than 20-40 people at a time (Wasem 2009).

Throughout the 1990s, Guantánamo was a key element of the U.S. response to boat migration events. In July 1994, for instance, as the U.S. prepared to overthrow the military junta then in power at Port-au-Prince, it began sending all interdicted Haitians to Guantánamo as part of a new safe haven policy, ultimately detaining some 16,000 people there. After the overthrow of the junta, the United States gave the detainees that remained at the facility the option of voluntarily returning and receiving $80 dollars or being forcibly repatriated without payment (Frenzen 2010, 384).

In addition to Guantánamo, by the early 1990s, the United States had access to a network of offshore “processing” facilities that extended from the Bahamas to Panama. As one scholar writes, these sites presented a “range of logistical constraints” for detainees, and, importantly, the camps made it challenging for asylum seekers to access US asylum procedures (Magner 2004).

There are many parallels to this treatment of Haitians and what is happening today to asylum seekers from Central America. We can start with the fact that an increase in people seeking asylum in the United States is not treated as a humanitarian crisis facing refugees, but a logistical and financial problem for the United States politicized through a thinly veiled racialized discourse about criminal elements abusing the asylum system. Reagan did this to Haitians in much the same way Trump is doing this today to Central Americans (and is still doing to Haitians!).

The response to detain people seeking asylum while they await processing of their claims begins with Reagan – and was done specifically to Haitians, both as a deterrent to discourage others from migrating here, and an effort to keep the migrants themselves behind bars until (most) could be deported. As the response to the Jean v. Nelson ruling indicates, faced with a ruling that it could not only detain Haitians in this way, Reagan expanded detention to other groups rather than treat Haitians more humanely.

Currently, Trump is detaining asylum seekers, mostly, though not exclusively, from Central America throughout their entire processing. As we wrote earlier this week, the administration is continuing to detain asylum seekers, even after they have passed their credible fear interview, a point that, by any reasonable standard, they would be granted humanitarian parole. This inhumane policy is what is driving record detention numbers – not the “border crisis.”

Trump is also borrowing from another aspect of the Reagan playbook and that is doing everything possible to keep people from reaching the U.S. border to begin with, so that they cannot access what is left of our asylum system. This has included, sending asylum seekers to Mexico to await processing, to now denying them even the possibility of seeking asylum unless they try (and fail) to get asylum in Mexico first. Trump has negotiated agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to receive asylum seekers, even though the vast majority are seeking asylum from these regimes. It is an absurd approach, but one rooted in history. 

Finally, the evolution of this system from Reagan to Trump has been built using private contractors. Over the last 33 years this has meant the development of a massive infrastructure of detention facilities (the largest in the world) that is run as a profit seeking enterprise, making a complete mockery of any concept of justice or humanitarian response. The first private facility was opened under contract with Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1986 with what is now CoreCivic. The facility, the Houston Processing Center, is still in operation under contract between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, just down the road from the newest massive ICE facility built in Conroe, Texas and operated by the GeoGroup. Sadly, this privatization approach to detention is another element that U.S. policy has helped diffuse to other countries, which along with border security, is now a multi-billion dollar global enterprise.

People like to say that the United States is a nation of immigrants. This is only partially true, of course, and the reality is that every generation of immigrants has been treated badly. Yet, the official discriminatory practices created never seem to go away. Rather, they just form part of a tool box of oppression that successive administrations can pull from and readjust whenever it is the right political moment to “get tough” on refugees. You can see this continuity from Chinese immigrants detained on Angel Island to keep them out of the U.S. in 1910 to Central Americans relocated to Ciudad Juarez as part of the “remain in Mexico” policy today. Trump won’t be around forever – indeed, he might not make it until March next year as president. However, the historical legacy of inhumanity embedded in our immigration system will remain until the system itself is dismantled and reconstructed under different principles that respect human rights and basic dignity.

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Rubio’s Double Speak on Haiti and Nicaragua

People are in the street calling for the resignation of their president. The police are using excessive force; in the last three weeks at least 17 people have died in protests. Over the last 15 months of recurring demonstrations, close to 100 people have died. In November 2017, a government-affiliated gang massacred dozens of people in the home town of a leading opposition figure. This is not Nicaragua or Venezuela, but Haiti. The United States government steps up to the mic and says, what? 

Cue Marco Rubio:

That’s an internal matter for Haitians to decide. I don’t think it’s the proper job of the United States to call on a democratically elected leader to step down. That would be interference. Just like it would be wrong for the U.S. to step up and say he should stay.”

Before I write another word, I’d like to just note that this may be one of the few things Rubio has ever said that I agree with. It is just…how to say this…really hard to take seriously, especially coming from this guy. Earlier this year, Rubio threatened a coup d’etat against Maduro in Venezuela, saying of Maduro’s efforts to resist the U.S. installation of Juan Guaidó as interim leader:

“He’s picked a battle he can’t win,” Mr. Rubio, 47, said of Mr. Maduro in an interview on Friday. “It’s just a matter of time. The only thing we don’t know is how long it will take — and whether it will be peaceful or bloody.

Rubio also joined the chorus of neocons in the U.S. congress and their erstwhile “left” allies, in demanding Ortega’s ouster from Nicaragua’s presidency last year. Rubio was practically Trumpesque in use of Twitter, being very active but repeatedly getting reports wrong. E.g. His July 13 Tweet last year when he reported that “Ortega Thugs” were burning the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). Buildings at the UNAN were set on fire that day – by opposition groups retreating into the UNAN after firing on an FSLN caravan (see pages 34-37 of linked article) taking part in the repligue (celebration of the Sandinista’s strategic retreat to Masaya in 1979 during the insurrection). Members of this opposition group shot and wounded 10 people. The resulting stand-off over night led to gunfire exchanged between police and opposition groups that had blockaded the university, some of whom had taken refuge in a church. The police response seemed excessive, at least as reported. But as was the case for most of last year’s international coverage of the crisis, what the police were actually responding to was never discussed. In the morning, most were allowed to leave the church. Once the area was cleared, stores of weapons were found on the campus, another detail rarely reported outside of Nicaragua. Certainly Rubio never got it right. Nevertheless he put Ortega “on notice,” and offered his support to opposition leaders (at least those wealthy and or connected enough to get to D.C.).

In Haiti, where Rubio has also applied pressure – pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and not to cut ties with Taiwan – all he can muster is some version of “not our fight.” The contrast is frustratingly familiar, but frustrating nonetheless. In reality, Moïse would not even be president were it not for U.S. interference in the election process in Haiti. 

The distinction Rubio would likely make is that Ortega and Maduro were not “democratically” elected. In fact, the only distinction between elections in Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of which were subjected to heavy U.S. interference, is that in Haiti the “right guy” (i.e., the U.S.-backed candidate) won  – the same guy half the country is in the streets today trying to remove from power. The “right guy winning” is what “democratically-elected” means in the U.S. foreign policy lexicon. As far as electoral processes go, arguably Nicaragua and Venezuela’s elections were cleaner. Certainly the OAS statement on Nicaragua’s 2017 elections offered critique, but noted that the problem areas they identified would not have changed the outcome. Meanwhile, Haiti’s election had numerous procedural issues, and by the time the final election occurred, was largely boycotted.

In an ideal world, the protection of human rights would never be simply “an internal matter,” but a multilateral commitment with the force of international law. However, as it stands, human rights advocacy is practiced almost exclusively as an expression of institutional interests and partisan framing. Which means it is not about human rights at all, but the use of human rights in service to other agendas.

The never ending doublespeak from Rubio and other policymakers, agencies like the UN, and even some human rights organizations, ensures universal protection of human rights never happens. Ortega will never have to face a meaningful, objective panel to answer questions concerning possible crimes committed under his watch, because the U.S. has made sure no such place exists. And so, of course, neither will Moïse, much less Hernández in Honduras, or Donald Trump, whose human rights record is arguably the worst, given its global reach. 

The U.S. should NOT intervene, but in Haiti’s case the U.S. has never stopped – not since 1804. So Rubio’s words are simply more of the typical, vacuous phrases intended to deflect responsibility we have come to expect from U.S. policymakers. Rather than just yawn, however, we need to understand that the consequences of such posturing are significant.

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Daily Dispatch 10/22/2019: TPS for Haiti cancelled based on faulty data

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Daily Dispatch

October 22, 2019


Trinidad Paul at her home in Village Philadelphie, an informal settlement north of Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 11, 2018. Photo: Marie Arago for Type Investigations (from original Intercept article here.)

In the Intercept today is an excellent article from Isabel MacDonald that focuses on the Trump administration’s use of data from the International Office on Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix to justify ending Temporary Protected Status for Haitians. The primary focus of the article is IOM’s tracking of people registered as Internally Displaced Persons, and living in camps following the 2010 earthquake. The Trump administration’s primary data point in arguing for ending TPS for Haitians is the 96 percent decline in the number of people living in camps. There is a lot that could be said about using such a narrow framework for deciding TPS. However, this metric is particularly problematic. As developed in Haiti, this matrix does not account for the number of people who died in camps, who were forcibly displaced from camps, nor does it account for the reality that most who left the camps are still in unsafe, inadequate housing.

The Trump administration’s decision to end TPS for Haitians came in the context of a series of decisions not to extend TPS for other countries as well, including El Salvador. The decision to not extend TPS for these countries has led to a number of court challenges. Four of these suits include Haiti. The basis for the suits is that the Trump administration sought to end TPS for political reasons and thus failed to adequately assess the real existing situations in each country. From MacDonald’s article:

Given that many Haitians continue to lack access to clean drinking water, quality medical care, and proper waste disposal services, deadly water-borne diseases like cholera remain a major risk. Since 2010, more than 9,700 Haitians have died from cholera, and 819,000 have contracted the disease. Moreover, cholera has become endemic in Haiti, according to Doctors Without Borders. While suspected new cholera cases have declined significantly since the height of the epidemic in 2011, the U.N. has warned that Haiti remains “extremely vulnerable” to the disease. The U.S. Agency for International Development has also documented growing food insecurity in the country.

For these reasons, USCIS researchers determined that Haiti continued to meet the conditions for TPS when the country’s designation came up for renewal in 2017. As the authors of an internal USCIS report emphasized that October, “Many of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, and the country remains vulnerable to external shocks and internal fragility.”

Nevertheless, the Department of Homeland Security determined to end TPS for Haiti:

However, the following month, DHS terminated Haiti’s TPS designation. In a press release announcing the decision, Duke, then-acting DHS secretary, claimed, “The extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist.” The very first data point Duke cited to support this claim was the decrease IOM counted in the number of Haitians living in IDP camps — from which at least 60,500 were evicted, and where an untold number died.

While IOM began developing its data collection system in Iraq, Loprete explained that “Haiti was always sort of a pilot or pioneer for this tool,” noting, “We can use it of course for other disasters.”

Already, IOM is using the Displacement Tracking Matrix to monitor people displaced by disasters in Yemen, El Salvador, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Somalia. The agency has also promoted the system as an important tool for tracking populations displaced by the climate crisis. IOM describes it as a service that “plays an essential role in providing primary data and information on displacement” to humanitarian agencies and governments and thus helps them to “deliver services and respond to needs in a timely manner.”

Yet the central role that the Displacement Tracking Matrix has played in the Trump administration’s official rationale for terminating Haitians’ eligibility for TPS also suggests that the tool may contribute to underestimating the impact of disasters, whether earthquakes, wars, or climate change. By failing to track deaths, while ignoring the fate of displaced people who end up in informal settlements with higher risks and fewer services than IDP camps themselves, this tool risks producing highly distorted data that downplays the scale and severity of contemporary crises of displacement. Such a flawed system of data collection may be convenient for governments “fishing for reasons,” in Judge Kuntz’s words, to close their borders to asylum-seekers. But it also has the potential to undermine humanitarian responses that are urgently needed at a time when more than 70 million people are forcibly displaced around the world, more than at any time in recorded history.

MacDonald’s full article can be read here. It provides well researched detail on the evolution of the situation of people living in camps after the earthquake. Among the findings, are trends we reported on back in 2012-13 as part of the Under Tents Campaign, then coordinated by Other Worlds, that Martelly was pushing agencies to undercount the number of people still living in camps precisely to demonstrate “progress” that was not very real. We can see now that the impact of that data framing continues to have an impact. 

There are still 35,000 registered IDPs in Haiti, and nearly 200,000 people – not counted as IDPs – living in conditions much the same, and in some cases, worse than the camps.

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Daily Dispatch 10/16/2019: Mexico’s two border crises made in the U.S.

Migrants walk down Highway 200 en route to Huixtla near Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, Saturday Oct. 12, 2019. Migrants from Africa, Cuba, Haiti, and other Central American countries set off early morning by foot from Tapachula to the southern border of the United States. (AP Photo/Isabel Mateos)

On both the northern and southern international borders of Mexico a human rights disaster is evolving in large part due to the Trump administration’s war on asylum seekers from Central America. On the northern border with the United States, the U.S. “migrant protection protocols” are forcing tens of thousands of people to wait in Mexico border towns for a chance to make asylum claims before a U.S. immigration judge. On the southern border with Guatemala, migrants are being denied the ability to cross through Mexico. New regulations regarding the issuance of travel documents have particularly impacted migrants from Africa and Haiti. Between the two borders, the journey remains deadly – as enforcement measures push migrants even further into the shadowy world of coyotes and gangs in order to get across the country.

Below we highlight a few stories from the last week that make clear the crisis.

Remain in Mexico is a policy designed to fail

A year ago Trump lost his mind over a caravan of refugees making their way to the U.S. border with Mexico, many hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. Since then, his administration has sought every mechanism it can to block asylum seekers from even making it to the U.S. border – and for those that do make it, this administration has sought to make it nearly impossible for them to enter the U.S.

One of the mechanisms employed is the Migration Protection Protocol – or the “remain in Mexico” policy.  Under this policy people register their intent to seek asylum with immigration authorities but are forced to wait in Mexico until they can see a judge. There are an estimated 40,000 MPP cases – people waiting in Mexican border towns, many under threat of criminal gangs and all living with a general insecurity as they face an unknown future. The Latin America Working Group has extensive background materials on the policy and its impact. 

Over the last month asylum trials have gotten underway. The process is a mockery of justice. Proceedings are held in tents, with immigration judges video conferenced in. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the trials, which is outside of their jurisdiction. This week a group of volunteer attorneys attempting to represent people in these proceedings published their experiences in The Hill, noting that the whole enterprise is designed to fail.

At every step of the way, refugees and the handful of attorneys who represent them are reminded that this “system” is designed to fail. There are no marked entrances to the Brownsville court, which resembles a concentration camp in its design and layout. 

Instead, attorneys must already know where the entrance is and ask to be let in by privately contracted guards who monitor it for DHS. Forms with client signatures are required to gain entry. Attorneys are escorted by guards from the front gate to client meetings, to attend court and even to access the restroom. 

Attorneys are not allowed to bring electronics into the tent complex, which means they cannot access their calendars or legal research. Meanwhile, DHS lawyers maintain access to their technology as they sit off-screen. Only the immigration judge and interpreter are video streamed into the port courtroom. 

In order to even schedule the next hearing, the attorney must request a recess so that they can leave the court complex, go to their car to access their calendar on their phone and go through the security process all over again to get back to their hearing.

The authors conclude:

The harms refugees suffer due to our official U.S. government policy of rendering them homeless includes deaths by drowning in the Rio Grande (even while bathing), multiple documented instances of kidnappings within minutes or hours of being returned from the U.S. The toll of surviving on the streets of Mexico is amplified by the due process farce refugees face in post courts.

As tempting as it is, we cannot give in to our exhaustion and cynicism: We must hold this administration accountable for the ongoing illegality that is engulfing the border. It may take decades or longer to repair what we have lost under this administration and there is no time to waste. (emphasis added)

Blocking passage on southern border

As Mexico has escalated its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States, new regulations are leaving African and Haitian immigrants at the Mexico/Guatemala with no place to go. Central American migrants who are caught up in the expanded dragnet in southern Mexico are typically repatriated quickly – Mexico has departed far more Central Americans than the United States in recent years. People from Africa and the Caribbean are not as easily repatriated. As noted in The Guardian, until recently, migrants from Africa would be issued temporary 21-day visas in order to sort out their status or leave the country. In many cases they gave people time to cross the country to seek entry to the United States. Now, these temporary visas require people to leave from the southern border – effectively denying them the ability to seek asylum in the United States.

Migrants are particularly angered by the perception that they are being coerced into applying for asylum in Mexico – where few feel safe and almost none want to stay. “Mexico is playing games with us,” said a 36-year-old engineer from Eritrea who identified himself as Mr Testahiwet. “This is the way to get to America and we want to go to America. Mexico is the wrong place to ask for asylum.”

This weekend a caravan of hundreds of people attempted to make the journey north anyway, and were halted. From ABC News:

Hundreds of migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America found themselves corralled in a migrant detention facility in southern Mexico on Sunday after a futile attempt to head north as part of a caravan aiming to reach the United States.

The group set out before sunrise Saturday from the town of Tapachula, where many had been marooned for months unsuccessfully trying to get transit visas. They carried heavy backpacks, babies and parcels on their heads.

Just before dusk, after having trudged more than 20 miles north, they were surrounded by hundreds of National Guard agents and police who persuaded the exhausted migrants to board vans back to Tapachula. Children cried, and women complained angrily about waiting months for papers. It was unclear if any would be deported.

For migrants fleeing violence there are fewer and fewer places to go – and too many are trapped waiting.

Migrants from conflict-wracked African countries set their sights on the Americas after doors began to shut in Europe. A typical journey from Africa involves a flight to Brazil, which has been amenable to granting visas, followed by a long and perilous trip north. The worst patch, many African migrants say, is the trek through Panama’s Darien Gap, a dense tropical forest inhabited by venomous snakes and ruthless robbers.

Now, southern Mexico has become a frustrating waystation for thousands of Africans, most of whom would prefer to start anew in the U.S. or Canada because of language and cultural barriers in Mexico.

“These are individuals that have gone through numerous horrors both in their home countries and then on their journey,” said Meyer.

Most of the Haitians arriving at Mexico’s southern border, meanwhile, have lived in South America for several years after some nations granted them protected immigration status. Now such policies are less favorable, propelling the Haitians to seek a new home at a time when their country is mired in an intense political crisis. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Mexico has offered refugees the possibility of obtaining work and residency permits to stay in southern Mexico, far from the U.S. border. But those asylum permits are slow-coming in an overstretched immigration system. Also, southern Mexico is the country’s poorest region, so job opportunities there are scarce.

Mexico has gone along with U.S. immigrant enforcement policy for a long time. Trump, however, has clearly upped the ante for Mexico with the predictable result that conditions for migrants at Mexico’s borders, north and south, are deteriorating rapidly. Mexico is facing two border crises – both of them the result of U.S. policies targeting people seeking asylum. 

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Haiti Update 10/4/2019: Will Moïse survive in power another week? 

The last week in Haiti has been tumultuous, as protests escalated again last Friday and continued into this week. As we updated last week, Moïse addressed the country last Wednesday, calling for dialogue between the government and opposition leaders, in order to find a path forward in the name of national unity. This week “members of the international community” met with opposition leaders in Petionville to encourage such a discussion. Thus far, the opposition has refused. Indeed, on Friday, October 4, the opposition called for renewed demonstrations and marched to the United Nations’ mission in a call for the international community to withdraw its support for President Moïse and allow a nine-member commission drawn from the opposition to oversee a transition to a new government. 

The United States continues to press for a dialogue, and in the name of the “rule of law,” continues to back Moïse until elections can be called. From the Miami Herald,

“The United States and Ambassador Sison continue to encourage Haiti’s political, economic, and civil society stakeholders to enter into an inclusive dialogue to identify a path to form a functioning government that will serve the Haitian people,” a State Department spokesperson for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said. “This process should remain firmly rooted in democracy and the respect for the rule of law, and address the country’s pressing economic and social concerns. We support the Haitian people’s aspirations for a better life. We have reiterated that goal as recently as Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s meeting with Haitian Foreign Minister Edmond on September 26.” 

The United Nations, which is scheduled to end its mission in Haiti in two weeks, similarly called for “calm” through spokesperson Stephane Dujarric: “The U.N. continues to encourage all actors to refrain from violence, respect human rights, and allow the normal functioning of hospitals and emergency services, as well as the work of the humanitarian actors who are assisting the most vulnerable populations.”

As the protests have unfolded, the Haitian police have been accused of using excessive force, including shooting into crowds and indiscriminate use of tear gas. The National Network for Defense of Human Rights in Haiti issued a report documenting the death of at least 17 people and 187 injuries between September 16-30. On the other side, the expansive use of blockades is intensifying already existing food and fuel shortages. 

Jacqueline Charles reported yesterday, October 3, Nancy Pelosi met with members of the Haitian-American community in Miami and heard a pretty straight forward message for the U.S. to stay out of Haitian affairs. It is not clear she really got it – as while saying she understood she also defended U.S. efforts to topple Maduro, accusing him of being a “thug” and of “exporting” corruption. Such a statement  in the context of a discussion of U.S. intervention in Haiti is painfully hypocritical. Will the United States stay out of the process in Haiti now? Nothing in the 200 year bilateral relationship between Haiti and the United States suggest this is likely. But we will continue to say the U.S. should let Haiti be anyway.

Haitians in the Bahamas face uncertain future

We have reported several times on the situation of Haitians in the Bahamas since hurricane Dorian destroyed much of the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama. Haitians have for many years been the target of political attacks, and scapegoating in the Bahamas, much as immigrants are here in the United States under Trump. Hurricane Dorian destroyed several predominantly Haitian communities in early September, forcing many to take refuge in shelters in Nassau and other parts of the islands. While many Haitians feared reprisal, the government was, at least while the international media was present, trying to sound conciliatory telling people that shelters would not be subject to immigration enforcement operations.

Last week, that changed. The Jamaican Observer reported this weekend,

The Bahamas government says it will deport undocumented migrants who survived the passage of Hurricane Dorian on September 1 and are now living in shelters. Immigration Minister, Elsworth Johnson, says the shelters will not be used “to circumvent the law. “If you’re in a shelter and you’re undocumented and you’re not here in the right way, you’re still subject to deportation and the enforcement of the immigration laws,” Johnson told The Nassau Guardian newspaper. “Most certainly, those shelters will not be used as a mechanism to circumvent the law. The government of The Bahamas fully appreciates that we are a country of laws. We’re governed by the rule of law. “There’s an Immigration Act and the Immigration Act is in full effect and the director [of immigration] understands that he must enforce it,” he added.

In response, activists gathered in Miami to encourage the Bahamian government to change course:

Miami activists and a Hurricane Dorian survivor called on the Bahamian government Thursday to suspend immigration enforcement actions that threaten to deport undocumented migrants living in government-operated Bahamian shelters. 

“While we respect that the country has laws and can enforce them, this is not the time to enforce these laws,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Little Haiti-based Family Action Network Movement. “The Bahamian government promised not to deport undocumented migrants after the storm. Recovery efforts are still happening. People have lost their homes, their documents and papers.” 

Bastien, along with spokespeople from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, 350 South Florida, Florida Immigration Coalition and a hurricane survivor, urged the Bahamian government at a press conference to not deport any Bahamians in the country until they can rebuild.

“It’s simply unjust. The news is really disappointing,” Bastien said.

Postscript on the “rule of law”? Under the rule of law, Haitians are asked to accept a government the vast majority never wanted and, if they try to move on and start a life elsewhere, the rule of law tells them to go back home. If they stand where they are and demand change, the rule of law means they get shot, tear gassed, or arrested. If they do nothing, the rule of law means they don’t eat. The “rule of law,” it seems, has become ideological spittle in the face of anyone who challenges the powerful interests profiting from the status quo. There is no justice here at all.

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Haiti Update 9/27/2019

On Wednesday morning at 2:00 a.m. Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, addressed the country on television – yes, a.m. Moïse is once again under intense pressure to step down. The point of his early morning address was to make clear he was not going to step down and to ask for unity.  He said

“We have a responsibility to assume our responsibility in front of the nation and history…It is because of this I am extending my hand to all of the forces of the nation, for us to sit together to form a national unity government that has the capacity and legitimacy to address together the urgent problems the country is undergoing.” 

The context for the address has many layers. The most immediate was the failure of the Senate to affirm his appointment for Prime Minister, Fritz William Michel, earlier this week. Michel’s confirmation has been contentious following a variety of allegations of corruption. 

The tensions in the Senate session on Monday spilled over in the street as people gathered to protest the confirmation vote. From The Guardian

The senate president, Carl Murat Cantave, had given instructions to the police that only senators would be allowed into the senate precinct with one driver and two police-appointed security agents. 

Within hours he was criticising the police on Radio Magik9, saying they could not contain the crowds and there was chaos in the yard. Separately the senator Jean Rigaud Belizaire complained the senate’s rooms had been smeared with a liquid resembling faeces.

Senators, realising that the session would not happen and the ratification would have to be delayed again, began trying to leave to shouts of “thief, thief, thief.” Cantave himself was reported to be confined to parliament, having to retreat in his car under a barrage of rocks.

In the midst of the protest, Moïse ally Senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière opened fire with a handgun outside the Senate building as he tried to get in his car, shooting a reporter and bodyguard. 

The Wednesday morning address did not specifically say Moïse would withdraw Michel’s nomination, but suggested it was likely (blaming the Senate for failing to act). From the Miami Herald:

Moïse did say that after multiple attempts by the Senate at a ratification vote, he had concluded that the chamber was not up to the task of fulfilling its constitutional duty to give Haiti a legitimate government. Two successive governments, Moïse noted, had failed to win Senate confirmation over the past six months and six hearings had to be aborted. One government was headed by Michel, and the other by Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin, who resigned prior to Michel’s naming on July 22.

Another layer to the current iteration of crisis is the lack of fuel in the country. The fuel shortage is enough on its own to garner anger. However, the entire structure of the fuel delivery system in Haiti simply serves as a reminder of the cronyism at play throughout the economy.

For nearly 11 years Haiti was able to access subsidized fuel shipments from Venezuela. By purchasing at a discounted, concessional rate, the government could resell the fuel with a mark up to fuel distribution companies within Haiti, using the “profit” to fund investment in development projects. The “PetroCaribe” framework had some promise, but last year Venezuela was forced to stop the program under increasing sanctions from the United States. In the wake of that disruption, evidence came to light that much of the PetroCaribe money was simply redirected to government friends given contracts for projects that were never finished, or, in some cases, never started. PetroCaribe money was not a grant – but in essence a loan, albeit at very low repayment rates. So, Haiti’s government has a large debt to Venezuela (which is not in a position to forgive much, if any of it at the moment), and nothing really to show for it in terms of new development. The anger around the PetroCaribe scandal has been a major factor in demonstrations against the current government – which has failed to indict anyone – for over a year now.

As the PetroCaribe program began to unravel, other energy traders have stepped in, but no longer at concessional rates. International energy traders sell fuel to the government, which in turn sells to domestic distributors. If the distributors get behind in payments, the government does not have the money to pay traders for new shipments. The government’s intermediary role is also complicated because of its policy of subsidizing fuel costs in an effort to keep prices down – which requires a reimbursement to companies. The government has not been able to keep up with these payments – leading to a suspension of the delivery of fuel by international traders back in February/March of this year, and again this August. 

There are a number of reasons for this: A decline in overall economic activity and limited collection of tax revenue – always a struggle in the best of times – is a big part of the problem. Also, the price of oil is increasing internationally due to a variety of crises, not least of which is ongoing tension in the Middle East, none of which have anything to do with Haiti. On top of this, the gourde continues to lose value against the dollar – currently trading at 96 gourde to 1 dollar. As fuel is sold in gourdes in the local market, but purchased in dollars on the international market, over time the state’s debt increases significantly. Gas prices have been forced up more than double the price in gourdes. The government will likely be forced to introduce some kind of rationing scheme to ensure that it is able to keep payments flowing. Both measures are obviously very unpopular. Undermining all of this is an “unofficial” market in fuel that is commanding much higher prices – and thus providing a huge incentive to cheat on the margins.

Stepping back a bit further, the fuel situation is replicated throughout the economy as the cost of basic goods continues to increase with the collapse of the gourde. Items are either traded from international sources, or fuel prices are putting upward pressure on domestic trade. Either way, costs are fast outpacing what people are making. This speaks to the importance of supporting local agriculture, as it can provide some stability in price and access to food. This is a chief benefit of the program we support in Gros Morne. But Haiti is a long way from achieving this level of food sovereignty on a national level. Indeed, under international pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, Haiti has become more dependent on food imports. Such restructuring of the economy over the last 30 years, not any specific Moïse policy, is what underlies the current crisis. 

Jane Regan writes in NACLA,

Haiti has seen its share of upheaval, but never a president who lasted this long in the face of such dire conditions, according to Haitian human rights advocate Marie Yolène Gilles. 

“At my age, I’ve seen a lot of crises,” Gilles, 59, explained. “This is the worst I have ever seen. This is the first time I’ve seen a completely ungoverned country. All of the state institutions are sick.”

The director of the human rights advocacy group Je Klere Foundation, Gilles is no stranger to political unrest, violent coups d’états, and foreign occupations. A former journalist, she remembers the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, the fall of interim governments, and two coups against Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991 and 2004.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a president successfully cling to power like this,” she said. “Even though people are dying, people are disappearing, people are suffering.”

As Regan reports, Gilles and others seem clear that Moïse is still in office because the United States wants him there. Officially, the United States has put its emphasis on elections as the way out of the crisis. But elections are not happening anytime soon. This leaves a huge question about what the United States will do. Prolonged periods of crisis in Haiti have often ended with the president put on a plane by U.S. government officials and/or the military being called out to “provide security.” For now the U.S. seems to be banking on Moïse riding out the crisis until new elections can be called, however long delayed. It doesn’t seem like much of a strategy. But then, the less the United States does at this point, probably the better.

As for the president’s early morning address – it was greeted with renewed protests Wednesday morning, and throughout the the week.

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