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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Grepen Center Update

Aneus (striped shirt) & Teligene (black shirt) discuss the weevil free sweet potato program in Atrell

The Quixote Center supports the work of the Jean Marie Vinent Formation Center located in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne, Haiti. Most know of our work in relation to reforestation efforts which have led to 2 million trees planted in the area since 1999. Accompanying the tree planting, however, is work with local farmers. The agronomy team at the Grepen center, travels throughout the region, working side by side with the parish’s Karitas network, and grassroots organizations such as the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne to identify problems, and work with small farmers to find solutions. We periodically report on some of this activity.

Seed Bank

The Grepen center has organized and supports a seed bank for local farmers. The seed bank allows for bulk purchases of seeds, often “off-season” when seeds are cheaper. Farmers are able to purchase the seeds at a discounted rate and deposit them with the seed bank until needed. During the spring we launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for the seed bank to ensure that there were plenty of supplies available to farmers for the summer planting season. We also received additional funds in mid-summer from Alternative Gifts International to further support the seed bank. The following is a report from the agronomy team on use of the funds:

From August until December, local planters usually plant a lot of beans, especially black beans, and vegetables in their gardens. This year the situation facing the planters was complicated. The year began with the locked country political debacle, and then descended into the coronavirus crisis. Ongoing political instability has increased market prices, and a drought during the last spring planting season, which is the largest of the year, caused a lot of problems. The sun destroyed many gardens without the relief of periodic rain. 

All of these things put the farmers in a difficult economic situation. This created difficulties for them to be able to plant on time in the spring, and farming is their principal economic activity.  With the support of Quixote Center, our seed bank at Grepen was able to help the farmers respond to these difficulties and move forward with their gardens. We provided seeds and technical support for the farmers in order to save the spring planting season and change their lives for the better.  

For this planting campaign, we were able to support 61 farmers in the zones that were ready to plant. These farmers all have gardens near Twa Rivye, which we consider to be the boundary that separates our diverse agricultural zones. Of the seeds that we distributed to the farmers, they will have to return a certain quantity to the seed bank after they harvest their crop. This is how we are always going to have good quality seeds available after each harvest.

Goat Program and mobile veterinary clinic

Three years ago the agronomy team launched a program to distribute goats. The program involved first doing training with “cohorts” of roughly 10 families, who would then receive a female goat for each family and one billy goat for the cohort. If the female goat has a kid, the family agrees to pass the kid on to a new family. Maintaining the health of the goats is an important part of the program. Integrated into the program is a mobile vet clinic, run by Roseline. She visits the cohorts on a regular basis. Here the clinic is visiting Perou.

Yam harvest in Grepen

Food insecurity is obviously a huge issue for all of Haiti, and addressing this is the primary goal of the program at the Grepen center. Toward this end, the agronomy team works with local farmers on techniques for growing cassava, yams, and, in the past several years, planting sweet potatoes that are resistant to weevils (which have destroyed many harvests in recent years). Below Teligene and Songé  show off some healthy yams grown in gardens in the community of Grepen.

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Haiti: Human Rights News Briefs

Over the last few weeks there have been some key developments in the broader political context in Haiti.

For a good overview of those developments, see the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s summary report of human rights concerns through the end of October. From the introduction of that report:

Widespread insecurity has gripped Haiti since our February 2020 Human Rights and Rule of Law in Haiti update. Local human rights organizations investigating the rise in violence have documented the involvement of police officers and state officials in numerous attacks against marginalized communities and raised credible concerns that gang violence is being deployed as a tool of political repression. At minimum, the government has failed to control violence that affects some of Haiti’s most marginalized communities. In addition, there are numerous reported incidents of government violence against protesters and the press; impunity for these and other human rights violations, due at least in part to the politicization of the judiciary, is pervasive. Such impunity leaves victims without recourse and is emboldening perpetrators.

To emphasize the current state of affairs, police responded to widespread protests on November 18 with extraordinary violence. Jake Johnston and Kira Paulemon of the Center for Economic Policy Research write:

The police response to the November 18 protests “demonstrated a blatant lack of professionalism,” wrote the human rights organization Fondasyon Je Klere [FJKL]. Street demonstrations were dispersed with tear gas, and, in some cases, with live ammunition. On the Champ de Mars, a young man was shot in the head. Eight others were admitted to area hospitals with bullet wounds. Nearby, a police vehicle rammed into a group of individuals sending at least two to the hospital with serious injuries — one eventually died due to the injuries sustained.

Video of the police vehicle hitting the protestors has been widely shared on social media and sparked outrage from civil society and human right groups. Lyonel Trouillot, a prominent Haitian author, published an op-ed criticizing the authoritarian use of the National Police by successive governments. He also noted the lack of interest from civil society groups in the international community. “It is shameful that a national call is not sent to international civil societies in the face of such acts […] for them to hold their representatives who might want to lend their support to a murderous regime, accountable,” he wrote.

The result of the day was conclusive, according to FJKL. “The PNH no longer considers the right to demonstrate as a democratic right.” Rather, FJKL continued, the police have become politicized and “[do] not act as a professional body responsible for ensuring the exercise of democratic rights.”

Amidst this concern, the government issued an executive decree on November 26 creating a new Agency of National Intelligence and limiting the rights of protestors under the banner of “public security.” There is enormous concern about the creation of this intelligence agency given the current context of human rights violations as well as the history of intelligence services in Haiti, which have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the past.

Capturing some of these dynamics, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission held a thematic hearing on Haiti yesterday, December 10, featuring the testimony of Mario Joseph, Managing Director of BAI, Sonel Jean-Francois, Director of Judicial Inspection for the Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire, former Director of Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (Central Financial Intelligence Unit), Lionel Constant Bourgoin, Former prosecutor and former Director General for Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption (Haiti’s Anti-Corruption Unit) and Alexandra V. Filippova, Senior Staff Attorney for Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.  Video from the hearing is not yet available from the IACHR, but for those in the Twitterverse you can review the conversation at these hashtags: #IACHRhearings #CIDH #Haiti

Finally, also yesterday, the U.S Treasury Department announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act (which empowers the Treasury to sanction individuals by seizing assets held in the U.S.) against Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan for their involvement in the LaSaline massacre in November of 2018. From the Treasury Department Press release:

While serving as an HNP officer, Jimmy Cherizier (Cherizier) planned and participated in the 2018 La Saline attack. Cherizier is now one of Haiti’s most influential gang leaders and leads an alliance of nine Haitian gangs known as the “G9 alliance.” Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighborhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.

Fednel Monchery (Monchery) was the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities and, while serving in this role, participated in the planning of La Saline. Monchery supplied weapons and state vehicles to members of armed gangs who perpetrated the attack. Monchery also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack.

Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan (Duplan), who was President Jovenel Moïse’s Departmental Delegate at the time of La Saline, is accused of being the “intellectual architect” and was seen discussing the attack with armed gang members in the La Saline neighborhood during the violence. Duplan provided firearms and HNP uniforms to armed gang members who participated in the killings. Duplan also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack. 

This move is almost certainly the result of advocacy by members of congress, especially Maxine Waters, who has continued to raise the issue of impunity in Haiti, using the La Saline massacre as a talking point, for the last couple of years. Waters has visited Haiti with human rights delegations several times. 

What precise impact this will have on the individuals targeted is not clear, but the message, we hope, will be (and will remain) that there must be consequences for human rights violations in Haiti. 

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2020 Seed Campaign: Update from Haiti

Although pandemic precautions have not permitted Quixote Center staff to visit our Haitian counterparts this year, we have kept in regular touch with our partners via virtual meetings twice a month. Because of those close connections, we were able to broadcast the need for increasing deposits in the seed bank and many of you truly delivered to meet this need. We received the report below yesterday and wanted to share some highlights with you. 

During the week of November 30, the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center visited the gardens of those who received seeds during the 2020 agricultural campaign. The campaign aimed at expanding support from the seed bank to farmers in advance of the planting season. There was, and remains, tremendous concern about food insecurity in the area due to climate change, and complicated by price fluctuations for inputs and transportation. The seed bank is able to bulk purchase seeds and provide them at a low, subsidized cost, to farmers. The program also includes training on preparing sweet potatoes for planting that are resistant to weevils – a pest that has destroyed harvests over the last three years. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation has led the way in adapting to this problem.

As part of the evaluation, everyone who planted sweet potatoes received a visit, plus 4 or 5 other planters in the zones of Ti David, Koraiy, Janpyè, Veney, and Ravin Olyadnn. One of the planters from Ravin Olyadnn is pictured below inspecting her plants.

The goal was to see how the planters are faring in the fight against the sweet potato weevil and to offer them encouragement and accompaniment for all of their garden activities. Aneus, who shares responsibility for the seed bank along with Songé, completed the garden visits and provided information for this report.

These notes are continued from an initial visit that was made to each of these gardens just after they had planted the seeds they received from the seed bank. From the time of the initial planting until now, the gardens look very green. For those who planted peas, they are growing well despite the fact that they received a lot of sun during their planting cycle. This is giving the pea planters hope, in the same way that the black bean planters have hope in certain areas.

In the four zones that were visited this week, we noticed the same thing, that people are managing to grow beans and peas in their gardens and have already started eating from the crop that they are producing. These planters have hope for the future, and they are already assured that they will have a portion of their garden harvest to feed their families.

Another thing we noted is that there are some areas, like Rivyè Blanch, where farmers are battling against new pests. In this area, cochineal insects are attacking the peas and the peanuts that the farmers planted. This is causing a lot of stress for the planters, because it puts the future of these crops, which are very important for the peasant farmers, in doubt. We have begun formations to teach the planters how they can fight against this pest, and also how to prevent the cochineal from attacking their future crops.

The beneficiaries report that they are satisfied overall with the accompaniment provided by the agronomy team. They are thankful that the support of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center has enabled them to plant more gardens.

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Charlemagne Peralte: The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting

The struggle of [hu]man[s] against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Milan Kundera, the Book of Laughter and Forgetting

On June 10, 1920 William Robert Button and Herman Henry Hanneken received the United States Army Medal of Honor. The citations for each reads:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near Grande Riviere, Republic of Haiti, on the night of 31 October-l November 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Peralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing, capture and dispersal of about 1,200 of his outlaw followers.

Button and Hanneken’s “conspicuous gallantry” involved entering a rebel camp near Grand Riviere disguised and under cover of night, with 17 members of Haiti’s gendarmerie. They had been tipped to the location, and given guidance, by one of Peralte’s lieutenants, Jean-Baptiste Conzé. There they assassinated Charlemagne Peralte who had been leading the resistance to the U.S. occupation of Haiti since 1917. 

The murder of Peralte and defeat of his forces was the cause of celebration in some circles. The next day, R.C. Berkely, reporting from the Marine Headquarters in Cap-Haitien wrote, “It is believed that the death of Charlamagne Peralte will prove a large factor in stopping bandit operations in Haiti.”  From Port-au-Prince in December 1919, John H. Russell echoes these congratulations, and notes “the result of this engagement, it is believed, has strengthened the morale and increased the aggressiveness of the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, tending to a higher degree of usefulness in the controlling and keeping the peace in this country, which is so greatly desired.” 

Upon his murder, Peralte’s body was given public viewing in Hinche. He was stripped and tied to a door in a standing position, with a Haitian flag placed such that the pole rested under his arm.  His body was photographed, and like the lynching photos circulating in the contemporaneous United States as postcards, the picture was sent throughout Haiti: handed out, dropped from planes, and tacked to boards as a statement of the absolute authority of United States military and allied forces to kill the independent nation of Haiti. This was the “peace….so greatly desired.”. 

The ubiquitous presence of the photograph within Haiti guaranteed that Peralte’s sacrifice would be remembered, alongside the brutality of the U.S. occupation. However, back in the U.S., the people were left with only the mere trace of an “imperial encounter” that dissipated into thin air quickly. Button and Hanneken’s Medal of Honor citations conclude: “The successful termination of [their] mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti,” thus adding another decontextualized set of letters to the ever evolving mythology of the United States as a democratizing “City on the Hill.” In reality, the untold, perhaps unspeakable, value to the Republic of Haiti to evolve from the “termination” of Peralte, was the instantiation of a colonial political economy built on the simple discernment of who lives and who dies; in essence a constitutional determination of who was authorized to kill in defense of the City Bank of New York’s investments in Haiti. 

Of course, the privilege of the colonizer lies in forgetting. Indeed, at home in the metropole, perhaps, the privilege more precisely lies in never having to know the brutality that serves as the foundation for the democratic edifice we pretend to inhabit. As Achille Mbembe writes in Necro Politics, “[d]emocracy, the plantation, and colonial empire are objectively all part of the same historical matrix. The originary and structuring fact lies at the heart of every historical understanding of the violence of the contemporary global order.” [p. 23]. In the United States, like most of Europe, our disassociation from this history serves the power of mythologizing the path to our current moment. We are forever confused about the violence that surrounds us; a violence that is taken as the remnants of unreason standing on the borderlands of a rational, modern democracy, rather than as a constituent element of the really existing (un)democratic order the United States has forged. And so, in the annals of U.S. military history, to the extent Peralte and the rebellion he led is remembered at all, it is only as a footnote to the “heroism, gallantry and intrepidity” of his murderers.

In Haiti people are not allowed to forget. Remembering, to be sure, is not so much an elicitation of dates and names from the past. Remembering is the unavoidable result of remaining inside the institutions of violence begat by the colonial authority’s liaison with a local elite. A syncretic, institutionalized violence that mutates every generation, but never dissipates completely. When colonial authorities blithely note the Gendarmerie d’Haiti’s motivation to higher degrees of “aggressiveness” in keeping the peace in the months after Peralte’s assassination, what they are really celebrating is that Haitian forces, now properly trained, are wiling to murder other Haitians in defense of U.S. capital (and their comprador allies). 

When U.S. occupation forces left Haiti in 1934, the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, became the Forces Armées d’Haiti. The army, created by the United States as a counter-insurgency force from the beginning, remained the anvil against which governments backed by the United States smashed any hint of democratic aspiration from Haiti’s popular movements. When the army was not enough, “irregular” forces were called upon to murder and torture and terrorize. Behind it all, U.S. military and intelligence services organized and trained the murderers. For example, Allan Nairn writing for the Nation in 1994, says, “it’s universally acknowledged that the FRAPH is an arm of the brutal Haitian security system, which the United States has built and supervised and whose leaders it has trained, and often paid. When I asked Constant, for example, about the anti-Aristide coup, he said that as it was happening Colonel Collins and Donald Terry (the C.I.A. station chief who also ran the SIN) “were inside the [General] Headquarters.” But he insisted that this was “normal”: The C.I.A. and D.I.A.  were always there.’” [emphasis added]

Today the divisions within Haiti remain deep and wide. The governments that have attempted to bridge this divide by inviting Haiti’s impoverished majority to a seat at the table have been either removed or isolated at the hands of armed forces. Standing behind these forces protecting the interests of the wealthy has always been the United States. 

So, we can never forget that the people of Haiti’s struggle for democracy, for accountability and for some measure of equity is by necessity also a struggle for independence from the United States.

That struggle is now over a hundred years old.

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Updates from the agronomy team in Gros Morne

Several years ago a breed of weevil began infesting sweet potato crops in the area around Gros Morne, ruining many harvests. In response, the team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center went to work developing a weevil resistance strain of sweet potatoes, and have been introducing this to farmers. Below are some photos from a project site in Perou, a satellite nursery for sweet potatoes, Aneus (red shirt) and Teligene (white shirt) check on sweet potatoes. 

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Another program run by the agronomy team based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a mobile vet clinic. Here Songé performs a wellness check & vaccine campaign for chickens in the Family Enterprise Program, which provides trainings to families about how to treat their activities – such as courtyard gardens & raising chickens – as intentional income generating activities.

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To get a sense of where all of these activities take place, check out the project map below.

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“Money on the move” and the political crisis in Haiti

The headlines on Haiti are once again sensational. Haiti is “on the brink,” “burning,” facing “barbarism” and so on. To be clear, Haiti is facing another trough in the decades long up and down struggle for democracy and accountability. The contours of the latest manifestation of tensions run along the same lines as they have over the past three years – anger at a government largely seen as illegitimate, anger at the spiraling economic crisis made worse by COVID, anger at the ongoing violence of gangs, which operate largely with impunity and in some cases in a coordinated fashion with the National Police. Murders that are widely believed to be politically motivated are on the rise, such as the shooting of the head of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, Monferrier Dorval, in front of his house, hours after criticizing the government’s drive for constitutional reform. People are nervous and angry, and in parts of the country, increasingly desperate. When they protest now, however, they face lethal force from the police, or a potential backlash from armed groups. 

As always beneath the headlines and media framing, there is the other Haiti. Where there is not so much chaos, but rather the predictable exercise of privilege and power in a setting where resources are increasingly scarce. There are the people who take advantage, protected in doing so by the violence of the state, which ultimately seeks to contain the poor, not serve them. On the other side there is the grassroot organization of those seeking to build a different kind of society. Students, peasant associations, women’s groups, labor unions, what remains of the grassroots church movement and so on. What so often happens in these times, is that their voices are drowned out amidst the cries for “stability,” “order” and (at the moment), “elections.” 

In this update we touch on the recent currency confusion, the call for elections and current political violence, and celebrate the creation of (if not the need for) the Observatory for Crimes Against Humanity. I am reminded in writing this update of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who writes, capitalism “requires all kinds of scheming, including hard work by elites and their compradors in the overlapping and interlocking space-economies of the planet’s surface. They build and dismantle and reconfigure states, moving capacity into and out of the public realm. And they think very hard about money on the move.” Behind the turmoil in Haiti (and elsewhere) there is always the elite thinking about money on the move. Always.

Exchange rate debacle

At the beginning of October the Haitian Gourde experienced a rapid revaluation, strengthening against the dollar nearly twofold in the space of a day. On September 30, the Haitian Gourde was trading at 104.96 to the dollar, the next day 67.30. It has since stabilized at around 62 Gourde to the dollar, though whether it stays there is anyone’s guess. After three years of steady devaluation – and much criticism leveled at the government for the declining purchasing power that represented – some strengthening of the Gourde was potentially a good thing. However, the rapid change created turmoil, and made clear just how dependent Haiti is on the dollar. Suddenly the value of remittances tanked in Gourde, international non-governmental organizations working in Haiti saw the value of their budgets shrink – which meant possible cuts in pay for people working in Haiti and/or fewer local purchases. Export companies (which have made a killing exploiting Haitian workers because of the steady devaluation of the currency over the last three years) were suddenly saying they could not work under these conditions – which meant layoffs for Haitians, of course, not the company managers. 

At the same time, people in Haiti can – potentially – buy more with their Gourde than before the change. This is, of course, a good thing provided local prices actually adjust, which they seem to be doing. Long-term, there is another looming downside however: If imports are cheaper, especially in the agricultural sector, the possibility for further undercutting of local production increases. If you are keeping tabs here, the result of all of this means Haiti will see a further decline in its trade balance (imports increasing more than exports) which is never good for a country in need of dollars to repay debts to international creditors. This just makes the point that there are pros and cons to both “weak” and “strong” currency valuations – and what ultimately matters is stability and predictability. If the Gourde settles in at the current rate, people will adjust. As no one believes this is an actual market valuation, however, the chances for future instability looms large. Indeed, given Haiti’s negative trade balance the reality is that the Gourde was probably overvalued at 105. The government’s intervention to strengthen the Gourde is thus likely best read as a short-term political stunt that may well backfire before elections some time next year, but will almost certainly have consequences for after. 

Elections????

President Moise has been ruling by decree since January of 2020. At that point, the terms of most of Haiti’s parliamentarians expired. As there was no prior agreement on an election law, election timetable, or members of the Provisional Electoral Council to oversee the process, Haiti’s parliament stopped functioning for lack of membership. Moise did appoint a Prime Minister, and thus, there is a head of government overseeing administrative functions. But there are only 11 elected officials in Haiti at the moment, and no legislature. 

So, naturally, elections are a priority, right? Not necessarily. The problem is that the underlying divisions in society that were then manifested in the stalemate over legislative elections remain. Indeed, if anything, they have hardened amidst the violence that is surging in the country right now. It is hard to hold elections when opposition candidate’s offices are firebombed, and demonstrations, peaceful or otherwise, are met by armed gangs or armed police, or both. The government that is overseeing the process is the very same government that people have been mobilizing periodically for three years now to get rid of. Moise has no popular mandate – has never had one. So, for him to unilaterally oversee an election and concurrent constitutional reform is not acceptable to opposition leaders. And yet, in the absence of elections, there is no one with an official position to act as a countervailing force to Moise and the PHTK. It is the chicken-rock/ egg-hard place that would be funny except that people caught in the middle are being assassinated.

Now the Trump administration has decided to lean in – after mostly ignoring Haiti, with official prognostications at least, for three and half years. When the United States mobilizes to “help” a county hold elections it is rarely an ingredient for a democratic outcome. Indeed, the Obama administration’s “assistance” in 2011 and again in 2016/17 is how Haiti got stuck with its current president. The Trump (Haiti is a “shit-hole” country) administration is not likely to do much better. Indeed, every indication is that Trump’s team wants elections simply to confirm the continued rule of the PHTK and bring stability back to the regime of pillage the U.S. has come to expect as its right in Haiti. And so, Moise appointed a Provisional Electoral Council absent traditional civil society representation and with no voices from opposition leadership. Moise claims he will move forward with elections (though the timing is still to clear – note an earlier version of this article said elections were scheduled for February but nothing is set yet) over the demands of opposition and civil society for a seat at the table. And Trump’s folks have simply said to the people of Haiti, support the election “or else.” 

Even if Trump should lose in two weeks, Biden, who wouldn’t take office until late January anyway, seems to be offering little that is different. His position is simply to work with the international community (not Haitians) to ensure elections happen ASAP. So, with U.S. patronage firmly in hand, Moise will likely just press on. Barring a miracle of compromise and consensus building, Haiti seems destined for another election with minimal official participation but, it is feared, much violence as those cut out of the process attempt to make their voices heard through what means they can find.

An observatory for human rights

Against this backdrop, the launching of the Observatory for Crimes Against Humanity, announced last week, is crucially important. There has been an explosion of violence in Haiti including political assassinations and attacks on communities that, much evidence suggests, involve the coordinated actions of armed criminal gangs and the police. Pierre Esperance, from National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, speaks of at least 9 massacres in recent years, the worst being in La Saline in November of 2018 which left at least 72 people dead, committed by forces allied with the government. The Haiti Action Committee’s recent Counter Punch article lifts up the assassination of student leader Gregory Saint-Hilaire, killed by security forces on October 2 while on campus. They also talk about the toll that the G-9 gang alliance is having on Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. The G-9 alliance is run by a former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier. The alliance was promoted by government officials, who have refused to distance themselves even after gang members have burned out entire neighborhoods. 

With the U.S. and the Organization of American States pressing for February elections, and international human rights organizations apparently too busy elsewhere to speak out on the spiraling violence in Haiti, local human rights groups in Haiti have launched a new platform to monitor political violence and keep record of violations. The founders of the Observatory for Crimes Against Humanity in Haiti are the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), figures such as the former Minister of Justice, Mr. Camille Leblanc, career journalist Hérold Jean-François, Me Sonel Jean-François, Me Sonet Saint-Louis, among others. From the founding document:

The observatory is therefore made up of several organizations and firms specializing in the defense of human rights and other organizations of civil society, intellectuals and public figures attached to democratic values, with a view to collecting information and the production of analysis on causes of massive human rights violations, particularly cases of crimes against humanity committed in Haiti, while focusing fundamentally on the advisability of pursuing legal proceedings [at the] national and international level against those responsible for such abuses who will be supported by advocacy activities.

There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. As a result here is some hope that by putting a spotlight on the violations taking place, coupled with the prospect that if not now, some time in the future, there will be prosecutions, this will discourage attacks. Of course, such efforts must be magnified, and pressure put everywhere possible to stop the violence. 

 

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Huge increase in removals of people from Haiti part of the Title 42 nightmare

The CDC order is designed to accomplish under the guise of public health a dismantling of legal protections governing border arrivals that the Trump administration has been unable to achieve under the immigration laws.  Lucas Guttentag, Just Security

Between October 5th and October 20th, ICE Air Operations flew 10 “deportation” flights to Haiti. All except one flight departed from Laredo, Texas, the other left from Brownsville. From April of this year, until late September, ICE deportation flights to Haiti occurred about once every other week. These flights were rarely full – though confirmation of numbers is never available from ICE. So, what happened?

Over the last two weeks, what we’ve seen are not deportations in the regular sense. If someone is deported that is the last step in a series of activities after a person has been deemed removable from the interior, or inadmissible at the border. In other words, prior to a deportation there is a process within which one can fight for asylum, or against removal on other grounds. These processes have many problems, but there is nevertheless an opportunity to present evidence and seek relief from removal prior to a deportation.

What we have been seeing over the last two weeks is something different. These flights are part of a different program involving the summary expulsion of people; none of whom have had any realistic chance to apply for asylum. They have been apprehended by Border Patrol and then quickly removed.

The basis for these removals is a March 20, 2020 order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that effectively closes the border to all non-essential travel, claiming authority under Title 42 of the Public Health Services Law. These “Title 42” removals have been ongoing since March, leading to the expulsion of 200,000 people (data accessed Oct. 22). Under the provisions of the order, people are removed immediately to the last country of transit (for 99% of people apprehended this is Mexico), or sent to their home country if Mexico can’t (or won’t) receive them. According to the administration, 90% of the people apprehended at the border are expelled within 2 hours.

When the order was issued, Mexico said that it would only accept people expelled if they were Mexican nationals, or from Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. This means people from elsewhere, eg., Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cameroon, etc. could not simply be turned back to Mexico (though no doubt many have been anyway). What has happened to them?

There has not been much information about this. From advocates we know who are working with Haitian migrants, people being detained while awaiting their Title 42 expulsion are not given an Alien (“A”) number like someone officially detained. Which means they can’t be tracked. As a result it is difficult to get a good picture of where people are being held. From press reports we know that some families and unaccompanied children have been placed in hotels until they can be flown out. Over the last two weeks we heard that many of the people from Haiti who were being expelled were being held at an ICE facility in Val Verde County, not far from Laredo where most of the flights departed from. Neither of these locations comports with the CDC guidance on temporary detention for those who can not be immediately expelled. Such detention is supposed to be in a designated space within a Border Patrol facility, or under a tent or other soft-sided shelter (e.g. temporary facility to minimize contact).

The recent increase in expulsions to Haiti is also related to a recent increase in the number of Haitians being apprehended by Border Patrol. The Customs and Border Patrol media office for the Del Rio sector issued a release on Monday saying that 1,800 people from 26 different countries had been arrested over a two week period, 25% (450) of them were from Haiti. I have not been able to confirm numbers from other sectors, but it seems likely that the number of people who are attempting entry is increasing rapidly across the board as borders south of Mexico have begun to open again. Border Patrol apprehensions totaled 54,711 in September (48,327 were Title 42 expulsions). I requested information from the CBP media office in the Del Rio sector concerning where people were being held and if they were being tested for COVID, and received no response.

So, what we have been seeing over the past two weeks is the mass expulsion of Haitians under Title 42. Most of this increase in removals seems to be the result of increased border crossings, though it is possible some families and unaccompanied children who have been detained for longer periods are also part of the increased expulsions. 

Title 42 went into effect as a 30 day measure, but has been renewed indefinitely. It is important to point out that it was also NOT an initiative of the CDC. The order was the brainchild of Steven Miller, Trump’s hardline immigration advisor. CDC officials initially refused to implement it, saying there was no public health justification for such an extreme measure – though they ultimately went along with it under pressure from the White House. What is clear is that Trump has used COVID-19 to do what courts had previously denied him: blocking asylum, even for people already on U.S. soil. The hundreds of expulsions to Haiti last week were the result of this policy, along with 200,000 other people removed under this order since March.

 

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New Hens in the Hen House

On 11 August, 2020, the hen house celebrated the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the first 1,000 hens. The hen house provides low-cost eggs to community groups for resale in the local market. The Quixote Center helped fund the solar powered water pump for the hen house. The hen house is committed to using feed that is 100% grown locally. This is a goal that is close to being met.

On October 15, 700 more hens arrived. To prepare for the arrival of the new hens, room A2 was cleaned and the hens from room A1 were moved to A2. Room A1 was then cleaned and whitewashed. Below we share some photos of the new arrivals checking out the new digs.

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Political violence and U.S. policy in Haiti

Guns handed in at the start of a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program in Port au Prince 2017 (Photo: Sophia Paris/UN Photo, Creative Commons)

The notorious paramilitaries of the past, the Tonton Macoute and FRAPH may be gone today, but the people of Haiti are once again under the threat of the presence of armed groups acting with impunity.  The use of armed gangs by political actors in Haiti (and many other places, including the U.S.) to “keep order” is hardly a new phenomenon. However, over the last several years, as protests against the PHTK government have grown, these gangs have been mobilized in what seems a coordinated fashion. They are heavily armed, and have engaged in multiple attacks on communities.

At the moment, the spotlight is on former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, who now fronts a gang confederation (the G9) that rules the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Delmas and Bel Aire. As a police officer, Cherizier was implicated in massacres at Grand Ravine and La Saline.

At Grand Ravine, in November of 2017, police attacked community members inside a school – killing 9 people. Some were killed execution style, and several appeared to have been shot in their homes nearby and then dragged to the school. The operation was supposedly launched by police in response to gang activity, but was clearly more complicated than that. UN units were present but did not intervene. The massacre was largely ignored outside of Haiti. In U.S. media, only Jake Johnston of Center for Economic and Policy Research covered the story in detail – in a piece published in the Intercept in January of 2018.  Johnston interviewed, Rovelsond Apollon, an observer with a local human rights organization working in Grand Ravine, who discussed the connection between the police, politicians and local gangs:

It’s not just that politicians exert control over the police, Apollon said — they are involved with the gangs themselves. His organization has interviewed young people with heavy weaponry that is not easy to acquire, he explained, and they said the weapons had been provided by politicians. “Politicians and authorities are not innocent in what happened, because they, too, play their part in the violence,” he said. The politicians, for their part, have not publicly addressed these accusations.

A year later, the neighborhood of La Saline became the sight of another massacre.  As in Grand Ravine, initial reports made the attack seem like an internecine battle between gangs trying to control the area. But further investigation laid out the role of the police who coordinated with gangs, allegedly operating with the support of Moise allies. It is now argued that the motivation for the attack on the community was at least in part retaliation for its mobilization in protests against the current government. According to a report on the attack following a Haiti Action Committee and National Lawyers Guild delegation, Cherizier publicly admitted taking part in the attack, with his police units blocking roads to keep people from leaving the community. The total number of people killed is not known. Many bodies were burned, some left in the street where remains were eaten by pigs and dogs. The Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNNHD) was able to identify at least 71 people murdered based on interviews with community members. 

Cherizier was forced out of the police in December of 2018. However, rather than end up in jail, Cherizier has re-emerged  at the head of the G9, a confederation assembled with the support of the current government. Journalist Etant Dupain wrote last week:

During an explosive radio interview on Radio Magik9, earlier this month, one of the most influential members of President Jovenel Moise’s commission for disarmament (known as the CNDDR), Jean Rebel Dorcénat, stated that it was his idea for several gang leaders to join together to form a federation, which has now become the gang named G9. He later walked back the statement, and clarified to say that he was not responsible for creating the G9, but he did, however, advise gang leaders to form an alliance in order to make the disarmament commission’s job easier.

When the alliance was announced, armed groups rallied in Port-au-Prince. The police were nowhere to be found – but their equipment was on display. The Washington Post reported, “When Cherizier’s men took to the streets in June, witnesses claimed to have seen them ride in the same armored vehicles used by the national police and special security forces. Justice Minister Lucmane Delile denounced the gangs and ordered the national police to pursue them; within hours, Moïse fired him.”

Dupain’s article was written in the context of the G9 engaging in massive attacks against the community in Bel Air over the last two weeks.  These attacks have displaced thousands of people, many of whom are now living in a soccer field in Solino.  Cherizier is not hiding – indeed, he regularly appears in the streets, and moves freely despite an active arrest warrant.  

Meanwhile, members of the national police have violently protested the arrest of police captain Pascal Alexandre, driving through Port-au-Prince setting cars afire, and even torching the office that archives voter registrations. This so-called Fantom 509 force has become a frightening presence in the capital, and remains unchallenged by Moise and his allies. 

For his part, Moise has responded to the moment by trying to consolidate his position. Ruling by decree since January – there are only 11 elected officials serving in office in Haiti right now – he has pressed forward with an electoral commission and set of constitutional reforms that would strengthen the presidency. The electoral commission is devoid of the usual representatives of civil society, and has been denounced by the opposition. Three weeks ago, the head of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince bar association, Monferrier Dorval, was assassinated in front of his home just hours after giving a radio interview in which he expressed doubts about constitutional reforms being proposed by the government. 

Into this setting the U.S. State Department has entered with the kind of patronizing rhetoric and threats we have come to expect. A State Department official stated “Frankly, I have to say I’m a little bit tired of every group, every opposition party in Haiti saying, ‘Well, I won’t appoint my person,’ or ‘We won’t have an election,’ or ‘We won’t run in this until you meet all of my political demands…That’s not democracy. And so we are quite insistent on this, and it’s going to start to have consequences for those who stand in the way of it.” So, the U.S. government’s position is that the opposition must allow the PHTK and Moise to consolidate its power, “or else.” The U.S. government, it is worth noting, is the chief bankroll behind Haiti’s national police: 

Earlier this month, the State Department notified Congress that it was reallocating $8 million from last year’s budget to support the HNP. Since Trump took office, the US has nearly quadrupled its support to Haiti’s police — from $2.8 million in 2016 to more than $12.4 million last year. With the recent reallocation, the figure this year will likely be even higher. US funding for the Haitian police constitutes more than 10 percent of the institution’s overall budget.

So, as thousands come to the street with vision, with hope, and, for some, in desperation, demanding a revolution of political and economic forces, they face not just the local bourgeoisie and their armed defenders, but the U.S. government, with it’s bankroll, weapons and saccharine imperial pronouncements about good government.  Pierre Esperance of the RNNDH told Etant Dupain, “The worst part is that the international community continues to support a government that is in bed with gangs and is responsible for nine massacres in the country. I have not seen anything like it since the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier.”

Finally, responding to the State Department, Bob Maguire said, “This thing about ‘It’s going to have consequences for those who stand in the way,’ well, it already has consequences….They are getting shot. They are getting beat up and they’ve been demonstrating in the streets for years about the lack of any kind of responsible democracy in the country. These are people who are already suffering the consequences of Haiti’s failure.”  This failure is bought and paid for by the U.S. government.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)