Haiti Update: Insecurity reigns, while talk of elections continues
On Sunday, April 11, 5 priests, two nuns and family members of a priest from Galette Chambon were kidnapped. As of this writing, they have not been released. The group was ambushed and taken on route to the installation of Father Jean Anel Joseph as parish warden of Galette Chambon. Those taken:
- Father Evens Joseph, Société des prêtres de Saint-Jacques (PSJ)
- Father Michel Briand (French citizen), PSJ
- Father Jean Nicaisse Milien, PSJ
- Father Joël Thomas, PSJ
- Father Hugues Baptiste, priest of the Archdiocese of Cap-Haïtien
- Sister Anne Marie Dorcélus, PSST – aunt of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
- Sister Agnès Bordeau (French citizen), sister of Providence of la Pommeraye
- Madame Oxane Dorcélus, mother of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
- Miss Lovely Joseph, sister of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
- Mr. Welder Joly, godfather of Father Arnel Joseph, PSJ
In response to the dramatic rise in kidnappings of which this attack is a part, the Episcopal Conference of Haiti issued a strong statement condemning the kidnapping and calling for Catholic institutions across the country to stop work on April 15. The statement reads in part,
We denounce and condemn with all our might the dictatorship of kidnapping in our country. We must not let bandits continue to kill, rape, kidnap others…We must unite in prayer, in striving to have another country similar to the one God wants us to be. The risen Jesus is the strength for all living Christians in the struggle for life. Thus, like the apostle Paul, we can say: “We are troubled but not despairing, we are under persecution, but we are not alone. They have struck us, but they have not killed us ”(2 Corinthians 4: 8-9).
It is in this sense that we, the Conference of Bishops and the CHR (Haitian Religious Conference), to protest against these evil deeds in the country, we ask all Catholic schools, presbyterals, congregants, universities and all other institutions. we are due to stop work next Thursday, April 15th. We ask the pairs and all the consecrated, all the pastoral agents to accompany and keep the people of God in hope as Pope Francis has just told us: “Do not let difficulties overwhelm you.” But we look forward with confidence and hope ”. We ask that on Thursday, April 15, throughout the country all bells be rung at noon and that we celebrate Mass in all our churches to ask God for change for Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, Mass will be celebrated in the church of St. Peter Petion-Ville and all the Bishops of Haiti on the same day at noon.
Full statement here (in Haitian Creole).
On April 15, 50+ businesses in Haiti announced that they would join with the church on the day of protest and Quisqueya University closed in solidarity.
A New Prime Minister
As the situation of insecurity continues to worsen, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe resigned April 13th, and Moise nominated Charles Joseph, the current foreign minister, as his replacement.
J’ai remis ce soir ma démission au Président de la République, SEM @moisejovenel. Ça a été un honneur de servir mon pays comme Premier ministre. Je remercie les membres de mon Gouvernement, les partenaires techniques et financiers pour leur collaboration.— Joseph Jouthe (@JoutheJoseph) April 14, 2021
Que Dieu bénisse Haïti!
In accepting Jouthe’s resignation, Moise referenced the security situation and the need to continue to press for some kind of compromise solution to the ongoing political stalemate.
La démission du Gouvernement, que j’ai acceptée, permettra d’adresser le problème criant de l’insécurité et poursuivre les discussions en vue de dégager le consensus nécessaire à la stabilité politique et institutionnelle de notre pays. Le ministre Claude Joseph est nommé PM a.i— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) April 14, 2021
Charles Joseph is set to become the 5th prime minister to serve under Jovenel Moise since massive protests against the government led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant in July 2018. The others were Jean-Henry Céant, who resigned in March of 2019 following another round of demonstrations. To be followed by Jean-Michel Lapin and then Fritz William Michel – who was never confirmed by parliament. Joseph Jouthe was made prime minister by Moise in March of 2020 and thus served one year during which Moise ruled by decree.
Haiti’s government holds a “town hall meeting” in the United States to sell referendum
Determined to press ahead with a referendum on the constitution, the government held a special town hall meeting for Haitians living in the United States. Under provisions of earlier constitutional reform, Haitians living in the United States will be able to vote in the referendum. It is important to remember that earlier constitutional reforms are themselves controversial, and secondly, a referendum of this kind is not allowed under the 1987 constitution.
That said, the government seems intent on moving forward, though neither the United States nor the UN office in Haiti support the referendum. It is not clear that either the US or UN will seek to block the process, but both argue that legislative elections need to happen first, and that constitutional questions should be settled in consultation with that new legislature.
From the Miami Herald: “At this stage, the process is not sufficiently inclusive, participatory or transparent,” the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti, which is headed by La Lime, said in a tweet. “National ownership of the draft constitution requires the engagement of a wider range of political, societal, including women’s and religious groups across the country.”
The proposed constitutional reforms have only been available in French – not Haitian Creole. The referendum is scheduled for June, but it is very unlikely to happen – at least not with much in the way of participation. Many organizations see the reforms as illegitimate and thus plan to boycott the process. Further, as many people have pointed out, the security situation in the country makes holding the vote impractical, indeed, dangerous.
The United States still doesn’t get it
In addition to the kidnapping of the group attending Father Jean Anel Joseph’s installation, gangs attacked an orphanage, killing a guard and sexually assaulting two children over the weekend. The previous week witnessed another attack in Croix de Bouquet that led to several deaths and mutilations. Days earlier gangs from Delmas under the leadership of Jimmy Cherizier attacked the community of Bel Air – claiming to be a response to a previous attack from Bel Air, but which others argue was an effort to quell opposition to the government.
Twitter is daily filled with reports of gang violence, kidnappings and assaults on women and girls. For much of the country, Jovenel Moise should no longer be president. His tenure, according to organized sectors of civil society, constitutional scholars, and Supreme Court Justices, should have ended on February 7, 2021. He remains. Those organized in opposition do not support Moise overseeing elections. There is no consensus on a specific solution to the stalemate, but there is broad agreement among opposition forces on the need for a transitional government to oversee elections. And one of the main reasons is that many view Moise as responsible for the reigning insecurity, i.e., gangs have been mobilized to secure political positions – not simply as criminal operations.
Into this fray, which has been fraying for almost three years now, the United States has entered with a consistent mantra: elections must happen. The problem is that aside from Moise and his political allies, hardly any one else in Haiti is saying that. Rather, much as with the referendum, people are saying that the security situation is not conducive to holding elections. Further, if Moise is responsible (either through incompetence, or complicitity) for the main source of instability, i.e., the gangs, then any election overseen by him is likely to be poorly attended and widely seen as illegitimate – not to mention dangerous. In other words, elections in and of themselves, will solve nothing.
So it comes as no surprise that amidst the deepening crisis, the State Department’s comment on the change in Prime Ministers:
The U.S. looks forward to continued cooperation with interim Prime Minster @claudejoseph03, the Government of Haiti and all Haitian stakeholders and international partners working to hold free and fair legislative and presidential elections in 2021.— Julie Chung (@WHAAsstSecty) April 14, 2021