Children in Haiti have been out of school for one month since the country has been rocked by violent protests that demand the end of corruption and the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.
The president has two years left in his five-year term but corruption charges from a population dealing with soaring prices, extremely low or no income and a fuel shortage have put Moise on a hot seat. The heat on Moise has manifested itself in the form of sometimes daily demonstrations of thousands of Haitians.
Security alerts in September from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince ordered staff to either stay put or be careful because of barricades, looting, burning of businesses and clashes with the national police of Haiti. On September 30, the Police National d’Haiti reported on Twitter nine people were shot and more than seven businesses set ablaze.
Although Moise is still in office, joining in the calls for his resignation is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. On Oct. 3 WhatsApp messages from people in Port-au-Prince report all is calm, but the Embassy warned of government opposition protests planned for the following day.
The revolutionary-level of protests are compounded from the country’s ongoing economic woes, a campaign demanding answers about the PetroCaribe fund and frustration about international assistance that has felt closer to intervention.
In North Miami, U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) hosted a roundtable discussion about the unrest in Haiti in the Father Gerard Jean-Juste Community Center.
The panelists were Miami-Dade County CommissionerJean Monestime; North Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Joseph; Karen Andre, community activist; Marleine Bastien, director of the Family Action Network Movement; Carlin Paul, community activist; and Gepsie Metellus, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Neighborhood Center Sant La.
“We’re not here tonight to take sides, but to have a thoughtful solution discussion going about what our nation and our community can do to help Haiti heal,” Wilson said. “Because when Haiti bleeds, we bleed.”
Pelosi used faith, love and hope in her initial comments.
“Hope is right between faith and love. Faith gives us hope, and the love of others will come. And that is what we hope happens to Haiti,” Pelosi said.
Haiti’s inflation rate is 17% for 2019; the unemployment rate is 13.5%; and the minimum wage is 720 Haitian gourdes per day, if payment arrives on time. In November 2018, it took about 60 gourdes to buy one US dollar, in October 2019 it takes 96 gourdes.
Haiti’s sovereignty was continually defended by Andre, Bastien, Paul and Metellus who brought to the table issues Haitians have had to live through but also held the international community accountable.
“Since 1804 they have had one message, respect our sovereignty,” Andre said.
Andre said Haiti’s civil groups and civil societies have been mobilized for more than one year but the Haitian government has ignored them.
“They’ve been asking where is the PetroCaribe money,” Andre said. “They’ve been asking for accountability in where that money has gone.”
The Haitian Senate published a 604-page report about how the PetroCaribe fund was used. The PetroCaribe fund is a Venezuelan program of selling subsidized oil to Caribbean countries. The cost of the oil is repayable over 25 years at 1% interest. The budget surplus countries like Haiti built up from money saved in fuel purchases was meant for economic development. The Senate report detailed projects in various stages of completion.
Haiti still owes Venezuela. Haitian elected officials and hired public employees know the details of the expenses.
“We must listen to the cries of the people and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear thus enabling the corruption,” Andre said.
None of the people mentioned in the report have been indicted or questioned by the government. A second report from Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors implicated Moise, who was touted as a banana farmer but also received a government contract to build a road.
In Haiti opposition, Sen, Saurel Jacinthe said to Voices of America Creole foreign agencies and other nations, through their embassies, still support Moise.
The UN secretary-general's Special Representative for Haiti and the ambassadors of the United States, European Union, France, Canada, Brazil, Spain and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States are working with both sides to find an outcome for progress in Haiti.
Seventeen Haitian authors signed a letter, which denounced the support to Moise from members of the international community.
“The only support for this decried power would come from powerful foreign embassies,” the authors’ letter reads.
“It seems as if the American ambassador is acting as the first in command in Haiti,” Andre said. “We ask the same democratic principles we hold dear here, be upheld in Haiti.”
Pelosi responded saying the U.S. could provide oversight but did not comment on the role of the U.S. ambassador in Haiti, Michele J. Sison.
“I hear you,” Pelosi said. “Should there be any appropriated funds that go to Haiti that there be oversight in a very careful way that it be used for the people, not the government.”
Sison is the keynote speaker of the Eighth Annual National Association for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals taking place at Florida International University from Nov. 22-23. Single-day passes are $30 for students, $60 for professionals and all-access passes are $50 for students and $90 for professionals.
Community Activist Carlin Paul said the U.S. has not been there for Haiti as it should have.
“America has failed us over the years but we have worked to keep America what it is today,” Paul said.
Paul spoke to people in Haiti, elders in their communities, who gave her a message to U.S. elected officials.
“No interference. They do not want America to send any kind of group in Haiti to try and calm them down because they say this time the revolution is going to happen. They do not want America to send any troops in Haiti and they want Jovenel Moise to go and they want the US to respect the plan that they have.”
The plan, Paul said, is the oldest person from the coup de caucasyon being selected, runs the country for three years, stabilizes it and then there will be democratic elections.
Bastien echoed Andre and the Haitian people’s calls for accountability about PetroCaribe, killings in Haiti and US involvement in Haitian politics.
“They’re asking why Joevenel Moise fired the director who was investigating the crimes in the PetroCaribe dollars,” Bastien said. “The government has been directly responsible for violence against the population.”
Bastien said at least 69 people have died in contact with police, including 24 with bullet wounds to the head and 71 civilians including two-month old babies have been massacred by armed gangs.
Moise was hand-picked by Former President Michele Martelly. And Martelly himself received the support of the Obama administration.
“We have to respect the cries of the people, we have to respect Haiti, our motherland,” Bastien said.
Metellus reminded Pelosi the messages from the Haitian community are not attacks on her, but are the truth.
“Sometimes before we can get to answers, the truth has to be told,” Metellus said. “We have to reckon with what’s the reality in order to forge a path to the future.”
Metellus said blame can go to supposed allies, people who have forced Haiti to adjust, people who have imposed neo-liberal policies.
Neoliberal policies are those who make it easier for big businesses and corporations to achieve higher profits. Low taxes or none, few regulations or none, no publicly owned industries or services and low wages for workers are examples of neoliberalism.
For Haiti’s future, Metellus said the people of Haiti want to govern themselves.
“People are calling for this Parliament of Haiti to be cleaned up,” Metellus said. “They must finally appoint a permanent Electoral Council. They are saying let us find our own path. Support us.”