Why Americans Should Care About What’s Happening in Haiti Now

On Sunday, February 7th, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse delivered an impassioned speech declaring his refusal to step down from power.  This type of declaration may haunt the recent memories of some people in the United States—however, this situation in Haiti is drastically different.  For the last two centuries, Haiti has fought an uphill battle in their struggle for a representative government because of the lack of international support.

For a little more than a year, Haitians have been facing a kidnapping-threat crisis in which Haitians faced the onset of well-organized gangs capturing civilians across the country.  Many members of the opposition accused the Moïse administration of being connected to this recurring threat; therefore, protestors were often aiming their frustrations at the government for their involvement in the frequent kidnappings.  However, since 2015, the Moïse administration has faced protests from the opposition coalition.  Oppositionists first began protesting Moïse and right after the Haitian general elections, in which President Moïse declared a preemptive victory after being fully endorsed by the country’s then-President Michel Martelly, who also led the nation’s first peaceful transfer of power.  Over the next year, this election would be contested, with President Moïse’s opponent and the opposition declaring the election to be fraudulent.

Haitian constitutional law states that the presidential election will occur every five years, with a peaceful transition of power occurring on the seventh of February after every presidential election.  The constitutionally-mandated transition schedule  makes this situation particularly interesting; on the one hand, President Moïse advantageously used the November 2016 election as his timeframe, whereas the loud opposition has declared the November 2015 election to be the beginning of his term.  Thus, the country has descended into conflict over President Moïse’s term limits.

Oftentimes, international treatment of conflicts in Haiti are self-interested; as scholar of Haiti Mark Schuller remarks, “moneyed interests, including imperial powers, who dominate the political process in Haiti are by no accident part of the same transnational capitalist class that has rigged the system in the United States—the model for other political systems in the Americas.”  International news outlets frequently report on Haiti’s low GDP and highlight the country’s seemingly constant democratic conflict, yet there is little acknowledgement or understanding the role of the international community in Haiti’s financial and political hardships.  On an international evaluation, this current conflict is given little attention; both current President Moïse and former President Martelly have enjoyed broad support from United States’ officials.  Under normal circumstances, this government might enjoy popular support; however, this crisis is quite different. 

In a SkyNews clip from the protests occurring immediately after President Moïse declared his refusal to leave office, protestors were clear in their demands of the expectation of the international community in regards to President: “If the U.S. is a friend to Haiti and the Haitian people, then take [President Moïse] out of power.”  These statements just scratch the surface of this multi-tiered conflict.

On February 7th as President Moïse announced his intent to stay in office longer, the Haitian judicial branch deemed his declaration as unconstitutional, aligning themselves with the opposition.  Since then, the protestors have built blockades to keep themselves safe from the Haitian army’s attacks and their volatile and frequent kidnappings, all primarily happening in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Journalists in Haiti have also been affected by the military’s brutality, a situation which they recently shared with the international community in a press release: “There was a clash between law enforcement and protestors.  The protestors threw stones at the law enforcement, who responded with tear gas.  During the same time, other law enforcement officials fired live ammunition.  This was the circumstance in which reporters were affected.”  Currently, most conversation between journalists and the public is limited due to censorship, making reporting reliant upon press releases and government updates. 

Often left out of the mainstream news cycle, the international community should have vested interest in the conflict occurring in Haiti.  The United States owes it to the Haitians fleeing their country to find opportunity in the U.S. Just weeks into the Biden-Harris Administration, 72 people, including 22 children, were expelled to Haiti after promises of a deportation moratorium.  If the U.S. has any humane interest in providing a safe-haven for vulnerable individuals, they should understand these deported individuals are now at graver threat of violence and kidnapping – the harms they chose to flee.