Things have been chaotic in the country for over 10 days now, with no clear end in sight. The demonstrations and destructions in the public square have continued unabated and things are looking precarious now. It appears the government is not able to control the situation and President Jovenel Moïse has called on religious leaders, though their organization Religions for Peace, to intervene as mediators between political actors to find a lasting solution to the crisis that has engulfed the country. The demand was made in a communique coming from the National Palace Religions for Peace refused to intervene because they argue that conditions for a dialogue are not ripe. While this week, so far, appears to be calm in comparison with the past week and a half, the reigning peace is very precarious. According to opposition groups who have been vocal in demanding the resignation of the President, the death toll from the protests is approximately 50 people, whereas human rights groups have recorded a dozen casualties.
Amnesty International has called on the government to treat protesters as human beings and ensure that their freedom and right to protest is respected. Instead of cracking down on protesters, the government is urged to focus its attention on addressing the issues at the root of the demonstrations in the first place. This information which was made available to the media came around the same time the news of the arrest of eight (8) heavily armed individuals by the national police on Sunday evening (February 17th). The arrested men were seven (7) foreign nationals including five (5) Americans, a Russian and a Serb, with one Haitian national involved. The arms seized included non-traceable automatic weapons, drones, riffles with telescopes and satellite phones. This arrest in a way confirms the fear of the opposition that has been denouncing the presence of mercenaries on Haitian soil in the past weeks. Despite the government’s call for public employees to go back to work, the order was met with a tepid response on Monday with almost all workers staying away, including the legislature, where both the House of Deputies and the Senate have remained closed on Monday.
As the crisis deepens, concern about the Haitian condition has spread beyond the shores of the country. The US Ambassador was the most recent foreigner to call on Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant to work hard to address corruption in the government and take measures to pursue those implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal. A report on the scandal was made public last month by the Legislature and was a main catalyst leading to the 10-day long demonstrations. Since coming to office last September, the Prime Minister has adopted a variety of measures to facilitate the work for institutions involved in the investigation into the corruption scandal that is the PetroCaribe program. Some of those measures included the publication of the resolutions and agreements signed under the program, strengthening of the security details for the presiding judge and providing considerable support for the conseil supérieur du pouvoir judiciaire (CSPJ) and the Cours des Comptes, the Court of Audits. The US Ambassador also asked the Prime Minister to bring to justice those involved in the scandal. The Ambassador also pleads in favor of the continuation of the dialogue initiated by the Prime Minister, at the request of President Jovenel Moïse, arguing that the violence only aggravates the instability and suffering of the Haitian people. He encourages all actors to opt for a peaceful political solution in accordance with the Haitian constitution, to engage in inclusive dialogue and to implement sound economic policy measures for the benefit of the people.
But a trade group known as Le Forum Économique, comprised of private sector business actors have expressed their dissatisfaction with the President after his speech calling for dialogue and an end to the demonstrations. Their main contention is a statement in the speech by the President stating that he would open his arms to accept those who may disagree with him, inviting them to sit with him to find lasting solutions to the crisis facing the country. The Forum, argues that the President’s speech was accusative, provocative and divisive, hopes that this invitation is sincere, and that the President will find the effective formula in bringing together all parties involved, as soon as possible. The Forum added that regardless of the sacrifice and concessions they must make, they are willing to do in order to make the dialogue process credible, efficient, and transparent. Moreover, the Forum Économique is waiting for an inclusive roadmap for ending the crisis; the adoption and implementation of a sound economic policy, free of populist slogans; an effective fight against all forms of corruption and the unequivocal adoption of statewide audit measures including the expeditious follow-up of investigations into the PetroCaribe embezzlement scandal. They also asked opposition groups to wise up and show their patriotism by participating in any dialogue they are invited to.
Finally, reports in the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario have shown that two of President Jovenel Moïse’s three children have left the country and were seen at the Dominican border. Moise’s eldest son, who was seen leaving the country and reported to have come to the border in an official vehicle, with the Haitian police providing security and has since been accompanied by the Dominican authorities. His sister, the Presidents’ only daughter arrived on Sunday, accompanied by her mother, the first lady Martine Moise. There are no known reasons why the Presidents’ children will travel to the DR and no knowledge of any offer of asylum to the President’s family. But the travel coming at a time where the country is paralyzed with demonstrations and strikes to demand the departure of the President has not been lost on the people.