Haiti

Haiti’s president says he won’t resign. But is he ready to drop his prime minister?

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has been under pressure to resign, is once again standing his ground.

In a 2 a.m. address to the nation Wednesday that was prerecorded and released while most of his crisis-plunged nation slept, Moïse said he will not run away from his responsibility, will not respond to political violence with violence and was, once more, offering dialogue.

He also signaled that he may be ready to jettison his latest choice of prime minister, Fritz William Michel, and his cabinet, saying he was proposing the formation of “a national government of unity.”

“We have a responsibility to assume our responsibility in front of the nation and history,” said Moïse, whose last public address was on Aug. 14 when he announced the re-establishment of Haiti’s army. “It is because of this I am extending my hand to all of the forces of the nation, for us to sit together to form a national unity government that has the capacity and legitimacy to address together the urgent problems the country is undergoing.”

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Hours after the speech, an executive order revealed that Moïse had fired his interior minister, Renaldo Brunet, who had already resigned, and replaced him with Education Minister Pierre Josue Agenor Cadet in an acting capacity. The president also named a new secretary general of the presidency, Lyonel Valbrun.

Whether the reshuffling gestures will make a difference remain to be seen. But the proposal of a unity government and call for dialogue were quickly rejected by members of the opposition. They criticized Moïse for not taking any responsibility in his speech for the political and economic crisis shaking Haiti, and said he has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of follow-through with his dialogue requests, is not interested in any political accord and has lost the ability to summon anyone to the negotiating table.

“Once again Jovenel Moïse has shown the Haitian people and the entire world proof that he cannot do the job,” said Edmonde Supplice Beauzile, a former senator and member of the Lower Chamber of Deputies who now heads Fusion, a moderate political party. “After several months of silence, several months of mobilization where the Haitian people have clearly said they want Jovenel Moïse to resign without conditions, he showed that he’s afraid to look the Haitian people in the eyes.

“He chose to make a declaration at 2 a.m. in the morning, when I believe that most people are sleeping,” she added. “He doesn’t understand anything about this huge crisis that is shaking the Haitian people.”

Attorney Andre Michel, who represents a more radical arm of the opposition known as the Democratic and Popular Sector, said the only solution to the crisis is Moïse’s resignation. He announced protests for Friday throughout Haiti to demand the president’s departure.

Some Haitians were not waiting until then. After a day of paralysis but calm on Tuesday, tensions and violence escalated Wednesday as crowds of protesters tried to attack a police substation in the Cité Soleil slum and clashed with police elsewhere. At least one gas station at Delmas 17 was set ablaze, police confirm, and homes in Petionville came under attack from rock-throwing protesters who demanded cash to stop. Fiery barricades and blocked streets were also reported around Port-au-Prince, an indication that Moïse’s 15-minute address may have done little to tamp down political tensions or break the impasse that has plagued most of his presidency, now in its third year.

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Demonstrators march on the street near parliament as they protest against the ruling government in Port-au-Prince, on September 23, 2019. CHANDAN KHANNA AFP/Getty Images

During that period, he has had four governments and at least three dialogue commissions. Haiti, meanwhile, has seen at least three major lockdowns — July 2018; February and the ongoing one — where schools, businesses and banks all shut their doors.

The crisis this week also took another victim, the Economic Forum of the Private Sector, after coordinator Frantz Bernard Craan resigned over a disagreement about whether the business group should join demands for Moïse’s resignation. Some members were not in agreement and an argument erupted. As word leaked out Wednesday about the group’s implosion, some business owners, fearing looting and attacks on their properties, quickly issued statements distancing themselves from the forum. The group’s members are presidents of business associations and individuals who are important players in the Haitian economy.

Moïse began his early-morning address saying he had canceled his appearance at this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in order to tend to the problems engulfing the country. They were many, he said, in a speech that did not provide a road map on how he planned to form a government of consensus, or say whether Michel had been asked to resign from the prime minister’s post.

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Demonstrators march on the street near parliament as they protest against the ruling government in Port-au-Prince, on September 23, 2019. CHANDAN KHANNA AFP/Getty Images

Moïse did say that after multiple attempts by the Senate at a vote to ratify the prime minister, he had concluded that the chamber was not up to the task of fulfilling its constitutional duty to give Haiti a legitimate government. Two successive governments, Moïse noted, failed to win Senate confirmation over the past six months, and six hearings had to be canceled. One government was headed by Michel, and the other by Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin, who resigned prior to Michel’s naming on July 22.

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Mentioning Lapin in his address, Moïse said he had instructed him to take all measures necessary to address security problems in the country’s interior. A proliferation of gangs in Haiti has led to parts of the country being shut off. Gangs have also terrorized the population in some rural communities and blocked cargo trucks out of the capital from getting through.

“The first duty of the state is to secure the lives and property. All arrangements will be made for the resumption of activities,” Moïse said.

Moïse also said he had instructed a government commission to address the minimum wage to bring relief to workers. He made no mention, however, of the recent fuel crisis that has paralyzed activities throughout Haiti for more than four weeks, and created life-threatening conditions at hospitals. He also did not mention Monday’s shooting incident outside the Senate by one of his political allies in the chamber, Sen. Jean Marie Ralph Féthière. An Associated Press photojournalist and security guard were shot.

Féthière, who has not been charged, said he was defending himself against a crowd of protesters. Others have disagreed and are demanding an investigation and the lifting of his immunity from prosecution that he receives as a lawmaker.

The incident happened during a second attempt by the Senate to confirm Michel, who was approved earlier this month by the lower house but has struggled to win the upper chamber after his nomination became plagued by corruption allegations.

Addressing the violent protests and paralysis that have marked his tenure, Moïse said, “If violence could build Haiti ... if preventing children from going to school could build Haiti... it would have already been done.”

“I will not respond to violence with violence. I will respond with dialogue,” he said. “Haiti is for all of us.”

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
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