Haiti

As violence continues in Haiti, foreign diplomats encourage both sides to dialogue

Violent protests continued to grip Haiti on Monday, as the international community urged opponents of Jovenel Moïse to enter into a dialogue with the president, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since Wednesday.

“We are concerned by reports of violence and arson that have been taking place over the past few days throughout the country,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said in New York. “The mission and international partners are in discussions with local stakeholders to find a peaceful way out of the crisis and alleviate the suffering of the population who has been bearing the brunt of this crisis.”

On Monday the Haiti National Police, which has had cars and police stations set ablaze and officers disarmed during protests, fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who complained that police were trying to keep them out of Petionville. The community in the hills of Port-au-Prince, which is home to Moïse, saw several of its businesses ransacked and destroyed last week, something police were trying to prevent Monday during what opposition leaders dubbed “Operation Find Jovenel Moïse.”

In addition to the reports of violence Monday, a second journalist, cameraman Edmond Aguenor Joseph, was injured by a gunshot to his wrist during a clash between protesters and police in Port-au-Prince. Police confirmed at least one death in southeast Haiti.

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An injured protester is carried to safety during a nationwide push to block streets and paralyze the country’s economy as protesters press for President Jovenel Moise to give up power, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Rebecca Blackwell AP

Opposition leaders are calling on protesters to keep Haiti paralyzed with barricades, burning tires and nationwide street demonstrations until Moïse, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since a 2 a.m. prerecorded address to the nation on Wednesday, steps down.

Early Monday, foreign diplomats met with four members of the opposition, including two senators, two members of the moderate opposition and former prime minister Evans Paul, an ally of Moïse.

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Paul and others privy to the meeting at a Petionville office building said the diplomats raised concerns about the growing violence and asked the political leaders in attendance to accept Moïse’s recent offer to talk.

“They did not take any position, but they want us to find a solution,” Paul said.

While some described the meeting as strained, with diplomats accusing the opposition of inciting violence and paying protesters to take to the streets, Paul said it was cordial.

“We have to find a way to sit down,” he said. “This isn’t about whether Jovenel Moïse goes or stays ... but how to guarantee political stability. We need to find a political accord.”

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A vehicle goes up in flames during a nationwide push to block streets and paralyze the country’s economy as protesters press for President Jovenel Moise to give up power, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Rebecca Blackwell AP

But opposition leaders say they are not bowing to the pressure, and continued to call for the “immediate and ordered departure” of Moïse on Monday.

“You cannot sit at a table with him,” said Nenel Cassy, a leading opposition figure who was not among the invitees to the meting. “We believe the best way to prevent total chaos is to remove the irritant. The irritant is Jovenel Moïse.”

Taking to Twitter, Andre Michel, a spokesman for the radical Democratic and Popular Sector, said: “We will not take orders from foreigners. The Democratic Sector will accompany the population in its mobilization until we uproot Jovenel Moïse. The population needs to remain mobilized right up until we install a president and provisional government in the country.”

In office for 31 months, Moïse has been accused of not governing. He’s also been hit with corruption allegations, which he has denied. The latest crisis erupted last week when his allies in the senate, under pressure by the international community to form a government, attempted to ratify the president’s latest choice for prime minister, Fritz William Michel.

The session ended in chaos, with a ruling party senator opening fire in the senate yard and shooting an Associated Press journalist and a security guard.

Former Senate President Kelly Bastien, who is in the opposition, said in addition to dialogue, foreign diplomats have also raised the idea of the opposition sharing power with Moïse, who would continue to participate in a diplomatic function but “be off to the side,” while an opposition prime minister works on constitutional reform, elections and other governance matters.

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A protester cries out over an injured protester after police launched tear gas to disperse demonstrators who set fires and chanted calls for Haiti’s president to resign, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Rebecca Blackwell AP

Even a diminished role for the president, Bastien said, is something the opposition is against.

“There is no possibility for someone to sit and create a government with Jovenel. He is incapable of doing anything,” Bastien said.

Paul isn’t as pessimistic. He said believes the sides can negotiate some kind of political accord.

“The president agrees there is a big problem. He agrees that he’s the principal one responsible,” Paul said. “He knows the population is angry and he has to make major concessions to move the country out of the crisis.”

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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