Haitian artists lend voice to president resignation demands, leading a mass protest

Thousands of Haitians demanding the resignation of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Sunday in one of the largest anti-government protests to engulf the Caribbean nation since the marches renewed last month.

Unlike previous protests organized by the opposition, Sunday’s massive march took place without the violence and rioting that have characterized recent demonstrations, and was staged by about a dozen artists. They now join the Catholic and Protestant churches, civil society groups, business owners and others in demanding the departure of Moïse, whose 32 months in office have been saddled with corruption allegations, soaring prices and fuel shortages, unfulfilled promises and a 22.6 percent inflation rate as of this month.

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A demonstrator carries the Creole message “We want a different Haiti” during a march led by the art community to continue demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Protests have paralyzed the country for nearly a month, shuttering businesses and schools. Rebecca Blackwell AP

Perched on top of a large truck with a blaring sound system, some of Haiti’s popular musicians and DJs called for Moïse to “get out,” chanting over and over in Creole, “Jovenel lage pyew.” They cited corruption, fuel and food shortages, the lack of hospitals and education and a string of the president’s broken promises, including one to deliver electricity around-the-clock in a country plagued by power outages.

“We want another Haiti,” read some of the signs carried by protesters.

With one march starting off at the Champs de Mars near the presidential palace, another waited along the airport road where they eventually converged into one, creating a carnival-like atmosphere as they waved tree branches and cried, “Down with Jovenel.” As they made their way through Delmas, they were greeted by onlookers who handed them water and poured water over the heads from buckets in an act of solidarity.

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Continuing onto Petionvlle, they burst into a popular Carnival tune, Jojo Domi Deyo, which has come to define the president’s political troubles. It roughly translates into “Jojo,” their nickname for the president, “Game Over.”

But even as the crowd marched peacefully on Sunday, some vowed to keep the country paralyzed until Moïse steps down. “If he leaves today, there will be school tomorrow,” some in the crowd declared.

Although schools reopened in Haiti on Sept. 9, about 2 million students have been unable to attend classes due to the protests. Earlier anti-government demonstrations, burning tires and barricades have not only kept schools shuttered since last month, but also businesses. The country is now headed into a fifth week of being locked down and more demonstrations are scheduled this week.

Haiti’s deepening political crisis has claimed the lives of nearly 20 people including a journalist, Néhémie Joseph, since protests renewed last month. Joseph, who worked for Radio Panic in Mirebalais and Miami-based Radio Mega, was found dead on Thursday with two bullets to the head, Radio Mega owner Alex Saint-Surin, told the Miami Herald.

Saint-Surin believes Joseph’s death is directly related to the work he was doing as a reporter providing live coverage of the anti-government protests in Mirebalais, a city outside of Port-au-Prince in the Central Plateau.

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Protesters led by the art community demand the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise as they march through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Protests have paralyzed the country for nearly a month, shuttering businesses and schools. Rebecca Blackwell AP

On Sunday, at least one person was injured during the protests when a small group of protesters pelted rocks at the police station in Petionville, local radio reported. But the gathering was mostly peaceful with protesters, at one point, handing over a young boy who had stolen a cellphone to the police.

Sunday’s massive demonstration, which lasted more than seven hours, challenged arguments by government supporters and some in the international community that the anti-government protests have been fueled by payments to the population to take the street.

Still, Moïse isn’t showing any signs of resigning from office. While he made a brief public appearance earlier this month in front of a Petionville business, he has largely stayed out of public view. He has denied the corruption allegations, and his supporters have accused the opposition of not giving him room to govern.

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For more than a year, he resisted pressure to form a political accord with the opposition. He finally called for a dialogue in a 2 a.m. address to the nation on Sept. 25 and last week . Last week, as foreign diplomats tried to find a solution to the political turmoil, Moïse named a presidential dialogue commission made up of seven close advisers including former prime minister Evans Paul.

The opposition immediately rejected the request to sit down and negotiate, and two days later, installed their own nine-member commission to facilitate a transition.

“It’s too late,” opposition Sen. Youri Latortue said Sunday as the protest made its way to Delmas 66, where protesters two days earlier had burned businesses and clashed with police.

Echoing Latortue’s sentiment, Barikad Crew rapper Izolan, one of the lead organizers of Sunday’s protest, said on his Instagram page: “There wasn’t any dialogue before, so it is not now that there will be dialogue.”

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Izolan, who had asked protesters to dress in white T-shirts, was joined in the protests by several other musicians including Joseph “T-Joe” Zenny, lead singer of the Haitian konpa group Kreyol La, and solo artist Roody Roodboy.

In addition to Sunday’s demonstration in the capital, crowds also took to the streets in Cap-Haitien, the country’s second largest city; St. Marc; and Les Cayes to demand the president’s resignation. Like their counterparts in Port-au-Prince, protesters in Cap-Haitien declared that while they had lifted the barricades on Sunday to peacefully protest, they planned to put them back until Moïse leaves.

In Haiti more than 100 civil society organizations recently signed onto a letter supporting transition and 200 human rights organizations from around the Americas also recently conveyed their solidarity with the people of Haiti in an open letter. The collective denounced international interference in Haiti’s affairs while supporting the demands to have Moïse step down.

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.