Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s new president, must break with nation’s corrupt past

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Inauguration of new Haiti President Jovenel Moise

Jovenel Moïse became Haiti's 58th president on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 during a brief ceremony at the Haitian parliament.
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Jovenel Moïse became Haiti's 58th president on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 during a brief ceremony at the Haitian parliament.

Haiti has a new president, democratically elected, poised to meet the gargantuan challenges the nation presents.

So why don’t we feel more optimistic?

For one thing, the people of Haiti themselves don’t seem to be in a celebratory mood. As reported by Herald writer Jacqueline Charles, President Jovenel Moïse, inaugurated last week, was elected with the support of less than 10 percent of the Haiti’s 6.1 million registered voters, an election with one of the lowest turnouts ever there.

And Moïse’s victory was confirmed 15 months after voting took place. Fraud allegations stood in the way of declaring a new president and moving forward.

Worse, Moïse comes into office with the cloud of a money-laundering probe hovering over his head. That’s three strikes right there.

But there’s more: Moïse was backed, handpicked, really, by former President Michel Martelly, himself elected with great hope and optimism in 2011, only to end his tenure, for all intents and purposes, an autocrat. Whether Moïse will be a clear-eyed independent leader or a puppet of the past remains to be seen.

Haiti desperately needs the former if it is to transcend the plagues that have kept it and its citizens mired in poverty, unable to ably confront natural disasters or political ones.

Moïse ran as an outsider, an entrepreneur, not a politician. (Sound vaguely familiar?) He was a little-known banana farmer and auto-parts dealer before ascending to the presidency.

Now, he has the almost impossible task of making all the right moves to bring about political stability, a measure of economic prosperity and reliable healthcare and schools. These are the basic elements of a decent quality of life that have eluded Haitians time and again, no matter who was in office.

Whether Moïse can drain Haiti’s swamp of political corruption will depend upon the choices he makes. Already, some are worrisome.

Until January, former coup leader and senator-elect Guy Philippe was living comfortably in Haiti, eluding for a decade U.S. authorities seeking to prosecute him on drug-trafficking charges. During the past year, Moïse campaigned openly with Philippe, a disturbing relationship that the candidate didn’t hesitate to flaunt.

Haitian authorities arrested Philippe in Petionville last month, and he was brought to Miami, where he pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges in federal court.

This is not the way to drain Haiti’s swamp.

The bottom line is, Moïse has to deliver. The new president has to ensure that his talk of “law and order” means safety and security for Haitians, not a politicized police force that shuts down protests and terrorizes political foes. This is an imperative because U.N. peacekeepers are getting ready to leave. In the 1990s, when peacekeepers pulled out of the country, the police force simply ran amok.

Moïse must show that justice will be fair and impartial, that his administration will shun, and even root out, the political corruption that has hobbled progress except for a cunning few. He must push laws that facilitate business development and investment.

Haitians’ expectations are extremely low, and who can blame them for that? Democracy has not worked for them, but the alternative is worse. The new president should assure Haitians that they have every reason to be optimistic, and then prove it.