Violence in Haiti is "an extension of political unrest dating back to 2018"

Police denounce their working conditions in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on February 24.
Police denounce their working conditions in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on February 24. God Nalio Chery / AP

Local media, picked up by International mail, spoke of a "Climate of civil war". Haiti was the scene of violence on Sunday, February 23, when several police demonstrating to demand better working conditions attacked the army headquarters in the center of Port-au-Prince. Balance sheet: two dead and ten injured. A little later, several people claiming to be part of the security forces' movement also attempted to burn down the premises of Radio Télévision Caraïbes, which was forced to suspend its broadcasts.

For the second consecutive year, the government has canceled the carnival that was to be held from Sunday to Tuesday in the capital, an unmissable event in Haitian cultural life and a significant economic windfall in a country with endemic poverty. A decision made to avoid "The scheduled bloodbath", in the words of the executive.

Monday, Port-au-Prince looked like a ghost town – blocked roads, deserted streets, commercial activity at a standstill … -, police protesters having erected makeshift barricades on the main streets of the capital, cut off from other cities from the country. For the Ministry of Justice, the challenge looks like " more and more " to one "Attempted coup" against President Jovenel Moïse.

"We are faced with a situation in which it is complicated to qualify events", however tempers Eric Sauray, lawyer, political scientist and author of Haiti, a sinking democracy (Dauphin noir éd., 2006).

"This is not a rebellion of the police as a whole, but the uprising of a group of police, just as one cannot speak of direct confrontations with the army. If that were the case, the balance sheet would have been heavier. "

But the events of this weekend are important, he analyzes. The police are one of the pillars of the country's stabilization process. And this violence comes especially in the context of a crisis that has paralyzed Haiti for several years and which the government has failed to contain. "It is the prolongation of political unrest that dates back to 2018. The demands brought by the police join the demands for social justice brought by the Haitian population", argues Mr. Sauray.

Read also the report: "Life has left us", Haiti paralyzed by the protest

President Jovenel Moïse, an entrepreneur unknown to the public before 2015, has been criticized since coming to power in February 2017 by the most radical opponents, who have never recognized his victory, tainted with fraud.

In July 2018, his government, led by a friend of his with no experience in public affairs, brutally raised fuel prices: the measure was accompanied by days of riots. In 2019, the continued rise in inflation, the biggest impact of which is on food and non-alcoholic beverages, according to data from the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Computing, is fueling dissatisfaction.

As the World Bank points out, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2018, its human development index ranked it 168e out of 189 countries. "More than 6 million Haitians live below the poverty line on less than $ 2.41 (2.21 euros) per day, and more than 2.5 million fell below the extreme poverty line, having less than $ 1.23 per day (1.13 euro) " adds the organization.

To all this is added the widespread corruption of senior government officials, regularly denounced. We can see it in particular in this video, returning to the demonstrations of February 2019:

Also read Yanick Lahens' column: "Poverty in Haiti has a genesis, and the decade has shown it to us"
  • The PetroCaribe case, the spark that ignited popular anger

Popular frustration was exacerbated by revelations about calamitous management and the possible misappropriation of funds loaned between 2008 and 2018 by Venezuela to Haiti to finance its development. The program, known as PetroCaribe under the aegis of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, enabled Port-au-Prince to buy petroleum products at reduced prices.

As of August 2018, the hashtag #PetrocaribeChallenge has blossomed on the Internet to ask politicians to account for the use of funds paid by Caracas. "Kot kòb petwo karibe a ??? " ("Where is the PetroCaribe money?") Can be read on this sign in Creole.

Everything changed with the publication, at the end of January 2019, of the first part of a report by the Superior Court of Auditors, pinning at least fifteen former ministers and senior officials. As well as a company led at the time by Jovenel Moïse, identified as a beneficiary of funds for a road construction project without signing a contract. In the aftermath, the mobilization on the Web translates into mass demonstrations. And, in August, a general fuel shortage makes the protest take a violent turn.

Read also the column of Frédéric Thomas: How Haiti became the “republic of NGOs”

"Today, we do not know where the investigation is at (on the diversions of PetroCaribe), the court record seems to be at a standstill, insists Eric Sauray. And the accused are still in power. "What is certain is that institutions in Haiti are weakened: the executive is disputed, the regulatory bodies corrupt and the judiciary completely bogged down. "

  • Worsening security situation, police on the front line

"Each period of crisis in Haiti as elsewhere is accompanied by increased insecurity, including villainous theft ”, underlines Eric Sauray. "The weakness of the state and of the institutions explains this chaos and this disorder. This is particularly true for justice: if the latter is weakened, then delinquency increases, due to the prevailing feeling of impunity. "

Over the months, insecurity has therefore settled in the country. Gangs are becoming more visible. Two French adopters in Haiti were shot dead in late November in Port-au-Prince during an armed robbery that went wrong. In recent weeks, Haiti has witnessed an increase in kidnappings for ransom: there have been around 15 cases in January alone. Either one every two days.

“The police remain the only credible institution in the country. It would be very dangerous for her to find herself politicized by this crisis, "insists Eric Sauray.

The police are directly confronted with the serious crime that affects the island. "Hence the stake that it is not destabilized, insists the political scientist. Today it remains the only credible institution in the country. It would be very dangerous for her to find herself politicized by this crisis. " The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (UNINH) expressed "His deep concern" It front of "Serious incidents" of 23 February, and invited representatives of the police to protest against any escalation in the violence. The National Police Union of Haiti meanwhile called on Monday all the police to return home "In order to give another direction to the struggle".

  • A power challenged in the face of an invisible opposition

If the power of Jovenel Moïse seems to be the catalyst for the anger of Haitians, the situation can hardly change in the short term. At issue: the absence of opposition deemed credible by the population. “If an alternative exists, we don't know it. The opposition lacks a leader, a plan, a concrete project … ", sums up Eric Sauray.

Read also the interview with Sabine Manigat: "In Haiti, the main factor of violence is the absence of an interlocutor"

As for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti, it ended on October 15, 2019, giving way to the BINUH, and no longer assumes any responsibility for the security and protection of the Haitian people. "The idea is to be able to empower Haitian politicians and the population. The message from the international community is clear: “Take matters into your own hands” », argues the political scientist. "The history of Haiti shows that the population is capable of creating crises, but also of solving them. "


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here