Over the weekend Haitians again took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse. They've been protesting for a year now – and they say they’re tired of an endless economic crisis that’s made it hard to find food and fuel. Or to pay for it if they do find it.
They’re also fed up with Haiti’s non-stop corruption scandals – including a million-dollar road-building scam allegedly involving President Moïse himself. He denies that – but that case is just part of a wider, $2 billion fraud involving Haiti’s political and business leaders.
The corruption is awful. But Moïse’s critics say the crisis has also put in focus his awful leadership. And they include Haitians and Haitian expats who until recently supported Moïse staying in power.
“Initially I was of the mindset that Moïse being there gave the highest chance for stability,” says expat Christherson Jeanty – who was born in Haiti, grew up in Pompano Beach and returned to the country three years ago, when Moïse was elected.
“But now,” says Jeanty, “I’ve concluded Moïse being there is actually a destabilizer.”
Jeanty runs one of the few business consulting and recruitment firms left in Haiti amid the political and economic chaos. He even hosts an Internet talk show, “Haitian Biz News,” on his YouTube channel, SeeJeanty. Speaking from Port-au-Prince, he pointed out how treacherous it is for his employees to get to work now through the often violent, burning street barricades manned by anti-Moïse protesters.
If the demonstrations get really ugly, “I do have beds in the office for [their] safety so they can potentially sleep here.”
But Jeanty says they keep coming to work even on the most dangerous days, because Haiti’s unemployment rate is more than 70 percent and inflation is ballooning – so any paycheck is just too precious to risk losing.
“We’re reaching a tipping point here,” Jeanty warns. “If something doesn’t change drastically, I’m talkin’ genuine humanitarian crisis.”
Jeanty has decided to stick it out in Haiti – even though he says he’s come to agree with most Haitians that Moïse has made the crisis worse by being so disconnected from them.
Before he was president Moïse owned a banana company. Folks like Jeanty thought Haitian government could use more of that business background. But Moïse had never held elected office, and critics like Jeanty say it too often shows.
“Across the board, people criticize Moïse for not listening, right?” says Jeanty. “Tone deaf. Similar to [U.S. President Donald] Trump in a way, where Trump is sort of a businessman who has no political experience, just doing things his way and throwing the way things should be done to the wayside.”
Moïse hasn’t appeared in public in almost two months. The last Haitians heard from him was a pre-recorded speech broadcast at 2 a.m. one night last month. His message: I won’t resign.
A leading Haitian human rights group, meanwhile, blames police for the deaths of 17 protesters during the recent unrest.
To highlight what they call Moïse’s tin ear, Haitians have also come up with a derisive nickname for his acting prime minister, Fritz William Michel.
“Neg cabrit,” says Jeanty. “The goat guy.”
That’s because Michel got a $6 million contract to sell goats to the Haitian government – even though he doesn’t own any goats. (He too denies wrongdoing.)
So I asked Moïse’s former communications minister, Guyler Delva, why Moïse has such a big communications problem. Delva, who resigned last year and is now a journalist at Radio Caribe in Port-au-Prince, said Moïse has tried to create economic development programs in crucial areas like agriculture. And he argues this crisis isn’t all Moïse’s fault.
“This is unfortunately how it is in Haiti,” says Delva. “Once you have an election, those who lose the election, they never agree.”
Delva blames Haiti’s zero-sum politics. He says that means the opposition that lost to Moïse three years ago has been out to derail his presidency ever since.
“You have the opposition saying that they will never sit with him to negotiate anything or to engage in any dialogue,” says Delva. “But there are countries where we have wars and many people have been killed but they still have a way to talk. Like even the Americans talking to the Taliban, you know?
Still, Delva concedes Moïse hasn’t exactly been a model of dialogue himself: “Jovenel Moïse lost the public opinion battle.”
But he adds: “The problem is that there is not a clear alternative.”
He’s right. There are several opposition leaders in Haiti – but none seem that popular with Haitians right now.
And Moïse knows that. So the ugly standoff could last quite a while. Instead of constructive dialogue behind closed doors, we’re likely to just hear more destructive discord on Haiti’s streets.