Haiti’s Political Crisis: A tale of Drugs, Poverty, and a dead President

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

On the 7th of July 2021, some men in strange clothing quietly sped through the streets in trucks. They were as fast as they were discreet, but that was before gunshots went off. Sporadic, targeted. In no time, they were back in their trucks and fleeing into the streets, where they were finally met with some semblance of security, and a gunfight ensued. A number of Columbian mercenaries were caught, alongside 2 (two) Haitian Americans. This action should have blended in with the rest of the numerous gang-related killings on this island nation, but it was unlike the rest. The bullets fired landed on the country’s most important citizen: the President of Haiti. However, nothing really changed; the streets filled with protesters but that didn’t last, the government didn’t frantically begin to root out the shooters, the country simply rolled on in mire without as much of a fuss, not even was it of a great international relevance making it newsworthy for debates on global media. Why was a hit by Columbians on the President not considered an act of war or even terrorism? Why?

Security forces conduct an investigation as a soldier stands guard at the entrance to the residence of the Haitian president in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

Joseph Odelyn/AP

Haiti is a small island nation strategically located between South America and North America(see image below), specifically the United States. This location made it prime to serve as the pipeline for the narcotics trade. Since the advent of the cocaine trade from South America to the big market in the US, the country which freed itself from colonial rule has become enslaved by the demons that follow everywhere cocaine goes; wanton waste, corruption, poverty, and death. Drugs poured from Columbia into Haiti, and the country quickly got high on it. Today, many analysts say a Haitian cannot hold a public post without being involved in the drug trade. This is because the power and finances a politician needs to contest an election in such a poor nation can only be gotten through the drug business. At this juncture, a picture has been painted that partially explains some context of the death of the President. More questions still beg to be answered. One of such questions is; why is the country so impoverished? After all, other countries are involved in the drug trade and fare fine.

A map showing Haiti’s position which gives it strategic value for drug transportation.

If you do a quick google search, you will find that several factors cause poverty in Haiti. These factors include corruption and poor governance, limited employment opportunities, poor infrastructure, inadequate resources usage, wars, unending conflicts, political instability, and poor World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies. However, digging deeper reveals that the parent cause is reparations to the french government. You see, France colonised Haiti until the early 19th century when the people took up arms and chased the french away. History might have been written differently for Haiti if it ended there, but it didn’t. The French government, exploiting the people until then, then demanded reparations for losses they took on in the anti-colonialism effort, threatening to invade the island again if the new Haiti nation didn’t pay up. The “reparation” was to the tune of 90 million francs in 1888, and over a period of about seventy years, Haiti paid 112 million francs to France, which is about $560 million in 2022 when adjusted for inflation. For such a new nation, starting up with this much debt was akin to a newborn orphan without a home being made to pay for their own hospital fees. Once again, if the story ended here, maybe Haiti would have recovered, but history wasn’t so kind. After the breakout from the French occupation in the 19th century, the 20th century came with United States Occupation from 1915-1934. Since independence, Haiti has suffered 32 coups Mismanagement, exploitation and greed were interwoven with the ruling culture in Haiti. Usually, when that happens, the leaders that take over from the colonials end up being products of a flawed system; fueled with the need to rule by force, self-centred and inherently corrupt. Haiti was no different, and so the Presidents that have followed since then, including Dr François “Papa Doc” Duvalier (famous for his voodoo obsession) and his son Jean Duvalier who made the country a personal property, have all been catastrophic disasters. Lay a big pipe for cocaine in a country like this, with a population in dire straits and a scary familiarity with violence, the poverty and deaths begin to make more sense.

Now that the landscape of the Haiti political turmoil has been painted, it is time for the main actors to take the stage. Why did a drug-related gang allegedly kill the Haitian President? The short answer is that the drug trade in Haiti is so big that the leaders are mostly in cahoots with the trade, and hence nobody is seemingly above getting into the crossfire of drug-related violence. The long answer is thus; in Haiti, Presidents are only allowed one 5-year term. However, it is only applicable on consecutive terms so that a President can run for Presidency again after the term of another President. It is on this premise that Michel Martelli left power in 2016. Martelli, back in 2011, had used his popularity as a musician to win the elections. It was he who handpicked the President who was gunned down, Jovenel Moise. The plan, which was really an open secret, was for Moise to keep the seat warm for Martelli, who, with his man as the incumbent, would easily win the next Presidential election. This plan was how it was all supposed to go, the first part went smoothly, but the second not so much.

Mr Moise (left) was supported by former president Martelli (right) during his campaign. Photo: Reuters.

You can already tell this type of plan does not indicate excellent and honest individuals. Martelli himself is in-laws with one of the biggest in Haiti. Experts say that with the President as your in-law, for a drug dealer, that is akin to being the president himself. Experts say this is possibly what helped Martelli get into power. They also say that it is suspected that this is also the dealer involved with the murder of Moise. But why? In 2021 agreements began to change, just like in life and more often in illegal dealings involving greed. Moise started to get suspicions of an impending coup. One can call it paranoia, but in a country with such a long history of coups, every citizen is well familiar with the reality. In response to his fears, Moise began to compile a list of drug dealers. He feared their involvement in the coup as grander drug shipments were taking place, and he quite possibly got more intel. He planned to give this list to the American DEA, which would essentially shut down these dealers. It is here that an unexpected war between parties naturally in cahoots quietly broke out and is suspected to be the reason Columbian mercenaries were involved in the assassination. Also, the ease with which the shooters were able to enter the Presidents’ abode points to some foul play in the security detail—an all-around mess.

Since the death of Jovenel Moise, Ariel Henry, who was appointed by Moise himself two days before his death, has been ruling since July 2021 as the Acting President.

Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti. Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP

Despite leading the investigation into the assassination of his predecessor, reports have actually come out that he might have been involved in the planning of the same assassination. While he hasn’t addressed the allegations, On September 11, Henry signed an agreement with opposition political parties for a consensual transitional government. According to the agreement, a new Provisional Electoral Council will be formed, with members of the Haitian diaspora participating in its operations. On 27 September 2021, Henry fired all members of the Provisional Electoral Council, which many in the country saw as politically biased. He promised to appoint a new election council and postponed the elections indefinitely. The next day, Henry told the Associated Press that the constitutional referendum would take place in February 2022 and that new elections would take place in early 2022. On January 30, Haiti’s National Transition Council (CNT) elected Fritz Alphonse Jean, an economist and former governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti, as the Caribbean country’s new interim president. Henry didn’t agree to this development, He insisted that, despite the CNT elections, he would not step down and would convene a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution in the coming months, followed by presidential and legislative elections at the end of the year. During a meeting of the Aid Effectiveness Committee of the Coordination Framework of External Aid for Development of Haiti on June 2, Henry stated that improving the country’s security situation was a prerequisite for holding elections.

Haitians do not know what next; in some cases, they don’t care. The future doesn’t look especially promising, and hope feels too much of an effort. Despite that, some still hope; they hope because they want to live without the chain of poverty and the fear of their lives being snatched away from them at the command of men sky high on drug money.

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Dr. Florence Akano

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