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  • NEC Guest Blogger

Operation Lockdown in Haiti

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Haiti in crisis as shared from one of NEC's Haitian Board Members (Ernso Sylvain)

Over the past two weeks, many friends have been asking me about what is going on with this current crisis in Haiti. I am not a news outlet, and I don’t pretend to be but I will try to explain. Unfortunately, the poorest people are the main victims of this scary crisis which has devastated businesses, tourism potential as well as the proliferation of misery. 

This main purpose of this update is to try to give you a better understanding of this terrible situation with a bullet point list of my information regarding “OPERATION LOCKDOWN HAITI”.  1- The instability ultimately began with the 2015 contested election organized by the 56th President of Haiti, and got worse with a failed electoral process and delicate transition government back in 2016/2017. Jovenel Moise was elected President with 55.60% turnout . Fast forward to July 2018, a nationwide riot across Haiti ensued. Blame was assigned to the Petro Caribe corruption scandal involving Venezuelan oil money loaned to Haiti in 2005 as well as many other Caribbean and Latin American States. Haiti has a long and complicated history with Venezuela. The Haiti people were offered a great deal which stated that the loan needed to be paid back over 25 years at a low 1% interest rate. Literally, Venezuela gave Haiti a huge discount on petroleum upfront, and they gave us 25 years to pay it back.  The Venezuela government crisis has contributed to a Haitian fuel crisis which only worsened with executive contracts with companies that refuse to deliver new shipments when Haiti cannot pay their existing debts to the tune of $ 35 million. 

2- Protests have been off and on throughout Haiti mainly with a group of professionals and university students called “Petro Challengers ”. The protests escalated to a very high level with the reinforcement of the opposition groups on February 7. The movement has continued for more than 12 days of what has been called “Operation Lock Down”, which has increased hunger and shut down all aspects of life in the country such as: social events, commerce, education, tourism and even medical facilities.

3- The majority of the protestors are between the ages of 18 and 30 where the employment rate is less than 20%, and who largely believe the promises of the current political party in power – Pati Haitian Tet Kale “PHTK” (which has largely been backed by the international community). Jovenel Moise, a plantain farmer, was hand-picked by former president Joseph Michel Martelly, has faced all kinds of demands to leave power. 

4- Here is sample of things that had happened during the 11 days of the crises:  • All roads through the main cities have been blocked with barricades or burning tires, littered with rocks that have been thrown on cars and motorcycles.  • Several businesses and gas stations have been looted. For instance, the National TV station was on fire with many cars and generators burned.  • 78 prisoners broke and escaped Arquin prison in south of Haiti.  • Several people got killed and injured, journalists have been pressured and attacked;  • A former police commissioner and wanted fugitive attempted to make his way into the presidential motorcade before making it to the national palace, where he was arrested by the PNH- national police force.  • A majority of the 11 to 12 million Haitians have been prisoners inside their homes;  • All schools have been closed.

5- On February 12, the President, Jovenel Moise, recalls the Haitian Ambassadors to the United Nations (Denis Regis), the United States (Paul Altidor), and Mexico (Guy Lamothe) in the midst of the nationwide revolt, leaving Haiti without formal representation. Haitian Ambassador to France (Vanessa Lamothe Matignon) also resigned the same week. Haiti’s Foreign Minister Edmond Bochit went to the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, regarding the security threat in Haiti. 

6- The Haitian Gourde (HTG) that had already been depreciated to $1=65 gourde dropped dramatically to $1= 87 gourde within less than a month, increasing the difficulties of the poor to purchase the daily living essentials. In fact, based on a well-known economist (Kesner Pharel), approximately 6.3 million people cannot any longer afford basic living goods and 2.5 million people are living with less than $1.23 USD per day. A potential increase in hunger is on its way to hit the Haitian people. 

7- Many foreign workers, tourists and mission teams had been evacuated via helicopters to the airport as roads are impassable. Even though helicopter evacuations are very expensive, there was a huge demand. Yet, some foreign people were still unable to be evacuated from their current locations. 

8- Hospitals and emergency services had struggled to stay in operation as they were short on supplies. Not only are basic necessities ultimately very limited, but also basic social and humanitarian services which were crucial in times like this. 

9- On February 14, President Moise spoke for the first time since the beginning of the “Operation Lock Down”. He claimed support of the international community while appealing to the opposition parties to dialogue with him. He also made it clear that he will not resign and hand over control of the country to what he considers gangs and drug lords. His speech was considered by many educated people to be a cause of increases in the protests since he did not address the critical purpose of the people’s call which is “decrease the costs of the basic goods”. The Prime Minister who was accused of financing the “Operation Lock Down” with the States’ money was secretly asked to resign by the president, but refused to do so with the idea of believing the he would be the interim president if President Moise ever decided to resign. 

10- After the President’s speech to the Haitian people, increased demonstrations and outbursts of violence were expected. Within an hour, the United States changed its travel advisory to Level 4 (Do Not Travel if you don’t need to). As a result, the tourism sector of the country is taking a big hit. 

11- After Prime Minister Ceant’s address to the nation, the situation has calmed down since he addressed some of the main issues of the protests. Some businesses and banks are open but the schools are still closed because of the fear and insecurity. 

In conclusion, this current instability with roadblocks, burning barricades and some gunfire has affected all aspects of life. In fact, the poor and ultra-poor people’s inability to afford daily necessities has become worse than ever before. More children will not be able to attend schools because parents won’t be able to either pay tuition or purchase school supplies.

What would be my suggestions in terms of responses to the resolve the crisis to help Haiti? Haiti which originated as the World’s first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state when it threw off French colonial control and slavery in the early 19th century, will need to address the systemic issues as follows:  ● Decrease the costs of the basic living goods by subsidizing the sellers;  ● Invest in agriculture by providing micro-loans to the farmers and creating co-op models which will eventually provide more food on the markets.  ● Stabilize the exchange rate by producing more in Haiti to reduce the importation;  ● Create the state markets through the 10 main cities so that the basic living goods could be sold at an affordable price to the people.  ● Invest more in education and in infrastructure so that enough resources could be formed to develop the country;  ● Get rid of this corrupted system by creating another generation of politicians;  ● Create a good security system;  ● Improve the justice system; 

These are the main points of the instability situation which have affected the whole country for the past two weeks as well as a few personal suggestions of how to address this major problem.

Once again, I am not a professional news correspondent and I don’t pretend to be.

Ernso Sylvain

Nourish Every Child Haiti Board Member

Director of HaitiReach

Founder of Happy Haiti Productions Translator, Interpreter and Tourism guide  International affairs student

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