Haiti- Businessman with tainted record takes office in the Americas

On February 7th, the Republic of Haiti inaugurated a new President, a year to the day after Michel Martelly stepped down from office without an elected successor. Soon to be sworn-in is Jovenel Moise, a previously little known businessman and protege of Martelly’s. Moise had originally triumphed in the October 2015 presidential elections, but these were ultimately annulled after an independent electoral commission found they had been tainted by voter fraud. More than a year, many electoral delays and an election rerun later, Moise is set to take over from Jocerlerme Privert, the caretaker President who has governed in the absence of a duly elected one.

Haiti’s new President has his work cut out for him

The new President arrives against a backdrop of political instability and slow recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.

To start with, Moise’s very legitimacy as victor of the November 20th, 2016 election is still being contested. Even as his 55% vote share easily exceeded the 19% collected by his closest rival, and as national and international observers point to a fairly-conducted election (despite some minor irregularities), Moise’s three primary electoral opponents refuse to recognize his victory, calling the rerun ballot an electoral coup.

Though he did win the popular vote by a landslide, the decisiveness of Moise’s victory must be put in perspective: with voter turnout an abysmal 21%, the new President’s mandate rests on the support of some 590,000 people in a country that counts eleven million . Ongoing recovery from the hurricane and voter disillusionment are primary causes for this low turnout. They are also daunting issues that Moise will have to tackle over the course of his presidency.

Devastated by the 2010 earthquake from which it is still recovering, Haiti is reeling from the effects of last October’s Hurricane Matthew, which killed more than one thousand and caused two billion dollars worth of damages, the equivalent of 30% of the country’s GDP. The country’s agricultural sector was hit particularly hard by the level four hurricane, and the consequences for food insecurity have been stark: the United Nations estimates that 1.4. million Haitians find themselves lacking food. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to families through impassable roads in the hardest-hit areas.

The devastation from Hurricane Matthew has made aid and development even more complicated

Yet it is also due to the slowness and inadequacy of the international response : as of December, the UN had only collected 46% of its $120m aid target. It is to be hoped for that a stable government puts Haiti in a better position to secure and coordinate foreign aid, which amounts to roughly 5% of the country’s GDP, both for immediate post-hurricane recovery and for its longer-term development,

With regard to the latter, the president elect’s campaign emphasised investing in and strengthening the country’s agricultural sector, which he knows well as a former banana exporter. Components of the new administration’s development plan also feature and reforming the country’s judicial institutions and attacking corruption.

Unfortunately, there is already cause to be sceptical about the latter promise in light of recent reports on Mr. Moise’s past financial dealings. Last month, a report by the state-run Central Unit of Financial Intelligence (UCREF) concluded to Moise’s involvement in a money-laundering scheme back in 2013.  Moise has since come out to claim his innocence and calls the whole affair an act of political blackmail. The head of UCREF Sonel Jean-Francois has rebuffed such talk of political sabotage, explaining the administrative inquiry was initially launched in response to a tip-off by the country’s financial institutions in 2013. While the veracity of the report is currently being evaluated by a judge, political opponents have jumped on the issue to advance their narrative of an illegitimate president .

Mr. Moise, of course, is innocent until proven otherwise. But for a leader who wants to make the fight against corruption a political priority in a context of manifest voter apathy, he is off to a less than ideal start.

His predecessor, Mr. Martelly, was roundly criticized for surrounding himself with a corrupt entourage and manipulating the judiciary to advance his friends’ interests. After over a year of electoral uncertainty, and several years of dysfunctional legislative-executive relations under the Martelly administration, Mr. Moise’s claim that political stability is Haiti’s greatest need is hard to dispute. Perhaps his greatest task, however, will be to convince a disillusioned population that he will serve them and not just his interests.

James-Patrick Cannon

James-Patrick Cannon

Junior Editor at InPRA
James-Patrick Cannon is a Bachelor of Laws studentat the Université de Montréal.
Hecompleted a Bachelor in Political Science and International Development at McGill University in 2014, and subsequently interned in the fields of education and human rights.

These internships contributed to his growing interest in South American politics. More broadly, his areas of interests includethe rule of law, democratization, and foreign affairs.

He is excited to join InPRA and gain a first experience in research and writing for a publication.
James-Patrick Cannon

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