Haiti Protests

Greg Dunkel

Haiti’s parliament has been dissolved due to unheld elections amidst colossal anti-government protests. The protests have been called by opposition parties with the express aim of forcing Haitian president Michel Martelly’s resignation. The opposition accuses President Martelly of abusing his power, and of corruption. Elections for the legislature were supposed to be held in May of 2012, while those for municipal bodies have not been held in the Caribbean country for three years.

A deal to extend term limits for current legislators fell through last week after opposition party Fanmi Lavalas was not included in the negotiations. The void in legislative legitimacy seems to leave the President little choice but to rule the country by decree. Protestors have accused the President of allowing the deal to fail to ensure this. President Martelly blames the delayed elections on a grouping of opposition senators refusal to accept legislation that would authorise the vote.

The senators have alleged that the legislation would unfairly aid the incumbent party. The president has been backed by the UN and aid donors such as the US, who have called for calm.

Haiti’s Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, resigned in mid-December due to the increasingly violent protests and the call of a commission for him to step down. His successor, Evans Paul, a former mayor of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, has not been accepted by the legislature which refused to ratify him. He has however vowed to work as the de facto prime minister. Which would take effect in the absence of any other candidates, and would attempt to form a new government. In a recent interview, Paul decried the protests, noting that they made Haiti less attractive for foreign investment.

Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 2010. The unprecedented magnitude of the hazard killed anywhere between 100,000 and a government-backed, but internationally contested figure of 316,000. A UN peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH was already in-country, due to political strife.

Following the earthquake, an outbreak of cholera caused by UN peacekeepers from Nepal, spread rapidly through the country hospitalising hundreds of thousands.

Infrastructure damage has seen tens of thousands remain in temporary or shanty housing, often without access to even the most basic amenities. Nowadays, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and has received large loans from the Venezuela-backed oil fund PetroCaribe.

President Martelly’s failure to alleviate poverty has not proved popular, and is likely to have helped to swell the protests. The president has also been decried for his closeness to the Duvalier dictatorships of the 1980s, his suggested revival of the army (which was disbanded following its involvement in a 2004 coup removing the last democratically elected president).

Foreign aid in the billions was pledged after the earthquake, but was often alleged to have not reached its target. One instance, documented by American journalist Jonathan Katz, saw the US Coast guard spent money pledged to Haiti on medals for its members. Other aid money also came in the form of forgiven debts.

Haiti has a history of protest. President Martelly’s election was assisted by massive demonstrations and protests in his favour, after his candidacy seemed imperilled. The president, a former Haitian konpa musician known as ‘Sweet Micky’, seemed in part to have been swept into power by the momentum of his supporters. The 2011 election saw streets blocked by burning tires and noisy demonstrations, which provided a large and present reminder of Martelly’s power-base.

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