As Haitian President Jovenel Moïse used his one-man rule Wednesday to install his fifth prime minister in three years, hundreds of miles away on Capitol Hill U.S. lawmakers were trying to figure out how to help Haiti while receiving an earful on the president’s poor human-rights and governance record.
“President Moïse by decree appointed a prime minister,” Ellie Happel, an attorney and Haiti project director at New York University’s Global Justice Clinic, told the bipartisan Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights as the swearing-in of Joseph Jouthe and his 21-member government unfolded in Port-au-Prince. “This is quite concerning in the sense that he had been encouraged ... to have a prime minister of consensus. Instead, he unilaterally appointed an individual and there is real discontent at what seems to be his great, grandiose method of impunity; that he in fact can take any action unilaterally.”
Happel, who also accused Moïse of manipulating the judiciary for his own purposes, said it would be interesting to see what kind of statements the U.S. State Department would issue in relation to the new government’s appointment. She didn’t have to wait long.
Shortly after the commission finished hearing testimony Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a statement saying “the United States looks forward to working with the new Haitian government, including Haiti’s next prime minister. The United States urges the Haitian government to meet the needs of the Haitian people by urgently addressing public security, restarting economic growth, and organizing free, fair, and credible legislative elections as soon as technically feasible.”
Jouthe, who served as acting finance minister and environment minister in the previous government — which, like his, lacked parliamentary approval — had his appointment announced by Moïse — who incorrectly spelled Jouthe’s name — in an early morning tweet on Monday. It was later published in the official government gazette.
The president said he made the choice after “consultations with different sectors.” Many questioned who those sectors were, expressing surprise at the announcement. Others said it was business as usual.
“Jovenel Moïse led everyone to believe that he was sensitive to the political situation in the country and that he wanted a political accord,” said Edmond Supplice Beauzile, the head of Fusion, a moderate political party that was involved in some of the initial talks. “I always believed that he did not want a political accord and would do what he wanted to do. That is what has happened. ... This government that he’s put in place doesn’t bother me; it’s just a repeat of his behavior.”
FLASH SALE! Unlimited digital access for $3.99 per month
Don't miss this great deal. Offer ends on March 31st!SAVE NOW
As for the international community’s show of support at Wednesday’s installation of the new government, Supplice said, “I don’t understand what’s happening in Haiti. Is it because they derive pleasure rolling us in the dough? Because the only loser here is Haiti.”
Just two weeks ago, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, which had led the political negotiations, told the U.N. Security Council that the political negotiations on a prime minister and the formation of a new government between Moïse and some sectors of the moderate opposition had stalled.
“The lack of agreement on this matter, as well as on the remaining length of President Moïse’s term, threatens to needlessly prolong a situation that has already lasted too long,” said Helen La Lime, who was among those who attended Wednesday’s ceremony at the National Palace.
In Washington, Happel testified that “it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the actions of the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States — because they are not rooted in strong analyses led by Haitian voices — have often made a bad situation worse.”
She and panelist Anthony Banbury, the president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, later warned against the United States’ push for elections, saying the current political and security climate in Haiti is not conducive.
Georges Fauriol, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warned that the recent violence involving the shootout between the Haiti National Police and reconstituted army underscores the increased level of violence countrywide, exemplified by physical attacks on journalists.
“The fundamentals of this now multi-year crisis remain unresolved, and worse, are piling up toward a crash,” he warned.
“There are no winners in this unstable edifice which could collapse at any moment,” said Fauriol, as he encouraged the commission to reach out to some of the civic and political leaders in Haiti involved in two political accords last year to try to find an exit out of the crisis. Earlier in the day, the U.N. launched an emergency humanitarian appeal for $253 million saying the political and socioeconomic crisis had culminated in millions of Haitians facing famine.
James P. McGovern, D-Mass., who co-chairs the human rights commission, peppered panelists with questions, and mulled over the idea of re-instituting a Haiti working group in Congress, meeting with non-political leaders in Haiti and having members of Congress visit the country to see the situation for themselves.
“You can go to Haiti and see one thing and miss what is really there,” McGovern said. He also expressed frustration over the U.S. policy in Haiti saying: “We do not have a holistic policy in terms of dealing with Haiti. I could not articulate for you right now what our policy is.”
Committee members did express some optimism after hearing the testimony of Loune Viaud, who runs Zanmi Lasante, the Haiti-based partner of Partners in Health. The nonprofit runs more than a dozen sites around the country, including the University Hospital in Mirebalais, which has continued to provide free healthcare to thousands of Haitians despite the political crisis and spikes in kidnappings and criminal gangs.
But the nagging question, at least for McGovern, remained.
“How can we be helpful?” he asked. “People are looking for concrete things to do.”