By Lisa Zengarini
The men and women religious of Haiti are reiterating the alarm raised by the country’s bishops a little over a month ago decrying the “explosive” and unsustainable situation under President Jovenel Moise, who refuses to stand down despite the end of his term. The Haitian Conference of Religious (CHR) wrote an open letter on Tuesday to Moise accusing him of illegitimately holding on to power against the wish of the people. There have also been allegations of scandals and corruption against him.
The CHR released the letter on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to Haiti. The Pope, who is now a Saint, visited Haiti on 9 March 1983.
Haiti's opposition claims that the five-year term of Moise expired on Feb. 7, but Moise has reiterated that it ends in February 2022 since he wasn't sworn in until 2017. Prior to that, a provisional president ruled Haiti for one year following chaotic elections marred by allegations of fraud.
Moise has been insisting he will step down in February 2022 and has called for legislative and presidential elections to be held on 19 September, with a runoff scheduled for 21 November.
Critics accuse Moise of amassing more power in recent months, noting that he already had been ruling by presidential decree ever since he dissolved the majority of parliament in January 2020 after failing to hold legislative elections in 2019 amid a political gridlock.
Worsening socio-economic condition
The political crisis comes amid exacerbating poverty and disease, with the future of people growing increasingly uncertain amid the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of US$797 and a Human Development Index ranking of 169 out of 189 countries in 2019. Sixty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, inflation is very high and there is a lack of food and fuel.
In a pastoral letter on February 2, the country’s bishops lamented the growing violence, with death squads going about in almost total impunity spreading terror everywhere. “The daily life of the Haitian people is reduced to death, murders, impunity and insecurity,” wrote the Haitian Bishops' Conference (CEH). “Discontent is everywhere, in almost all areas.” The CEH deplored that the country, totally uninhabitable, is on the verge of explosion.
According to Haitian religious men and women, the "gloomy picture" described by the bishops has worsened. "No serious decisions have been taken to alleviate the suffering of the people or to protect them from aggression", the CHR said in the open letter to Moise. “The only thing that seems to be of concern to you,” they wrote, “is to carry out your so-called mandate at all costs, against the legitimate request of an entire people.” “One wonders what is the point of clinging to power even illegitimately or illegally when more than half the population lives in conditions of chronic food insecurity?” The CHR questioned his effort to extend his mandate at all cost, without being able to guarantee safety to the people. There is no use of a president or a government that is “unable to stop the train of death that sows daily mourning among the population".
Pope John Paul II's call for change
In their open letter, the men and women religious of Haiti recalled that during his 9 March 1983 visit to Haiti, Saint Pope John Paul II had called for change. Thirty-eight years on, the situation exacerbated, the CHR lamented. “The country is dying, the population is under a yoke, insecurity is rampant, the poorest are no longer able to sustain themselves, the population is in disarray and on the verge of desperation, the country is no longer governed,” the religious said. “We are witnesses and victims of too many crimes, too many injustices and inequalities”. Calling it “a descent into hell”, the religious said, the responsibility falls entirely on Moise, who "has the duty to give quick and concrete answers to the requests of the people, starting with respect for the laws of the country".