Demonstrators in Haiti Are Fighting for an Uncertain Future, 2019
Early in his term as President of Haiti, in a cartoon that was either meant to caution or mock him, Jovenel Moïse is shown dressed as a Haitian superhero. Eyes closed, he’s standing in the barely lit home of a Haitian family, where he announces that in twenty-three months they will have electricity twenty-four hours a day—even as the father reads a book by candle light and the mother presses clothes with a charcoal-fuelled iron. The couple more or less ignores him while only their baby cheers him on.
In the accompanying article by the journalist Roberson Alphonse, published in Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper, on August 10, 2017, Moïse is quoted as saying, “When I say the entire country will have electricity twenty-four hours a day in twenty-three months, I will do it.” He added that a President “shouldn’t have to promise that. It’s an obligation, a necessity. A country must have electricity, water, and roads.”
It’s been thirty-two months since Moïse was sworn into office after a contested, fraud-plagued, two-round election cycle in which only eighteen per cent of eligible voters participated. In a country of more than ten million people, about six hundred thousand voted for him. Even before taking his Presidential oath, Moïse was accused by Haiti’s Central Financial Intelligence Unit (UCREF) of having laundered millions of dollars. A few months into his term, he fired the director of UCREF—a move that probably led to Moïse being cleared of the laundering charges, which he has denied.
Unknown to most Haitians until he was handpicked by his predecessor, Michel Martelly—who also came to power through elections mired in fraud—Moïse was presented as a successful rural businessman from outside Haiti’s political class, a banana exporter nicknamed Nèg Bannann, or Banana Man. Less advertised was that he was also an auto-parts dealer and a supposed road-construction magnate. According to two reports published earlier this year by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, in 2014, before he’d officially become a Presidential candidate, Moïse received more than a million dollars from Martelly’s government, funds that were allocated for road construction and repair in the northern region of the country. The government auditors report that Moïse was paid twice for the same contract, once as the head of Agritrans and again as the leader of another firm, called Betexs. The two firms were listed as having the same staff and projects, as well as the same government patent and tax-identifcation number. The road for which the money was doubly paid shows no sign of having been constructed or repaired. Moïse also got more than a hundred thousand dollars for another one of his companies, Comphener S.A., to install solar panels on street lamps.