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Haiti Politics

Haiti's political situation has improved in recent years, but remains fragile. The uncertainty that periodic vacancies in the prime minister’s position, cabinet changes, and infighting in Parliament created has hindered both reconstruction efforts and passage of important legislation. However, political violence is rare, and recent statistics suggest increasing capacity of law enforcement officials to deter and prosecute violent crime.

There have been no recent cases of political groups targeting foreign projects and/or installations. Historically, politically motivated civil disorder, such as periodic demonstrations and labor strikes, sometimes interrupted normal business operations. Land invasions by squatters are a problem in both urban and rural areas, and requests for help to law enforcement authorities often go unanswered.

Demonstrations are frequent in Port-au-Prince and other outlying areas for various reasons, to include dissatisfication of infrastructure and utilities to disapproval of Haitian government entities or UN presence. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and innocent bystanders or travelers can be caught up in a clash, rock throwing, and tire burning road blocks between demonstrators and the HNP.

Violent political protests occur regularly in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city. These protests had been frequent, averaging multiple incidents per week since mid-2009 and with 360 total in 2011. The demonstrations have been motivated by a wide-variety of political and social movements, ranging from minimum wage to school curriculum to the presence of UN forces in the country to cholera response and the Haitian presidential elections. They shared a common trend in that protestors were quick to barricade streets and regularly stone the windows of passing motorists?vehicles.

As in many developing countries, radio reaches the widest audience in Haiti. Estimates vary, but more than 300 radio stations are believed to broadcast throughout the country. Talk show programs serve as one of the few ways in which ordinary Haitians can speak out about politics and the government. A law passed in 1997 declares the airwaves to be the property of the government, but at least 133 unlicensed radio stations operate freely. In addition, there are 50 community-based stations throughout the country.

Television is available only to a minority of relatively wealthy households. Two television stations serve approximately 42,000 households that have television receivers. Satellite stations from foreign countries are available in Haiti, but only to those with the expensive equipment necessary to receive them. Haiti's three French-language newspapers have a total circulation of less than 20,000. Small, Creole-language newspapers are printed irregularly.

While the United Nations?Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), deployed in Haiti since 2004, supports the activities of the Haitian National Police (HNP), their numbers decreased during 2015 as mandated by the UN Security Council. The HNP, with assistance from MINUSTAH, was responsible for maintaining order and rendering assistance.

On 29 January 2017, Haitians headed to the polls for legislative and local elections. Voters elected eight senators in second-round elections, one member to the Chamber of Deputies, and members of various local offices. In total, over 30,000 candidates wwere vying for seats in these elections for 3,032 members for the 570 Administration of Communal Sections (Assemblée de Section Communale [ASEC]), 1,170 members of the 570 Boards of Directors of Communal Sections (Conseil d?Administration de Section Communale [CASEC]), and 785 members to the 140 city delegates (Delegu?de Ville [DV]).

President Jovenel Moise announced 22 February 2017 that he and Haiti's two legislative leaders had agreed upon the nomination of Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant, a physician and political outsider, to be prime minister. Lafontant, 56, married and father of three children, unknown to the political scene, had been pursuing his medical career for thirty years. He is the president of the Rotary Club of Petion-Ville since July 2016. He is an internist and gastroenterologist, professor of gastroenterology at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the State University of Haiti (UEH). The prime minister oversees the Cabinet and day-to-day operations of government.

In Haiti, where about eight million people survive on less than US$2 a day, the economy grew just 1.4 percent in 2018. In an attempt to bring down the budget deficit, President Moise reduced public spending, an option which was not well received by citizens, opposition politicians and social leaders.

Members of the political opposition demanded Moise’s resignation for failing to investigate corruption allegations against previous governments related to the management of PetroCaribe, a regional integration initiative created 13 years ago by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Moise’s government has repeatedly expressed a commitment to investigate the alleged irregularities in the management of PetroCaribe funds from which more than US$2 billion were diverted.

Protests began in July 2018 after an increase in fuel prices. Since last August 2018 there have been more protests. General strikes have paralyzed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince for days. Thousands have marched in various parts of the country demanding better living conditions, access to health, education, accountability from authorities, and an end to government corruption.

Haitians took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, with increasingly violent protests virtually paralyzing the country. In Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, banks, schools, businesses and fuel stations remained closed, some of which had been looted by angry citizens who joined the riots that began on 07 February 2019.

"The country is getting ready to explode!" Haiti's newly elected Senate Leader Carl Murat Cantave said during a midday press conference 14 February 2019, in which he denounced the violence that has left at least seven people dead and property damaged. For eight consecutive days, thousands had protested inflation, corruption and what they consider to be the government's ineffectiveness to resolve the country's problems. Cantave called on President Jovenel Moise to address the nation without delay. "We're asking the executive branch to act responsibly. The president can't remain silent," he said. "He must address the nation quickly. He must show the nation that it has a leader who is in charge. He needs to do that today." Cantave asked the opposition democratic sector to observe a truce to allow members of the various political sectors to meet and engage in a dialogue to try to find a solution.

Moise broke his silence on February 14, 2019 after eight days of violent protests during which protesters demanded his resignation. Moise sought to diminish tensions by saying he understands the frustrations that led to the mass protests. Moise has been widely criticized by politicians and citizens alike for failing to publicly respond to the demands of the people. He has also been vilified for his government’s lack of transparency and its ineffectiveness. But his words also mostly failed to calm the popular anger that continues to crystallise around him, in a country where 60 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and where inflation has exceeded 15 percent for the last two years.

There are currently widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Due to these demonstrations, on February 14, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.

Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.

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