WASHINGTON/PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI – Tempers flared in Haiti’s parliament Tuesday as lawmakers resorted to pushing and shoving each other and swearing to vent frustrations over an act of vandalism that stunned the nation in the early hours of the morning.
A group of opposition lawmakers threw chairs, desks, papers — anything they could find — on the lower chamber’s floor and doused some items with oil in an attempt to block a scheduled vote on Prime Minister nominee Fritz William Michel and his Cabinet.
“Get out! Get out of here!” one lawmaker was caught on VOA Creole video screaming to an opposition lawmaker as a colleague grabbed him by the suit jacket and shoved him aside. The opposition deputy, Deus Deronneth, responded by laughing while others screamed insults at each other.
Haiti has been without a prime minister since March, when Jean Henry Ceant was forced to resign after a no-confidence vote, leaving the country’s political and financial affairs in limbo. President Jovenel Moise has repeatedly called on lawmakers to move forward on his subsequent nominees.
Halting the process
In response, the opposition has used various tactics to block the process. They have succeeded in halting the process until now.
“We acted this morning to prevent the ratification process of the new government from happening, because the motivation of the majority (party) lawmakers is not a legitimate one (in our view),” Deputy Deronneth, who represents the southern district of Marigot, told VOA Creole.
Majority PHTK (Pati Ayisyen Tet Kale) party lawmakers criticized the action as “thuggish” and “undignified.”
“This saddens me. It’s not what I expected when I ran for office,” Deputy Jean Michel Moise, who represents the northwestern region of Bonbardopolis-Baie-de-Henne, told VOA. “This behavior is unacceptable for a deputy. When you destroy property as a member of parliament, that’s not democracy. You are entitled to your opinion, but others may see things differently. And when you lose, you have to accept defeat. I consider this to be an act of total delinquency.”
Deputy Lemoine Premier, who represents the southern region of L’Asile, agreed.
“We are experiencing a situation that is truly abnormal. It’s a situation that is revolting, a situation that is representative of the frustration that exists on all levels of society,” he said. “There is a way for colleagues to express their frustration without taking it to the level of vandalizing the parliament.”
Deputy Jacques Beauvil, who represents Carrefour, a suburb of the capital to the south, said the country’s problems weigh on everyone.
“They have existed for as long as we can remember. But today the problem is much worse — people can’t buy gas to get to work, vendors can’t get to market because of rampant crime — these problems affect me and they frustrate me too but I disagree with the way the guys (colleagues) expressed their displeasure by breaking and shattering things — by the way, we already don’t have much when you finish destroying the furniture — if you’re not re-elected, where will the new deputies sit?”
Vandalism, Shoving Match as Haiti Parliament Votes on Prime Minister Nominee video player.
Mixed views on politics
Residents of Port-au-Prince expressed mixed views for the opposition’s actions.
“What the (opposition) guys did today is a victory, in my opinion,” a young man standing near the national palace told VOA Creole.” Because they stood by the people. The people understand very well the game Gary Bodeau is playing in the Chamber of Deputies. So we applaud the opposition because their task as members of the opposition is not easy.”
Another bystander also approved.
“This is one of the rare occasions where members of parliament decided to fight for the underprivileged and refused the demands of the bourgeoisie (Upper Class),” he said.
But a street vendor expressed disappointment.
“These guys don’t love the country. School is getting ready to reopen, our kids are going to school. We have a gasoline shortage now. They should have let the vote happen. We need them to approve the prime minister so we can regain some stability,” he said.
Another disapproving man described the lawmakers as thugs.
“They are a bunch of vagabonds. They should have come instead with valid arguments as to why the nomination should not be approved. Convince them with your words. If you need to resort to delinquency, that is unacceptable.”
In the end, Michel and his Cabinet were approved in a late-night vote of 76-0, three abstentions in the chamber of deputies, which has a total of 119 members. Lower chamber President Bodeau was happy with the result, despite the morning’s shenanigans.
“Democracy won today,” Bodeau told VOA Creole after the vote. He also addressed the opposition.
“I salute the opposition deputies who vandalized the chamber this morning — and who were widely condemned by the lower chamber for this act — but later got it together. This shows they are men and women who support democracy. We will continue working with them in the chamber of deputies. Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said.
Prime minister-nominee Michel also expressed satisfaction.
“This means a lot to me,” Michel told VOA Creole. “I am proud of the vote approving my nomination. And I intend to do everything I can, along with the members of my Cabinet and the president to work for the country. My next step is to work with members of the Senate, so they can organize a session where I can present my plan and have them vote on my nomination.”
President Moise has not yet publicly commented on the Chamber of Deputies vote. It is unclear when the Senate will begin debating the nomination.
Protesters recently threw a Molotov cocktail and burnt tires in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. At another rally demonstrators hurled rocks at the embassy and a protester was filmed holding a sign saying: “Fuck USA. Merde la France. Fuck Canada.”
While jarring for most Canadians, these acts reflect the anger of an impoverished people fed up with foreign governments dictating their affairs.
For more than a year Haitians have been engaged in a remarkable popular uprising against a corrupt and repressive foreign-backed president. Since September schools and businesses in Port-au-Prince have for the most part been shut due to protests challenging the president, racism and economic inequality. However, Haitians are also rejecting Canadian foreign policy.
Jovenel Moïse remains president because he has the backing of Canada, France, the United States and other members of the so-called “Core Group.” Canada provides the unpopular president with important financial, policing and diplomatic support.
During the past decade and a half, Haitians have increasingly identified Canada with the country’s historic influencers. Michel Vastel, a prominent Québec journalist, reported that a secret meeting took place on Jan. 31, 2003 in Ottawa, where officials discussed Haiti’s future. No Haitian representative was invited to the summit where high level officials from the U.S., Canada, France and the Organization of American States discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting the country under international trusteeship and resurrecting Haiti’s dreaded military.
Thirteen months after that meeting, the U.S., France and Canada ousted Aristide. For the next two years they imposed a government responsible for thousands of deaths. The coup also ushered in a UN military force whose reckless sewage disposal caused a cholera epidemic that took 10,000 lives.
After the country was struck by a deadly earthquake in 2010, Canadian officials continued their inhumane and antidemocratic course. According to internal government documents the Canadian Press examined a year after the disaster, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising.” One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “Political fragility has increased, the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The documents also explained the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.” To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 US soldiers and 1,500 UN troops (8,000 UN soldiers were already there).
A year after the earthquake the U.S. and Canada forced third place presidential candidate, Michel Martelly, into the runoff of an election that barred Aristide’s party. The central figure in the multi-billion dollar corruption scandal that has spurred recent protests, Martelly is Moïse’s mentor.
It’s no wonder Haitians are angry with the Canadian government. But, an alternative Canadian position is also being put forward. On Oct. 31, Québec’s National Assembly unanimously endorsed a motion declaring “our unreserved solidarity with the Haitian people and their desire to find a stable and secure society. ” It urges “support for any peaceful and democratic exit from the crisis coming from Haitian civil society actors.” A week earlier the Concertation pour Haïti, a collection of Québec NGOs and unions, called for “Canada to make the right choice and use its influence in the international community to support” a presidential transition.Last week David Suzuki, Amir Khadir, Roger Waters, Maude Barlow, Yann Martel and more than 100 other writers, musicians, activists and professors signed an open letter requesting that “the Canadian government stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.”
It is time for a change in Canadian policy in Haiti.Marie Dimanche is founder of Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019. Frantz André is with Comité d’action des personnes sans statut and Solidarité Québec-Haiti. Yves Engler is a member of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and author of 10 books.
Rebo S.A., for its deluxe coffees, Askanya S.A., with its premier bean-to-bar chocolates, Belzeb S.A., the producers of holistic massage oils and organic teas, and Berling S.A., the authentic premium rum and cream liquers distillery, made up the delegation of Haitian businesses that presented their products at the 2019 Taiwan International Tea, Coffee and Wine Expo.
The expo which was held from November 15 to 18 at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Hall brought together exhibitors from more than 53 countries and hosted nearly 200,000 visitors. They were four days of awe, with tasting and exhibition sessions for the Asian public and each of the Haitian entrepreneurs left with hopeful eyes.
In Haiti, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, in the latest demonstration to call for the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse.
Protester: “We can’t suffer any longer. We live in a place where there are no roads, no water, no hospitals. There’s nothing. Everything is blocked in this country. We’re saying this isn’t possible. That’s why we’re in the street. We’re going to stay in the streets every day.”
More than 40 people have been killed in two months of the anti-government protests.