Petro Challenge: on the brink?

      Haiti is going through times that have been challenging for all sectors of the population. A simple question:  where is the money from Petro Caribe ?  Using this simple question many of the youth along with a few well known artists in the country and outside have started a chain reaction that has brought Haiti to the brink of anarchy and has threatened the mandate of the elected president Jovenel Moise.  On the 18th of November and for days after when huge crowds of demonstrators have taken over the streets in the capital Port-au-Prince, and in many of the major towns like Les Cayes, Cap Haitien and St. Marc the security situation and the safety of citizens is under siege while militants, opposition politicians and many people who have nothing to lose stoke the fire.  And make no mistake this is a raging bonfire that is being fueled by a legitimate demand for accountability coupled with despair, a plethora of marginalized people and poverty so gripping that it is beyond imagination.  We have a confrontation where the government of Jovenel Moise has chosen to fight rather than negotiate while opponents have chosen the same path.  A situation reminiscent of 2003 when the opposition to then elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide refused to negotiate in good faith while they supported the armed rebellion of Guy Philippe.  It is almost as if the same actors have come to blows once again because many of the elected officials in Parliament and members of the present administration in Haiti were part of the movement that drove then President Aristide from power in 2004, negating the celebration of the bicentennial of our independence.

       According to many media reports President Jovenel Moise has used the services of armed mercenaries dressed as police officers to shoot down demonstrators.  Pictures are circulating all over the internet on social platforms showing these well armed foreigners carrying deadly Automatica weapons riding around in brand new vehicles in a country so poor supposedly that teachers cannot get paid.  We have also seen bodies of young people shot to death, many with shots to the head shown in graphic pictures.  Times have changed nowadays and you cannot hide things anymore, so despite scarce media coverage people have seen the images on the internet.  Young people shot and their bodies left to rot as a sinister attempt to cower and stop the demonstrations.  

      The international community, usually so eager to denounce and punish small country dictators who oppress legitimate demands from the people, has been silent.  In Canada politicians from the opposition have demanded that their government take action while calling for strong condemnation of the government of Jovenel Moise.  In the United States the national press has kept quiet on the matter.  There was a massacre in La Saline, a slum at the northern entrance of Port-au-Prince but no one seems to care that dozens of people were murdered.  Their bodies were shown on CNN, a rare occurrence since news from Haiti is not a priority, but there was very little reaction from the White House or the State Department.  Kenneth Mertens, a former ambassador to Haiti did say a few words with a lukewarm call for order, but he is a hold over from the Obama administration.  President Donald Trump is not going to pay much attention to what he says and Ambassador Mertens did not really call for strong support of Jovenel Moise.  It almost seemed as if he was entertaining the idea of new elections.   

      Unless there is a major turn in the situation President Jovenel Moise will have to step down because he cannot escape this gauntlet.  Moise was placed in power by former President Michel Martelly and the International Community to serve a purpose that the majority of the population does not adhere to.  President Moise and his supporters are stuck on the same page, denouncing the opposition while touting the legitimate mandate they inherited from an election that was far from legitimate, less than one million people voted in a country of 12 million.  If voter suppression was used to steal the election in the State of Georgia in the United States in Haiti the suppression of voters and theft of the mandate through manipulation was blatant.  So President Moise and his supporters have not offered any solutions to the many problems that have brought the population in open revolt to their mandate notwithstanding the brutality he and his supporters have used to try to put down the people demonstrating.  Regular police officers have worked hard to maintain damage to property to a minimum.  I saw images of police officers from the CIMO, the riot squad, hunker down behind shields while young folks were throwing rocks at them.  They remained professional and at no time did they try to use automatic weapons against demonstrators.  Many of the rank and file in the police agree with the demonstrators and despise the work they are doing.  They do not see President Jovenel Moise as a leader to sacrifice for, but they are performing their duty and this is to be commended.  By stopping the demonstration from reaching Petion-Ville last Friday they may have avoided a bloodbath or the destruction of many businesses.  During my travails in Haiti I have spoken to many of them and they do not like the direction the country is going in under President Moise.  They realize that by putting mercenaries dressed as police officers in the streets the administration has put their lives at risk.  They are not equipped with the kind of material used by those mercenaries so they are bitter as they ride in beat up vehicles while scarcely getting paid.  Of course there are some who are blindly serving the president by oppressing demonstrators and shooting at people with deadly intentions, but the majority of them sympathize with the demonstrators.

      Petro challenge is the rallying cry during the demonstrations.  Nearly three billion dollars stolen from the coffers of the country by previous administrations and President Jovenel Moise has refused to arrest people associated with this theft.  To recover those sums the present administration in Haiti has to make a strong effort of tracking the money through the banks and arresting the perpetrators of this theft.  If the U.S. government can recover all the money made by El Chapo they can help find the money stolen in Petro Caribe.  This is the biggest money laundering operation in the Caribbeans right under the nose of Interpol.

        One theory that is being whispered is that Jovenel Moise is a man on a mission.  His job is to help launder the money stolen through Petro Caribe.  Before he became president Moise had been accused of money laundering by the ULCC, a state agency in Haiti which investigates crimes of an economic nature.  This may explain why he is holding to power relentlessly.  We are talking about a vast sum which if laundered properly will bring him riches beyond the imagination, hundreds of millions.  With this in mind Moise will not let go unless his life depends on it.  Michel Martelly, his mentor and connection to the funds stolen is standing by telling him to hold on at all cost because he does not want to have to answer to justice himself about the matter.  So much money was diverted during his administration that it would make your head spin.  While enjoying the fruits of Petro Caribe Martelly also got his hand on a lot of the funds that were given to Haiti after the earthquake of 2010.  Nearly 10 billion dollars was supposedly given to Haiti from international donors to help rebuild the country.  Nothing was rebuilt and the money was never accounted for.  The population is fed up with the situation in the country.  No health care, no public education, a system of private education that only trains people to become unemployed, no roads to go to towns in the provinces, no drinking water and sanitation system, it appears as if the population has had enough finally.  All this money stolen and people have to live in a country that is mired in facilities and institutions from the 19th century.  I believe the people of Haiti are saying enough is enough and unless the elite and the political class begins a 180 degree turn and change this system the bonfire will keep burning, many will die and many will lose everything they have.     



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