Protests in Haiti: An Overlooked Crisis the World Should Not Ignore

October 22, 2019

Haiti faces fuel shortages, food shortages, and corruption. Political economist Keston Perry argues that neocolonialism, neoliberalism, and climate injustice are at the root of Haiti's instability.

Haiti faces fuel shortages, food shortages, and corruption. Political economist Keston Perry argues that neocolonialism, neoliberalism, and climate injustice are at the root of Haiti's instability.


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Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.

There have been protests occurring and growing in Haiti for over a year now. Widely dismissed as riots over fuel and food shortages, the unrest in Haiti is actually a response to much larger and deeper issues that cannot continue to be ignored.

Here to talk with me about some of these issues is Keston Perry. Keston is a political economist with expertise in climate policy, finance, and global development, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. He has previously served as an External Advisor to the United Nations Development Program. Thank you, Keston, so much for joining me today.

KESTON PERRY: You’re welcome. Thank you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So there are now massive protests in Haiti, and most of the media says that they’re primarily directed at the president over corruption and bad policy. Is that what’s going on? Is President Jovenel Moise corrupt and the cause of the current crisis in Haiti?

KESTON PERRY: I think he is part of the problem. He is part of bigger problems that Haitians are facing. Some of them reached out to me when I had written that article a few weeks ago and have mentioned to me that indeed they want Jovenel Moise out of office. And he is being propped up, to a large extent, by the United States government. Even though we know that the Trump presidential administration has said that they are interested in ensuring that democracy remains and is the status quo in Haiti, they have taken a very hands-off approach. It has been the history of imperialism, the history of interventionism from the United States in Haiti and that is very evident.

Many Haitians, I think, today are suffering from that very long period of interventionism that started back in 2001, when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted and he was put into exile. That was initiated on the part of the United States; an intervention in Haiti through United Nations as well and through a number of other forces to ensure that democracy really remained the policing of the West and the policing of the United States and of other imperial powers such as Canada and the European Union.

We do have a serious problem of food shortages, of gas shortages, of hospital, of not getting access to resources, and so on. But the issue has a lot to do with underdevelopment in Haiti and a continued intervention by the United States and continual corruption for a large extent in some instances, but also of the climate crisis. And this is something I emphasized a lot in my work and emphasized in the recent article I wrote, that the overall and general degradation of the environment has disabled and deprived Haitians of the resources that they need and of the ability to administer and govern themselves. And so that has created the dependency on Western nations.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Wow. So this is an issue of the current president being corrupt, but it’s also the result of years of what you identify as American involvement so-called interventionism in Haiti and the result of bad US foreign policy, which you mentioned in your article as a part of neocolonialism as one of the three issues that have plagued Haiti for this extended period of time. So let me take each of those issues that you mentioned in your article one at a time.

But before I want to do that, I need to ask, since this is a bigger issue than just a corrupt president, what is interesting about the nature of the protesters in Haiti? Because some media outlets are calling the protesters militants, some are saying that they are rioters. Is there a misinterpretation of who is driving the protests in Haiti that you’re seeing in the media that needs to be set straight?

KESTON PERRY: There is a lack of democratic accountability in Haiti, and that is driven both by external forces… Like I mentioned, the United States and its continued involvement in choosing, for instance, the last president before Jovenel Moise as well as laying the groundwork for him to become elected on a very low voter turnout. So he has been considered for at least the past two, three years the legitimate president in the minds of many Haitians. Although we are seeing the backlash of that injustice and now many people have really been pushed to the brink, many people have been living with this situation for decades.

And the problem has to do with, to a large extent, a number of issues that are in my view intersecting to cause this common crisis that we are facing. And it has to do with illegitimacy of Jovenel Moise’s government as well as the illegitimacy and the back room deals that are going on between this current government as well as other powers such as Canada, United States, and so on. So we have to look at it as people being pushed to the brink. And if you are continually being repressed and oppressed and shaming, Haitians have a history of standing up to oppression and we have a history of standing up to a repressive state and this is where we have reached, this is a continuation of the very long street of revolts and of revolution in Haiti and we have seen the effects of that now.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So we’re not talking about a small group of militants or a small group of anti-government forces that are driving these protests. When you say people are being pushed to the brink, you’re talking about everyone in Haiti, everyone from students to working people, to professional people. You’re talking about everyone?

KESTON PERRY: Yes, it is. Definitely, at least in the early stages I think of last year’s. Then when it started in July of 2018, there were charges about it being opposition-led and that kind of thing. But I think since then it has credit. Many people from around the country… If you look at the protests that are going on there, if you see the photos and if you see the videos and so on, there are thousands of Haitians who are fighting back saying that we are fed up and have had enough.

What we’ve also seen over the past year–at least since the end of the agreements between Venezuela and the Haitian government to provide very low supplies to Haiti–is that multinational corporations are in fact benefiting to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars from the shortages of oil and shortages of gas and food and the prices of everyday products. The living costs have skyrocketed. It’s an inflation in the tune of double digit beyond 70% at the moment. So people are being really pushed and being really affected in a very, very, very devastating way.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m so glad that you brought up the connection with Venezuela because I think that ties into what you mentioned in your article for Al Jazeera. In your article, you wrote that quote, “While international media has focused on a familiar story of corruption and mismanagement, what lies beneath this debilitating crisis is much more serious, a deadly combination of neocolonialism, neoliberalism and climate injustice.”

So let me take these issues one at a time really quickly with, hopefully, the last five or six minutes that we have. You mentioned the connection to Venezuela and what is going on in Venezuela and I think that is an interesting point to make in regard to your point about neocolonialism. How is what’s going on in Haiti right now connected to neocolonialism?

KESTON PERRY: Sure. It is a very complicated story. So in March of 2018, the agreement that the Petrocaribe agreement between Venezuela and Haiti and many of the Caribbean countries ended because Venezuela had entered into a political and an economic crisis that in large part was spurred by sanctions–this has been written by the Center for Economic and Policy Research–sanctions that were imposed by the United States on Venezuela. That has cost in terms of human costs; in terms of everyday cost of living.

And what has happened since the end of that agreement is there has been a significant oil and gas shortage that has pushed people to the brink. If you understand the economy of Haiti, many people depend on oil for everyday living for their everyday livelihood. And the imposition of sanctions that caused the production volume in Venezuela to plummet, it has affected Haiti in an indirect and a direct way in that Venezuela is no longer able to supply oil and gas to heat. That has resulted in not only shortages but a corruption standard as a result of the Petrocaribe agreement in which President Jovenel Moise is implicated. And the government and Haitians now owe upwards of $2 billion to Venezuela as a result.

Many of the development programs–social development programs, agriculture programs–no one can actually see the results of that. So there’s a connection between what has happened in Venezuela with respect to what the United States has imposed on Venezuela and the sort of proxy war-type engagement that’s happening at present, as well as Haiti has felt the backlash of that. And that has also resulted in part by whatever backroom deals that have happened between the Haitian government and the United States; and Haiti supporting the United States and the Organization of American States in imposing more sanctions on Venezuela, as well as also approving what would be a sort of coup perhaps in Venezuela as a result.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That that is an amazingly deep and complex history. Just the turn of event tied to just this new colonialism of Latin American and Caribbean countries. But you also bring up neoliberalism. How is what’s going on in Haiti or result of neoliberalism and climate injustice?

KESTON PERRY: Sure. So the issue around neoliberalism has, since I think the last two or three decades… It started back in the Clinton era when Bill Clinton was President of the United States and continued on to George Bush and the current President of the United States. Where Haiti he has been influenced in order to–for instance, back in the days of Clinton, they were prevented from exporting some of their product without changing some of their policies that would have been favorable for multinationals entering Haiti, U.S. multinationals in particular.

And the government as a result of that, in order to get resources and get revenue in order to meet some of the basic rules, had to improve some of these policies that have since increased the debt to billions of dollars presently as well as over the past year or so. As a result, the Venezuelan program was at a 1% interest rate and Haiti had 25 years in which to pay for oil supplies. What has happened since is that there have been U.S. multinationals that have come in and are now supplying oil and gas to Haiti. And they are giving Haiti a matter of a few weeks, and in some cases are actually withholding gas and oil supplies to the country without an exchange of being paid hundreds of millions of dollars which the Haitians do not have.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Wow. So, in the last two minutes that we have left, how is what’s going on in Haiti, a response to or a reflection of climate injustice and what does Haiti need from us?

KESTON PERRY: I think the issue around climate injustice, this is what my work in Haiti has centered around. And I’ve got some feedback from some journalists saying that it does not seem to be the case. But the Haitian situation and the overall environmental degradation that has happened in Haiti–on account of exploitation of its natural resources on account of Haitians having to sell large amounts of its wood stock and the large amounts of forest products and so on to the international community in order to get resources and so on–has resulted in Haiti’s environmental degradation.

The inability of the Haitian government to utilize its natural resources to meet the needs of people, as well as more or less what you would call crowding out–I guess an economic crowding out–of domestic resources, be it food products from the United States, be it other types of products that come from abroad which Haiti itself has the capacity to produce itself in terms of agriculture, in terms of food. But it has been so degraded–the country’s topography, the country’s landscape and its natural resources–that it’s unable to actually exploit those resources or even are utilize them in a sustainable manner to be able to meet the country’s needs. The climate crisis surrounds the issue around the increase in greenhouse gas emissions for which the United States is mostly responsible.

And as a result of that developing, lower income countries like Haiti have had to commit to reducing about 31% of our greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to less than 0.01% of greenhouse gas emissions. And as a result, the international community has itself to ensure that a country like Haiti does not necessarily contribute to the greenhouse gas emission. Then Haiti has to import policies, more or less, and introduce policies that reduce its ability to really meet the development needs, more or less.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So in all of this, what does Haiti need from the rest of the world to relieve this situation?

KESTON PERRY: I think Haiti needs the support of the international community. And not in the traditional sense, but in terms of solidarity with Haitians, recognizing their agency. Haitians are extremely smart; they are extremely resilient. They have a lot of ideas and they know how to solve their problem, in a sense. They know how to resolve their one problem. What they do need is the support of a transnational movement of people seeing what the United States is doing, what other foreign powers are doing in Haiti. I mean, it’s unjust and it cannot solve the ongoing problems there. I think the United States is to a large extent seizing opportunities; many transnational populations see opportunities in some of Haiti’s resources in terms of mineral and so on.

What we do need to do is stand with the people of Haiti; recognize that they want a change in government, and they need to set up whatever institution that they want to lead to a transition. Many Haitians have been talking about a transition, a democratic transition mechanism that would see people coming together to have new elections and so on. And we need to listen to some of those ideas and bring them on board to listen. and have their voices heard while we support them in whatever of resources that they might need–without strings attached, if I may add.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes, you absolutely may add–and I do appreciate that you added “without strings attached.” So Keston Perry, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this issue in Haiti that has been so terribly overlooked by much of the media. I absolutely appreciate your time today.

KESTON PERRY: Thank you very much.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.

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