Grassroots Perspectives on the Escalating Political Situation in Haiti

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Global Research Fellow

In late January 2021, following allegations of an attempted coup against Haiti's current President, Jovenel Moïse, Haitians found themselves in the centre of an intensifying political crisis, exacerbated by the opposition party who disputed the President's term and called for him to step down. In the last few months, this deepening political instability has led to increasing levels of violence exemplified by a rise in kidnappings for ransom, arrests against public servants (including against a Supreme Court judge), and large street protests.

To understand how this unrest is affecting the lives of Haitian people – in particular grassroots leaders working with local communities to create positive change – The Goldin Institute hosted a public webinar on 15th April with Global Fellows Malya Villard Appolon (KOFAVIV) and Daniel Tillias (SAKALA) from Haiti, in which Chicago Peace Fellow Cosette Nazon-Wilburn acted as moderator.

The conversation explored various matters including the impact of the unrest on the communities Daniel and Malya work with, COVID-19 and the lack of vaccine administration in Haiti, what a shift in government power would look like, and how Haitians feel about current Haiti-U.S. relations. The knowledge Malya and Daniel were able to provide gave our audience a very real insight into some of the violations taking place against women, girls, and youth in the country.

Despite being forced to flee Haiti in 2014 for her human rights campaigning, Malya continues her courageous work as an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She spoke of how the political unrest and heightened insecurity has led to a significant rise in sexual violence and abuse against women and girls by criminal gangs:

“The problem of insecurity is a big one for women; a woman can be kidnapped and be violated by 25-30 men [in front of her husband]. What they do is kidnap the woman, force the husband to sell everything he owns to pay the ransom for the woman, they then kill the husband, and they continue to violate the woman. This is the kind of trauma the woman is going to carry with her for the rest of her life.” – Malya Villard Appolon

Malya referred to the case of Olslina Janneus, a 5-year-old girl who was kidnapped and held for ransom for $4,000; her mother, a peanut vendor, could not afford to pay the ransom so days later the girl was strangled to death. The mother herself was also forced into hiding after having spoken about her daughter’s death on the local radio and receiving death threats from the same criminal gang. Malya further spoke of the impact of women’s insecurity on their children; women are unable to run their businesses or engage in livelihood activities (due to security reasons) and thus unable to pay for their children’s school fees. Resultantly, they begin to lose authority over their children who become involved in other activities for survival.

The growing frustrations of youth and young people has increased the work of Daniel Tillias. Daniel, a community development agent working in Cité Soleil (the largest underserved neighborhood in Haiti which is also misrepresented as the most violent community in the country), offers development opportunities to youth residing there. Joining the webinar 30 mins late, Daniel remarked:

“Sorry for not being on time to the webinar [which was] because of the actual unrest. Today in Haiti various groups thought they would go on a peaceful strike because schools and businesses are closed as a sign of solidarity to the Catholic Priests who have been kidnapped this past Sunday, as a way of saying enough is enough. We are overwhelmed with what is going on...it’s a cry of the entire country saying we need something different, we need a better alternative.” - Daniel Tillias

At a time when the international community and allies of Haiti should be addressing the political unrest, and supporting means of peaceful intervention, there has been a growing silence. Cosette Nazon-Wilburn enquired about U.S.-Haiti relations: “One of the things I heard you say, Daniel, is that the citizens of Haiti are yearning for something new. How do Haitians feel about U.S involvement and the U.S connection to the Haitian president”?

“In Haiti we tend to believe that if a President is doing bad and is still in function [in power] then it’s because the U.S is ok with this. And that’s what is going on right now. This has never been so true as now because we like to say Haitians have done all that was in their power to get rid of this government, by protesting in the streets violently, by being in the streets peacefully, by having all the sectors involved in the protest, but still there is one group that still holds this government [in power] which is stronger than all the citizens in there (i.e., the U.S government).” – Daniel Tillias

What would a shift in power look like and what is the solution?

The current situation is complex; due to the nature of the insecurity, mistrust in the election process, and strong ties between the government and military, it is difficult to guarantee that a new government or political campaign can bring about the change and stability needed in Haiti. Malya spoke of this challenge but observed:

“Because of the current ties between the army and government, there is no political campaign that can be held at this moment due to the insecurity. So the solution then is to have an election, to disarm the army, and to work in different sections of the country to establish order for the people.” - Malya Villard Appolon

Daniel acknowledges that the situation in the country is sensitive but rather than an election, which he believes will not work due to the mistrust amongst Haitians, a deal between the various actors is required. Such a deal would consider the various positions and frustrations of the different armed groups (which are dispersed all over the country), who all have certain needs which need to be addressed to ensure long-term and sustainable peace and security in the country.

“We’re witnessing this stuff every day. We see this stuff in the news and watch this on the TV, and then it becomes part of our life in Haiti which is the saddest part...It is enough. It is a complex problem, which requires a complex solution. That’s why we need support from groups like Goldin Institute who called for such webinar to educate people about what’s going on, so people around the world will not forget about Haiti...All the powerful friends of Haiti need to decide how they can contribute to support the Haitians to live a life of dignity, respect, and independence. It’s enough and time to stop this” – Daniel Tillias

If you would like to support the work of Daniel and Malya, either by spreading message of their activities or donating to their programs, please visit the links below:

Daniel Tillias - SAKALA

Malya Villard-Appolon - KOFAVIV

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