Background on Current Protest Movement:
Haiti’s long struggle for democracy and justice is undergoing a particularly difficult period. The chronic challenges of underdevelopment, weak rule of law and foreign interference are aggravated by a kleptocratic and increasingly authoritarian rule. Government corruption has increased steadily over the past eight years—many observers claim corruption is worse now than it was under the Duvalier dictatorship—and as citizens have increased their protests the government has increased its repression of dissent.
The immediate cause of the unrest that erupted July 6 was the implementation of drastic fuel price increases required by an International Monetary Fund agreement. But the roots of the crisis lay in a history of government corruption, and recent outrage is due to revelations of up to $3 billion of missing funds from the Petro Caribe fuel assistance from Venezuela. Since then, Haitians have been organizing, spreading information through social media about government corruption and planning peaceful protests. They march against impunity and are demanding the return of the money– money that was to have been used to address the country’s glaring needs: hunger, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and cholera eradication.
Police have deployed increasingly aggressive tactics, including illegal arrests of legal demonstrators and even state-sanctioned massacres carried out as part of a government effort to intimidate its opponents ahead of planned protests. These and countless other human rights violations all contribute to acute civil unrest in Haiti. Corruption has also generated double-digit inflation, severe currency depreciation and sharp cutbacks to government services.
BAI has been fighting the root causes of the current unrest for the 23 years of our existence.
The BAI speaks out about corruption, police violence, and the return of Haiti’s brutal army, and fought for better elections in 2015/16 (with important, but limited success), all of which creates opportunities for Haitians to peacefully organize for a better life and a better government. BAI also freed several protest leaders arrested in demonstrations against the misuse of Petrocaribe funds and took on new clients arrested illegally after the protests of October and November 2018, and still more as a result of the state-sanctioned La Saline massacre in November. This work gets jailed dissidents out of custody and back to work, gives other activists assurance they need to mount their own challenges to undemocratic policies, and deters government misconduct.
The BAI is also working with a broad spectrum of civil society to coordinate strategy on the current protests, and on a path to follow if the government departs. The Bureau’s chief contributions to this effort are to a) help collaborators articulate their grievances in terms of human rights and the rule of law, b) explain the rights of protestors and dissidents, and c) establishing a foundation to ensure that human rights and the rule of law are respected in any new or reformed government.
The protest movement has continued into 2019 with a major multi-day strike that began with the anniversary of the end of the Duvalier dictatorship. A broad spectrum of society, including pro-democracy, business and religious groups, are calling for significant changes to the government, including the President’s resignation. Most observers expect the government to respond with increasing illegal measures. BAI’s work providing support for the popular movement in Haiti is now more critical than ever due to the current period of acute civil unrest in Haiti, within a chronic trend of decreasing space for Haitians to peacefully pressure their government to provide basic services and respect fundamental human rights.
Where Did Haiti’s Aid Go?, interview featuring Sienna Merope-Synge, The Newsmakers, November 2018
If Haiti’s government does not confront poverty, corruption, more unrest will follow, Brian Concannon Jr, Miami Herald, July 17, 2018
Pozisyon Biwo Avoka Entènasyonal yo (BAI) sou konjonkti sosyo-politik peyi a Nòt nimewo 1 pou laprès (Position of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) on the socio-political situation of the country), press release, July 12, 2018
Violent protests in Haiti may mean a humanitarian crisis, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, February 16, 2019
Haitians Want to Know What the Government Has Done with Missing Oil Money, Edwidge Danticat, New Yorker, October 19, 2018.
Thousands protest corruption in Haiti as president calls for unity and patience, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, October 17, 2018.