Dozens vie to be Haiti’s leader amid power vac­uum

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Dan­ica Coto

PORT- AU- PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s econ­omy is par­a­lyzed. Demon­stra­tors fight po­lice, block roads and loot stores sev­eral times a week. Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moise is avoid­ing pub­lic ap­pear­ances. And dozens of peo­ple from po­lit­i­cal par­ties old and new are vy­ing to be­come the coun­try’s next leader.

Op­po­si­tion l ead­ers range from a wealthy gro­cery-chain owner to a col­lec­tion of vet­eran politi­cians with murky pasts, some with al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and ties to or­ga­nized crime. De­spite uni­fy­ing out­rage at Moise’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment, pro­test­ers say the ab­sence of a charis­matic leader and a clear strat­egy is fu­el­ing chaos and the sense of an un­end­ing cri­sis.

Moise still has more than two years left in his term af­ter tak­ing of­fice in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and says he will not step down de­spite vi­o­lent protests that have shut­tered busi­nesses and kept 2 mil­lion chil­dren from go­ing to school for nearly a month. Nearly 20 peo­ple have died and about 200 were in­jured in protests fu­eled by anger over cor­rup­tion, rising in­fla­tion and scarcity of ba­sic goods in­clud­ing fuel.

With Moise un­yield­ing, the op­po­si­tion dis­or­ga­nized and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity on the side­lines, Haiti likely faces months or even years of dys­func­tion that’s deep enough to cause wide­spread mis­ery and po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic free-fall with­out caus­ing a govern­ment over­throw.

“It’s a com­pletely dys­func­tional coun­try,” said Ben­z­ico Pierre with the Cen­ter for the Pro­mo­tion of Democ­racy and Par­tic­i­pa­tory Ed­u­ca­tion, a Haitian think tank. ”There’s no trust in the in­sti­tu­tions.”

It’s a con­cern that Carl Mu­rat Can­tave, pres­i­dent of Haiti’s Se­nate, ac­knowl­edged in a speech tele­vised Tues­day as he warned that Haiti’s cri­sis is “rot­ting.”

He urged Moise to launch a di­a­logue and said all op­tions should be placed on the ta­ble.

”The coun­try needs a gen­uine re-en­gi­neer­ing so it can move for­ward be­cause ev­ery­one is fail­ing as a leader,” he said.

Hours af­ter Can­tave’s speech, Moise’s of­fice is­sued a state­ment say­ing he has named seven peo­ple charged with lead­ing dis­cus­sions to find a so­lu­tion. Among them is for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Evans Paul, who re­cently told The As­so­ci­ated Press that he be­lieves Moise has sev­eral op­tions, in­clud­ing nom­i­nat­ing an op­po­si­tion­backed prime min­is­ter and short­en­ing his man­date.

On Wed­nes­day, op­po­si­tion fig­ures who are lead­ing the protests re­jected Moise’s state­ment, say­ing the com­mis­sion has no cred­i­bil­ity.

“A head of state who re­spects him­self and who re­spects his peo­ple does not cre­ate, in times of cri­sis, a com­mis­sion of ne­go­ti­a­tion with his ad­vis­ers and his spokes­men. This is not se­ri­ous,” at­tor­ney An­dre Michel told the AP.

Michel was one of 70 can­di­dates who par­tic­i­pated in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of 2015, the same year he had his U.S. visa re­voked for what he says are un­known rea­sons. He is now a mem­ber of an op­po­si­tion coali­tion called the Con­sen­sual Al­ter­na­tive, which is or­ga­niz­ing the protests.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have cre­ated a nine-per­son com­mis­sion they say would be re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing an or­derly tran­si­tion of power and help choose Haiti’s next leader.

The lead­ers also have re­jected any sug­ges­tion of di­a­logue, say­ing they want Moise to step down im­me­di­ately.

CHAN­DAN KHANNA/GETTY-AFP

Haiti has been con­vulsed by wide­spread protests against Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moise.

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