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Global crisis accentuates Haiti's problems amid institutional collapse

Burning tyres in protest actions in Haiti in February 2019 [VoA, Wikipedia].

With no parliament and a president with a one-year extension, the country complicates the road to recovery.

The global economic and health crisis has affected all countries, but in Haiti the impasse at status has also aggravated a long-standing political crisis. With a president who has refused to leave position and renew parliament, and who has called a constitutional referendum to give himself more power, Haiti finds itself in a destructive spiral from which the international financial aid is unable to extricate it. The neighbouring Dominican Republic has announced the construction of a border fence to control entrance of Haitians.

article / Christian Santana

The coronavirus pandemic has aggravated Haiti's already difficult economic situation status and has also contributed to accentuating the institutional collapse that the country has been experiencing for the last five years, as it has somehow sheltered the exceptional occurrence of electoral postponements. agreement In terms of health, subject the impact of Covid-19 has not been particularly high, at least according to official figures (14,258 people affected and 307 deaths by the end of May 2021, well below the figures for the neighbouring Dominican Republic: 291,910 and 3,628, respectively), although the deficient national health system may suggest a higher incidence: in fact, Haiti is the last American country to begin vaccinating its inhabitants.

In a country with inherently low economic activity, where GDP declines are common, the global downturn in 2020 was understandably modest, while the recovery in 2021 is barely perceptible. Haiti's GDP fell by 3.7% in 2020 and will grow by only 1% in 2021, according to IMF estimates. The economic damage and its social consequences can be seen especially in the inflation rate, which last year was close to 23% and this year will remain above 22%. Moreover, in just two years, Haiti's public debt increased by almost ten points, from 38.3% of GDP in 2017 to 47% in 2019.

As early as April 2020, when the global recession began, the IMF warned of the damage being done by political paralysis. "Due to popular frustration with high levels of corruption and inequality, Haiti has been experiencing a prolonged political crisis and social unrest that has at times paralysed most of the country's economic activity," said report, and stated that "absent sustained implementation of good policies and comprehensive reforms, the outlook remains bleak".

In the following months the pandemic has worsened Haiti's already weak economic outlook. An expected sharp drop in remittance flows, reduced textile exports and falling foreign direct investment will put significant pressure on the balance of payments. Additional social and health expenditures, together with a further fall in tax revenues, will increase the fiscal deficit and financing needs. To address this emergency, the IMF approved in April 2020 the disbursement of USD 111.6 million. The amount was intended to alleviate the impact of the crisis on the population, such as paying the salaries of some teachers and workers, providing cash transfers and food rations to households, and providing subsidies to the transport and sanitation sectors.

goal At the beginning of 2021, the Haitian government introduced a post-Covid-19 (Precop) economic recovery plan, with the aim of achieving an average of 3% growth over the next three years, a gradual reduction of inflation to 10% and the creation of 50,000 jobs. According to the Haitian government, in 2020 the incomes of 95 per cent of households fell sharply and unemployment rose by 10 per cent.

Political deadlock

In any case, Haiti lacks the political stability required for a rigorous implementation of the recovery plan. Since the first round of the 2015 presidential elections, the country has experienced its last long period of instability. Allegations of irregularities delayed the second round until November 2016. The victory went to Jovenel Moïse, with 55.6% of the vote and a very high turnout leave . Moïse was sworn in in February 2017, a year later than would have been normal had the two rounds not been so far apart. 

The committee High Court of Justice ruled in early 2021 that the five-year term was due to expire on 7 February, but Moïse has remained at position, amid violent protests, claiming that his term actually ends on 7 February 2022. Although the judges appointed an interim president, Moïse has continued to rule, removing politicians and magistrates who have questioned his authority and whom he accuses of orchestrating a coup d'état (23 people were arrested in connection with the coup). He has the support of the armed forces, an institution he himself created anew in 2017 after two decades of being disbanded by Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Moreover, Moïse has postponed legislative elections that should have been held in October 2019, so that since January 2020, when the parliament that was to be elected was to be constituted, he has been governing by decree. He now promises legislative and presidential elections for September and November 2021, but first he wants to proceed with a constitutional reform that should give him more power. A constitutional referendum has been called for 27 June to revalidate a new constitution drafted by a five-person commission, all of them appointed by Moïse. The new text envisages eliminating the Senate, making the system unicameral, and shielding former presidents from prosecution for corruption or other crimes. The 1987 constitution prohibits constitutional amendments by referendum, but Moïse argues that his initiative is not an amendment but a new constitution.

The international community has reacted to the violence and corruption in Haiti, but has failed to turn the tide status. The UN has complained about impunity and the US has applied sanctions against leaders who have violated human rights. However, these bodies have had to come to terms with the reality of Moïse's permanence in power and have gone on to demand that he keep to the announced electoral timetable, as has the Biden Administration and the European Union (although they reject constitutional change).

Relationship with the Dominican Republic

The conditions under which the pandemic has unfolded around the world have given the Dominican Republic the opportunity to propose a border with Haiti that can be hermetically sealed when appropriate and that would provide a greater obstacle to smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. In his last report to congress on 27 February this year, Dominican President Luis Abinader announced the construction of a fence along the 400-kilometre line separating the two countries on the island of Hispaniola. A dividing line that will combine physical and technological means and which will include "a double perimeter fence in the most conflictive sections and a single fence in the rest, as well as movement sensors, facial recognition cameras, radars and infrared ray systems". By May, 23 kilometres of fence had already been built, with a height of four metres and crowned with hawthorns.

Abinader, of the centre-left, compensated for this hardline policy by promising to give identity documents to Haitians living in the Dominican Republic (an estimated 500,000, or 5 per cent of the Dominican census, although the figure is probably higher). He also announced the concession to Haiti of various types of financial aid, such as the supply of surplus Dominican electricity and the contribution to the construction of hospitals, for use as maternity wards and with international funding, on the Haitian side of the border. Precisely the temporary migration of Haitian women to the Dominican Republic in order to give birth there under the public health system, in many cases despite their illegal status, is one of the most common arguments in the national discussion on migration from Haiti.

The Dominican Republic was hit at the start of the pandemic by a decline in exports and then by a halt in tourism, but this 2021 is seeing a rapid recovery, with total year growth estimated at 6.2% (after a 6.7% drop in 2020), a figure that is close to the growth of up to 7% it has experienced in recent years.

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