Haiti inaugurates a new president dogged by money laundering probe, low voter turnout

President Jovenel Moise greets troops during his inauguration ceremony Tuesday in Port-au-Prince..jpg
New President Jovenel Moise greets troops during his inauguration ceremony Tuesday in Port-au-Prince.

By Jake Johnston, Center for Economic & Policy Research (CEPR), Feb. 7, 2017

Jovenel Moïse will be inaugurated as Haiti’s new president today as the country returns to constitutional order after a one-year extra-constitutional period of interim rule due to electoral delays.  Moïse had previously come in first in an October 2015 election, only to have the results thrown out due to fraud. Rerun in November 2016 under the interim government that replaced former president Michel Martelly, the elections had Moïse securing more than 50 percent of the vote, winning in the first round.

But serious questions continue to dog Moïse as he takes office. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reports:

Since his win, Moïse has been on a countrywide tour, celebrating his victory, endorsing candidates for the recently held local elections — and battling money-laundering suspicions.

Moïse has dismissed the suspicions as the work of political opponents. The probe began in 2013 under Martelly’s administration when the anti-financial crimes unit was tipped off about a suspicious bank transaction, the current head of the unit, Sonel Jean-François, has said.

Over the weekend, an investigative judge assigned to the case sent his findings to the government prosecutor, but the judge’s order has not been made public. Government prosecutor Danton Léger has yet to say whether he will dismiss the case, send it back to the judge for further review, or prosecute Moïse.

Should he seek to prosecute Moïse, Haiti could find itself in an even deeper crisis than the one triggered by the annulled October 2015 presidential elections.

In a 7-page letter dated February 6, Leger, the government prosecutor, requested further information on the allegations against Moïse, ensuring it will continue to hang over the new president.

The money laundering allegations, however, are far from the only topic overshadowing Moïse’s inauguration today. A new report on Haiti’s November elections, from international legal observers, has raised questions as to how effective the new administration may be given the historically low turnout. The report’s authors also note that Haiti’s national identity office was hindered by significant problems, affecting the ability of Haitians to vote:

The report notes that despite many improvements in security and electoral administration over the 2015 elections, the 21 percent voter turnout represents the lowest participation rate for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945. “Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.

The report documents how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on November 20, due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.

The report’s authors also note with concern that Moïse could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former president Michel Martelly, who surrounded himself with figures from the Duvalier dictatorship and was criticized by human rights groups for his intimidation of journalists and imprisonment of opposition activists. “With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which published the report with the National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.”

The report points out that the collapse in electoral participation has occurred while the international community has made “massive investments” in Haiti’s electoral apparatus:

A decade of elections marked by violence, vote-rigging, disenfranchisement, and repeated foreign interventions have dashed the high hopes of the post-Duvalier years and bred a deep disillusionment with democracy, according to the report. Paradoxically, falling participation rates have occurred alongside massive investments by the international community in Haiti’s electoral apparatus. Brian Concannon Jr … notes, “the millions spent by the United States and other Core Group countries on democracy promotion programs have produced an electoral system that is weaker, less trusted and more exclusionary than what came before.”

The full report can be read here.

With the election of Donald Trump in the United States, observers have been watching for a change in US policy towards Haiti. The US has been seen as backing Moïse and his predecessor Martelly since Hillary Clinton’s intervention in the 2010-2011 elections led to Martelly’s presidency. Yesterday, however, the Trump administration announced a delegation to Haiti for Moïse’s inauguration consisting of Thomas Shannon, Kenneth Merten and current ambassador Peter Mulrean, three Obama-era State Department holdovers. Also accompanying them was Omarosa Manigault, a communications advisor to Trump and former reality TV star.

In an interview last week, Jovenel Moïse told Reuters that he hoped his shared background with Trump as businessmen would help lead to stronger relations between the two countries. "President Trump and I are entrepreneurs, and all an entrepreneur wants is results," Moïse told Reuters, “and therefore I hope we'll put everything in place to make sure we deliver for our peoples.”

 

Posted on Feb. 8, 2017