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18.11.2019 Europe

Months of protest bring Haiti's president to the table

By - RFI
NOV 18, 2019 EUROPE

Haiti's President Jovenel Moise says he has begun closed-door talks with civil society groups and the private sector, as well as moderate elements of the opposition, in a bid to break a political deadlock and an unfolding humanitarian crisis sparked by two months of anti-government demonstrations.

In an interview with Reuters at the weekend, Moise said the negotiations were aimed at creating a government of national unity.

The 51-year-old president, who is facing widespread anger over galloping inflation, rampant insecurity and allegations of corruption, did specify with whom he was talking.

Haiti's leading opposition parties have for months said the time for dialogue is over.

Moise also called for international support to tackle the developing humanitarian crisis, as two months of anti-government demonstrations exacerbate food insecurity in the Americas' poorest nation.

"We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis," Moise said. "We need international support to get through it."

Over 30% of Haitians require food aid
More than one-in-three Haitians need urgent assistance to meet their daily food requirements, meaning nearly 3.7 million people, the UN World Food Programme said earlier this month.

But aid organisations are struggling to provide relief due to protester barricades blocking roads, as well as gang violence and other crime. The WFP has said it is ready to launch air and maritime transport operations but needs to raise $2.9 million to do so.

Moise said his acting government had written to the United States requesting aid last month and the US Agency for International Development agreed to provide 2,000 tonnes of food aid to address urgent needs.

The opposition accuses the US of propping up Moise and ignoring the people.

The catalyst of mass protest
Last August, fuel shortages sparked protests that have transformed into a fierce campaign against Moise that has shuttered businesses and schools and galvanised the political opposition.

Turnout has weakened over the last two weeks but the opposition has called for a nationwide protest on Monday, a bank holiday that commemorates a major battle of Haiti's independence war.

Moise said he started meeting "lots of people" behind closed doors a week and a half ago, rather than continuing to meet in public.

Two of the most prominent opposition leaders, Andre Michel and Moise Jean Charles, as well as the spokesman of the Episcopal Conference Father Loudeger Mazile, told Reuters they were not participating in the conversations and did not know of any significant figure or group that was.

Filling the democratic vacuum
Haiti has not had a government since March as parliament is required to ratify the president's choice of prime minister and the minority opposition has blocked such a vote from taking place.

The opposition accuses Moise's ruling alliance of seeking to replace the previous prime minister because he was too keen on investigating the embezzlement of Venezuelan aid funds that could have sullied its members, including the president himself. Moise denies any wrongdoing.

The lack of a government in turn is preventing Haiti from accessing hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid funds as well as loans from the World Bank, Inter-American Bank and others earmarked for it.

Dictators' legacy
The presidency is weak under Haiti's current constitution as it was written in the wake of the dynastic dictatorships of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

On the economic front, Moise said he hopes to implement stronger mechanisms to avoid tax and customs evasion to reduce the budget deficit. This could in turn help bring down inflation levels which currently stand at around 20 percent.