In the fray

The presidential assassination, the earthquake and the struggle to somehow counter the disaster – Interview with Pierre Esperance.

Pierre Esperance is hard to get a hold of. The human rights activist – one of medico’s political partners whom I have known for many years - has been in a permanent political and personal state of emergency since February. Together with other activists from the Haitian civil society, he has proven that the unilateral extension of the term of office of the since assassinated president, Jovenel Moïse, was not legitimate. Pierre tirelessly tried to leverage his contacts to bring about a change in international policy. But the latter, under the leadership of the US, continued to back Moïse, knowing that he armed gangs and used them against unwelcome opposition. Including Pierre Esperance. He has received multiple serious death threats. He has taken his family out of the country. During our Skype conversation, he is sitting in his office, the room that gang members burst into in this spring, weapons brandished to back up the threats. When I ask him about his situation, he shrugs it off and asks about my personal life. During our conversation his phone rings off the hook and staff rushes into his office. What is protecting him at the moment is probably the fact that those who threatened him are now interested in getting to the bottom of the presidential assassination.

medico: The human rights network RNDDH has just released a detailed report on the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. What are your main findings?

Pierre Esperance: It was very difficult to write this report. The suspects are from multiple countries, Venezuela, Colombia, US, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Some Colombians who came to Haiti for the assassination were in contact with Haitian authorities our findings show. There were 23 police officers at the president’s house who were supposed to protect him. There were also two police units patrolling the immediate vicinity of the presidential residence. Yet when the assassins came, there was no resistance. That is why the subheading of our report is “How Jovenel Moïse was offered up to his killers”. To our knowledge, Moïse had not left his residence for two weeks already. On multiple occasions the presidential convoy drove without him in it. There were warnings of a potential assassination, be it on the way to the National Palace or at his place of work. Assassinating him at home was apparently plan C. There was a phone call by one of the assassins, testified to have taken place, during which he describes Moïse in detail to the person he is phoning to make sure this person kills the right man. In light of this, the failure by the interior and justice ministers to protect the president should have been reason enough for them to resign.

What does the Core Group, Haiti’s foreign donors, which includes the US, EU and Germany, have to say about these allegations?

The Core Group’s stance is totally incomprehensible to us. Thanks to them there is a new government with the same old faces. The Core Group decided who will be interim president; it could equally have demanded the resignation of the two ministers. Furthermore, our research shows that there was telephone contact between one of those arrested and the highest echelons of the government apparatus. Evidently, the assassins had connections to the government.

What was the Haitian people’s response to the assassination?

The assassination of Jovenel Moïse was a shock for us. Even though Moïse was not popular and most active people clearly rejected him, no one expected anyone could kill him. We are deeply affected by this event, because for my generation an act of this kind was totally inconceivable. This makes the behaviour of the Core Group all the more unfathomable to us. It continues to support the people who supplied the gangs with weapons and who are responsible for the failure to protect the president. And yet it is consistent with how the Core Group has behaved since Moïse took office in 2017. Since then, the human rights situation in Haiti has deteriorated catastrophically. The lack of security is huge. Spectacular assassinations of key public figures have been the order of the day. Kidnapping for ransoms is commonplace, as are collective rapes of women. We are witnessing a gangsterisation of the entire state and structures of the country: This is the result of the governments of Martelly and his successor Moïse and their ruling party PHTK, which is still in power to this day. 12 of the 17 cabinet members are members of this party. The other five are long-standing allies. For years, this party has dismantled our democratic institutions and had political opponents assassinated. Yet the Biden administration continues to believe it is the right group to “stabilise” Haiti.

What exactly do you mean by gangsterisation?

We have no legal certainty in Haiti. Since 2018, there have been 13 massacres. These massacres were carried out by gangs that were supported by the Jovenel government with arms and ammunition. It is not acceptable that these people who helped gangs gain power and weapons are still in government.

Just to be sure: Are you of the opinion that the Core Group is willing to accept that those behind the assassination are possibly part of the new government?

Yes. That is correct. It is unbelievable.

The Core Group is pushing for elections. When will they be held?

Not this year anymore, as the Core Group originally planned. At least they have realised that. Civil society has therefore just concluded a new pact to organise fair elections, which has not been the case in recent years. We had turnouts of 20 to 25 per cent, and the last two presidents were elected by a few hundred thousand votes. We have a governance problem in Haiti. There was no constitutional solution following the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. Because the last months of Moïse’s reign were already unconstitutional. He should have resigned in February. Instead, he ruled without parliament by decree only and with the support of the gangs and the Core Group. The latter, under the leadership of the Biden administration, also decided who would take over the government and the interim presidency. If there is no legitimate president, the president of the Supreme Court should have taken charge of government. That is what the Constitution says.

Does civil society have an alternative to offer?

Since January of this year, 360 Haitian organisations, including Protestant and Episcopal churches, have joined forces. We have formed a “Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis”. 13 universally respected Haitians have been tasked with reaching a political agreement on the formation of a transitional government to lead in the potential transition. An agreement was drafted on what a transparent and inclusive process could look like to appoint a transitional president and a prime minister and cabinet - without elections. The Commission has received the support of all the political parties, churches, the private sector and civil society in this. The main tasks of this transitional government would be to reorganise the electoral system, including the electoral register, to strengthen the police to ensure respect for the law, and to develop the judicial system to prosecute violations of human rights and of the constitution. Impunity is a core problem in Haiti. Everyone is part of this process - except the ruling party, the gangs and the international community, including the United States. But that will not stop us from seeking global support for this project.

What is the situation in the areas in the south following the recent earthquakes?

Awful. The Haitian government is incapable of coordination. Like after the 2010 earthquake, foreign aid organisations arrive with their own agenda. Privatisation in Haiti means the authorities cannot organise even the simplest things. The international NGOs bring first aid, but they do not work with Haitian actors on the ground. Instead, they cooperate with the gangs, because the gangs control access to the affected people. There are actually supposed to be three phases to humanitarian aid: acute emergency aid, rehabilitation and reconstruction. But the latter cannot go ahead without local partners. So it won’t happen. No lessons have been learned from the mistakes of 2010.

Interview: Katja Maurer
Translation: Rajosvah Mamisoa

medico has been working in Haiti since 2010. The human rights network RNDDH is one of its closest partners, not just in the development of projects, but also in political cooperation. The network and other medico partners, including the social science organisation Cresfed, whose important work area is right in the epicentre of the earthquake, provide emergency aid through donations.

Published: 20. September 2021

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