By Sam Bojarski
As thousands of Haitians worldwide hit the streets on the 34th anniversary of Haiti’s constitution, some Haitian-Americans in the New York area and their supporters took to the United Nations offices in Manhattan.
Natalie Turner, born in the United States to Haitian parents, heard about the March 29 protest on the radio and traveled downtown from her home in The Bronx.
“This is about letting the United Nations be aware that Haitians living outside Haiti, in the diaspora, we’re not satisfied with how they’re supporting the president of Haiti,” Turner said. “They’re backing him despite the fact that he’s failed [his] country.”
Turner was one of more than 50 protesters that stood at the corner of 45th Street and First Avenue, holding signs with slogans like, “No More U.S. Dictate in Haiti” and “Stand up for Haiti.” Multiple speakers led the raucous crowd in chants, as protesters decried the “shame” of the international community’s support for President Jovenel Moïse.
The UN has echoed calls from the U.S. State Department for elections this year in Haiti and controls a $20 million fund that will provide operational and logistical support for those elections, starting with a June 27 constitutional referendum organized by Moïse. But the widespread gang violence, which human rights groups have linked to Moïse and his Tet Kale political party, is one of the major reasons why protesters and some diaspora leaders say it is ill-advised to vote on a new constitution this year.
Haiti’s current constitution became effective in 1987, one year after dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled to exile in France amid mass protest. The document includes democratic guarantees like freedom of the press, universal suffrage and the role of parliament in selecting a prime minister.
The wide-ranging provisions in Haiti’s proposed constitution include the right of a president to seek two consecutive terms, a chance for diaspora members to seek public office and an expansion of the president’s role in selecting a prime minister.
In Haiti, protesters took to the streets on March 28-29, denouncing the undemocratic nature of the proposed constitutional changes by Moïse, who has been ruling the country by executive decree since January 2020.
A Haitian-led international coalition called Leve Kanpe Pou Ayiti, or Stand Up for Haiti, organized protests throughout the diaspora, dubbing March 29 as “International Day of Solidarity With Haiti.” The group partnered with local organizations based in numerous cities, including Miami, Montreal, Santo Domingo, Atlanta and Boston.
The Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti, which goes by the Creole acronym KOMOKODA, has held protests at the UN headquarters in Manhattan for years. KOMOKODA coordinated with Leve Kanpe and with over a dozen local political and nonprofit groups to organize the March 29 protest, said Dahoud Andre, the coalition’s spokesperson.
The protesters who met at the corner of 45th Street and First Avenue showed up bearing Haitian flags. The pounding of drumbeats punctuated chants like “Jovenel must go,” as protesters demanded new political leadership, free of outside influence.
“We’re not asking them to do anything for us,” Andre said, of the U.S. and UN. “We fought by ourselves to win independence.”
Both international powers, the latter of which was denounced by protesters as a U.S. proxy, have their knees “on the neck of Haiti,” said Andre, of Brooklyn.
Calls for a stronger democracy
Some in the diaspora have expressed hope that the Joe Biden administration can play a role in strengthening Haitian democracy. For instance, the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON), penned a letter to the State Department last month, calling on the U.S. to broker a peaceful transition, in advance of Feb. 7.
Since then, the U.S. State Department has gone against the position of Haitian civil society and the judicial sector, saying Moïse’s term ends in February 2022, instead of this year. The State Department has also called for legislative and presidential elections this year.
While Andre said a transitional government might be necessary if Moïse happens to step aside, it is solely up to the Haitian people to determine what that looks like.
“We’re saying this is not to be determined by the foreign powers, the Core Group, the United States, the UN, but the Haitian people,” Andre said.
Haitians and non-Haitians alike attended the protest in Manhattan. Among the groups represented were Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project, the Green Party of New Jersey and CODEPINK.
Phil Wynter, who is Black, decided to stand in solidarity with Haitians, after learning about the March 29 protest online. He said Moïse’s actions resemble those of a dictator and that the U.S. should pull back its support.
While the president has explicitly denied the dictator comparisons and emphasized his commitment to democracy, protesters in Haiti have denounced authoritarian moves like the dismissal this year of three Supreme Court justices and the creation of a new intelligence force in late 2020.
Residents of the U.S., with its considerable foreign policy influence, have the power to shape the destiny of countries like Haiti if they speak out, Wynter said.
“The United States is the one that’s responsible for [Moïse’s] power,” said Wynter. “We should at least be letting our leaders know that this isn’t what we’re about.”
Sam Bojarski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.