Paulson Pierre Philippe was in Montreal recovering from gunshot wounds when news of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination came in.
Like thousands of other Haitians, Philippe has faced first-hand the violence that has gripped the country. While driving near his Laboule home in the Port-au-Prince suburbs on June 20, Philippe said he was attacked by an armed group, which prompted him to seek medical treatment abroad.
In the wake of the assassination, he urged the Haitian diaspora to consider the humanitarian situation on the ground.
“Those people that left their homes and had to sleep outside for the past weeks or months, especially in the Martissant and Carrefour area, this is a real humanitarian crisis,” said Philippe, a development consultant, referring to refugees of gang violence.
The humanitarian crisis in Haiti makes elections impossible, said Philippe, reacting to the news on July 7 that Haiti’s government planned to hold elections. Some diaspora leaders have voiced concerns about the prospect of holding elections in Haiti this year, emphasizing the diaspora’s crucial role working with political leadership in Haiti and serving as advocates to leaders in the United States.
Speaking in the wake of a United Nations Security Council meeting, the body’s Special Envoy for Haiti Helen La Lime said interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph informed her elections were on track for later this year, and that Joseph would continue acting as Haiti’s president. Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister by Moise, has told local media he rightfully held the prime minister role at the time of the president’s death.
“Stakeholders need to set aside their differences and to chart a common way forward and overcome this difficult moment in a peaceful manner,” La Lime said.
The scheduled Sept. 26 elections will include a constitutional referendum, a move to vote on a new constitution that has drawn protests in Haiti this year.
Formed earlier this year, the Haitian Diaspora Political Action Committee (HDPAC) released a statement condemning the Moise assassination and calling for U.S. authorities to investigate. The group was formed, in part, to advocate for stability in Haiti, its interim board chair Emmanuel Coffy said.
Coffy called the rush for elections “misguided” under current leadership. “We also believe that the diaspora should do its best to contribute to a new beginning for Haiti, providing economic assurance to every citizen and a judiciary system that really allows for justice,” he said.
Pushing for stability in Haiti
The reaction to Moise’s death from U.S. leadership was swift, with President Joe Biden, the State Department and congressional leaders condemning the assassination.
Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Yvette Clarke and Andy Levin, who co-chair the House Haiti Caucus released a statement on July 7 calling the assassination a “horrific act” that calls for decisive action.
“We also call for full transparency and an independent investigation into this criminal act,” the representatives wrote. “We remain committed, more than ever, to working diligently alongside the Biden Administration in support of ushering in an equitable, inclusive Haitian-led democracy.”
Haitians on social media emphasized the crucial role of the diaspora in pushing for stability in Haiti.
We have enough intellectual & financial resources in glbl Haitian diaspora to place Haiti on solid institutional foundations. We need to do the work ourselves! @KJP46 @patrickgaspard @KarlRacineDC @RalphGilles, Step up to the challenge! We can do this & make both #🇭🇹 & USA proud https://t.co/sjSCcQ6TvT— Bb Auguste (@MagnAyiti) July 9, 2021
In a phone interview, HDPAC board member and Haitian Times columnist Bobb Rousseau said Haiti needs justice for Moise’s assassins and an inclusive national dialogue on the country’s political future. Building political power to fight for priorities like foreign aid reform, he said, is a long-term project for the diaspora.
“We need to put votes and money together,” said Rousseau, of San Antonio. “We need to stop sending letters to U.S. Congress and start showing them that we can sway results in Florida and even Georgia.”
Heading off trouble at the pass
To head off a potential power struggle in the immediate term, Haiti Renewal Alliance President Firmin Backer said the diaspora can insist that rule of law and constitutional norms are followed. The succession path, however, is far from clear. Given the Haitian government’s budgetary issues, he said the international community can offer financial assistance to help in the investigation. La Lime has said the UN is ready to offer security and technical assistance to Haiti.
“They should be looking at granting Haiti with some economic relief to assist the government in providing services,” said Backer, who lives in Washington, D.C.
Members of the diaspora in the U.S. have looked to their own Haitian-American elected officials for guidance. In Florida and New York, representatives held press conferences to discuss the aftermath of the assassination.
Given the developing situation, some elected leaders are still looking for more details to emerge, before articulating a position, said Alix Desulme, chair of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) and vice mayor of North Miami. He said NHAEON has formed a committee to review the situation and provide guidance to constituents as events unfold.
In the meantime, elected officials in the diaspora can serve as advocates to federal authorities, Desulme said, citing priorities like halting deportations to Haiti amid political uncertainty.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” said Desulme, noting that demands can change as the situation develops. “I think what we can do right now, and I think that folks are doing it, is to make sure we are getting in touch with members of Congress, the State Department.”
Philippe, the wounded Laboule resident recovering in Montreal, said any advocacy from the diaspora needs to focus on economic conditions in Haiti. The UN has estimated that more than 4 million people in Haiti, out of a total 11 million, do not have access to food on a regular basis.
“They need to advocate, if the international community really wants to help, they need to help people have the basics first ‒ health care, food security,” said Philippe. “You cannot prioritize elections when you have a humanitarian crisis.”