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When Democracy Fails, Bad Things Happen: Haiti in Crisis

When Democracy Fails, Bad Things Happen: Haiti in Crisis

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Amb. Curtis A. Ward

(07 July 2021) — It pains me to repeat this premise, supported by historic precedents, that in countries lacking democratic ideals and practices, where there are no viable democratic institutions, where autocratic leaders govern with impunity, it is only a matter of time before such countries implode. But violence is never the answer. Violence only begets more violence. It is the hard truth. History repeats itself and the suffering of the people continues.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Möise and injuring his wife, First Lady Martine Möise, are abhorrent acts which have no support in modern society. This must be condemned, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. However, this raises other questions. With a chaotic environment and arguably a corrupt judicial system, is justice possible in Haiti? If nothing else, past practices suggest not.

Former Haitian President Jovenel Möise

It further pains me to recognize the fact that CARICOM, the OAS, and the United Nations have repeatedly failed the Haitian people in helping them to establish a system of governance worthy of a modern democratic society. There is no real accountability for any political leader deviating from democratic norms and abusing the powers of office to suppress basic freedoms. Möise has governed Haiti by decree for over a year without an elected parliament. He was accountable to no one.

To begin with, CARICOM, an organization made up of mostly democratic governments, has time and again, proven its uselessness in helping Haiti resolve its issues. I have warned in the past that CARICOM leaders should not ignore creeping autocratic trends in the region, including among traditional democratic member states. CARICOM leaders have been absent from this discussion.

The OAS, reduced to a feckless regional organization during its dominance and manipulation by the Trump administration, has become a moribund organization and a mere shadow of its mission and purpose.  The OAS lacks credibility on hemispheric affairs.

The President of Haiti was one of Trump’s hapless sycophants in the OAS. He was rewarded with increased US assistance and inclusion in the Mar-a-Lago five. Can the region look to the OAS to play a meaningful role in Haiti? This is rather doubtful. Interestingly, one of Trump administration’s most ardent critics in the OAS, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, now leads CARICOM. Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne assumed chairmanship of CARICOM at the beginning of July. Can CARICOM leaders expect any meaningful action in and by the OAS? That will more likely prove a waste of time. Can the US act through the OAS? We will see.

Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda

The United Nations, despite many attempts at dealing with the “Haitian crisis” which never seems to end, has never been able to satisfactorily fulfill its mandates in Haiti. The UN generally overstays its welcome in Haiti before being able to build the institutional underpinnings of a viable democratic state. Sometimes it is the UN’s fault, but it is often due to the lack of patience of the Haitian people who expect quick fixes to century old problems. The truth is no organization can impose on the Haitian people any form of democratic governance without their support. A proud and resilient people, the Haitians generally believe if left alone they can solve their own problems. Haitians believe they should dictate the terms of outside assistance. I have my doubts there is any winning formula.

The UN Security Council will no doubt take up the situation in Haiti. CARICOM member state, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is a current member. Will CARICOM seek to influence decisions in the Security Council on Haiti? There is extraordinarily little on which to place much hope. In the year and a half of SVG’s tenure in the Council, CARICOM’s voice has featured only marginally. I fully understand the limitations of non-permanent SC members, but if managed effectively, there are significant opportunities for influence.

Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Among the many problems facing Haiti is the constant drumbeat of corruption. Successive US governments have paid lip service to this problem. The perpetual state of humanitarian crisis in Haiti, created by natural and man-made disasters, tend to create an environment in which corrupt Haitian leaders are easily manipulated to serve Washington’s purposes. Instead of condemning and punishing, they are rewarded for their blind support of the American government, particularly on hemispheric issues in the OAS. Despite repeated calls by members of the US Congress with a history of support of the Haitian people for accountability of President Möise’s government, the Trump administration, rewarded Möise with increased US support to keep him entrenched as leader of Haiti.

The Biden administration preoccupied with other “urgent” global issues has continued Trump’s support for Haiti. One could argue maintaining the status quo pending a new Haitian policy is partially due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti and such support helps the Haitian people. Thus far, the Biden administration has failed to articulate a comprehensive hemispheric policy including a specific policy on Haiti. This new crisis in Haiti will elicit an ad hoc response from the Biden Administration but it will not be good enough. A comprehensive policy on Haiti is needed and the people of Haiti cannot wait in perpetuity.

The Haitian president’s assassination should be a wake-up call for Caribbean leaders to re-examine CARICOM’s role in the region. They will condemn this heinous act but mere statements of condemnation of Moise’s assassination are not enough. Caribbean leaders will feign surprise and say such acts have no place in the Caribbean. They will not say anything about the dangers of creeping autocratic rule in the region, the lack of democracy and rule of law, and corrupt governance on the future of Caribbean states. There will be no self-evaluation because they all believe it could not happen to them.

© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance. He is a geopolitical and international security analyst, and a human rights, democracy, and anticorruption advocate.


  • Haiti is indeed going through an unprecedented crisis as the international community, rather than listen to the population, is bent on imposing its own views through different means of pressure. While it does not miss any opportunity to blast countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela or Cuba, it let the late President Moïse roam free, obliterating the basic elements of constitutional governance. All sectors in Haiti had been requesting his resignation, but absolutely no one advocated the kind of violence that led to his death. This is very sad and tragic. But it is equally sad that not too many tears are being shed for him. This is a vivid testimony of the legacy he has left: bad governance, corruption, massacres perpetrated by gangs he helped federate under the name : ” Fédération G9, familles et alliés”, only 10 elected officials for a population of 11 million; failure to organize legislative elections to replenish the Senate and the Lower Chamber; not a single elected mayor in the country; destruction of constitutional institutions; an economy in shambles; a catastrophic management of the covid pandemic and much more. It would be too long here to describe the disaster Jovenel Moïse left behind, as he tried to establish a full-fledged dictatorship in Haiti. And we are not quite out of danger yet. because, just like Trump, what he left behind lingers. Yet, no one wishes a life should be ended that way. This is the height of insecurity!

    Finally, I would like to correct one thing in this otherwise very accurate and thoughtful analysis. Mrs Moïse was also shot, but she is alive and right now is being taken care of in Miami. It seems that her life is not in danger. It had first been reported in the news in Haiti that she had died, but the information was not correct.

    • Serge, thanks for your very comprehensive comment. You have quite rightly pointed out many of the problems with late Moise regime. (Note: I had been misled by an earlier report about Mar. Moise’s death. I have since corrected the information on Mrs. Moise and wish her a speedy recovery from her injuries.)

  • Haiti has been a land of turmoil and tragedies from the time of the French colonization. Its history has been one of dictators, corruption, and poverty. All of these things plus more have made it difficult for Haiti to make progress. Unfortunately, those who become political leaders take advantage of the people to enrich themselves rather than making the country better. This is a tragedy also and it creates serious conflicts and consequences for those who do not learn the lessons of history.

  • Thanks for sharing this objective assessment of the situation in Haiti . Your illustrations reveal skepticism for meaningful engagements by OAS, USA , the UN and even CARICOM to resolve the critical problems of pervasive corruption and lack of adherence to the rule and governance that have chronically afflicted Haiti . That the stumbling block to democracy has been pampered by support for autocratic Haitian leadership especially by US, is a compounding factor that supports the skepticism you express . The answer is: do be throw our hands up in despair? or as part of the family CARICOM needs once again try to establish a formula for Haiti’s redemption?. Serious discussion followed by action is required. In his recent column in the Guyana Stabroek News H.E Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador to the USA and Permanent Representative to OAS refers to the CARICOM as the most credible interlocutor in this Haitian crisis acceptable to the Haitian people. How therefore can CARICOM leadership currently led by Antigua and Barbuda fashion a course of action that connects with the “will” of the Haitian people to salvage that countries more rapid descent “beyond a failed state” . I agree . It is a moral obligation for CARICOM to find a formula for the redemption its prodigal family member and for CARICOM itself

    • Dr. Greene,
      Thanks for your most valuable comments. I agree CARICOM is the best option for Haiti intervention in terms of mediation to arrive at an interim unity government. CARICOM can also be instrumental in rebuilding democratic and rule of law institutions which currently do not exist in Haiti. Such institutions have not been present in Haiti for decades. It all depends on the Haitian people to open the door. CARICOM’s participation should receive financial and other support from other countries and CARICOM should engage with members of the Caribbean diaspora to assist in any such endeavor. I have been making the foregoing arguments in my several appearances on Caribbean radio and television programs in the past several days.

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