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Haiti’s newsreel – Insecurity and Fantom 509

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The climate of insecurity still reigns on the capital, Port-au-Prince over last  weekend and again on Monday, September 14, 2020 when violent demonstrations from a group known as Fantom 509 took to the streets, in an intimidating show of force, causing businesses and schools to close in order not to fall victim to members of the group. Earlier on Sunday, several messages on social media warned parents to keep their children home on Monday to avoid what could be a violent and deadly clash on the streets. The announcements called for the immediate release of Jean Pascal Alexandre, a police officer attached to the bureau of drug traffic control, who has been in jail since May 14, accused of assassination, vandalism, destruction of public property and treason by the Port-au-Prince civil court. On Monday, as has become all too familiar, there were burning tires blocking most streets in the capital, bringing traffic to a halt and other commercial activities as well as vandalism of government vehicles and property. There was also sporadic gunfire heard across the capital and unknown individuals set fire to the national ID card office, l’Office national d’identification, in Delmas, north of the capital.

The Monday demonstrations did not catch residents by surprise, because of the ample warning on social media, unlike the one on Saturday, when police suddenly descended on the streets to call for the liberation of five (5) of their colleagues from the l’Unité départementale de maintien d’ordre (UDMO), who were detained a day earlier, on September 11, 2020 on orders of the civil tribunal in Port-au-Prince, for failure to secure and protect the home of the assassinated jurist Monferrier Dorval on August 28, 2020. The action of the protesting police has rattled a people already on edge with the increasingly dangerous violence emanating from all over the country. People, especially transportation workers had to change routes to avoid the protester who wasted no time on destroying property until their colleagues were released by the Jouthe government. Though the five officers have since been released, there are signs that additional demonstrations are in the works and no one knows the form it will take. The Jouthe government is not able to control the dire conditions of violence in the country, there is the perception that the government either prefers anarchy or has no clue on how to guide the nation. No wonder, there were demonstrators on motorcycles, with hoods on, calling for the government and the entire tèt kale party apparatus to vacate the presidential palace.

Karl Henry Périclès, head of an organization of ex-police officers and friends of the police stated during a recent radio broadcast that the actions of the police in recent days is predictable given the years of frustration within the order. While condemning the acts of vandalism and destruction of state property, he noted that the fault lies with the Inspector General who delivered the 5 officers to the judiciary. The charges should have been administrative negligence and the Inspector should have waited until the investigation into the death of the jurist was completed before imprisonment of the officers. While calling on his fellow officers to recognize their oath to serve and protect, Mr. Périclès called on the country’s leadership to work hard to regain the trust of the police force, by not exposing officers to be judgment of the courts before investigations are completed.

Elsewhere on the economy, Camille Chalmers calls for an automatic realignment of prices relative to the appreciating gourde, against the US dollar, during an online press conference on Monday. He warned that we must not accept any pretext of stock of goods to be exhausted before lowering prices, an argument usually put forward by traders, during this period of rapid appreciation when the gourde appreciated from 121 gourdes to 89 gourdes (to the dollar) within the past two weeks. He noted that during the period when the gourde depreciated rapidly, the price of some goods went up 400% while the gourde never lost 400% of its value. While the increase in price was not proportional to the depreciation of the gourde, most prices remain the same or changed little in the face of current appreciation of the gourde. The appreciation, he noted is a beginning of a new and important trend that could rein in inflation and also make an impact on the economy, by first reducing prices of commodities, an activity that could be difficult in a country like Haiti where those in the import/export business make a fortune on imported goods. With volatility in the currency market a threat, the government must take measures regarding pricing, capital transfer and productive investments. However, the government must adopt different economic policies to take advantage of this appreciation of the currency and put in place measures to address any volatility likely to come up, by regulating those responsible for imports and price setting.

Meanwhile in Florida, members of the Haitian American community expressed their displeasure at Kamala Harris, the running mate of the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. In an article in the Miami Herald, the VP candidate during her first visit to Miami, courted Venezuelan, African American, and Jewish voters but scarcely any Haitian American representation was noticeable during her live-streamed forum held at Florida Memorial University. This presumably absence has been translated to being slighted, a feeling the community harbors against the Democratic Party.

Lastly, Naomi Osaka, the Haitian-Japanese tennis player, won her third Grand Slam title on Saturday at the US Open, beating Byelorussian star Victoria Azarenka to win her second US Open title. The rising star used her platform to draw attention to racial injustice in the US, by wearing a different mask for each match, bearing the name of a black victim of institutional violence. Since August 31, Osaka wore a mask with Breonna Taylor’s name on it, and the subsequent matches carry each the names, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and the final one, Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Cleveland boy shot and killed by a white police officer in 2014. What is even more remarkable is that Osaka with her activism won the title in a stadium named after Arthur Ashe, a pioneer and activist who was the first black man to win at Wimbledon. Another first is the first American to play for Barcelona’s senior team is of Haitian heritage. Konrad de la Fuente, 19, who played for the US Youth team is a winger has trained with the senior team after becoming a fixture with the B team. He took part in a friendly against Gimnàstic de Tarragona, which the Blaugrana won 3-1.

Dela Harlley

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