Four Interesting Aspects of Jovenel Moïse’s Speech at the United Nations

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Haitian President Jovenel Moïse speaking at the UN General Assembly’s 73rd opening session on Sep. 27, 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

Every September, heads of state parade to the podium of the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York to proclaim their accomplishments, goals, and vision of the world’s future.

At the opening of the General Assembly’s 73rd Session, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s speech on Sep. 27 contained the usual self-congratulatory assertions. “Since becoming President of the Republic, I have worked tirelessly for the consolidation of the rule of law, the deepening of democratic conquests, and the promotion of human rights, fully convinced of the absolute necessity to modernize the economic, social, and political structure to get the country out of the underdevelopment trap,” he declared. “I’m making every effort to ensure the stability of institutions and to create a secure and stable environment conducive to investment and resuming growth.”

He called his signature project, the corruption-plagued “Caravan of Change” (a sort of traveling political pep rally), “an innovative strategy to put all the resources of the State at the service of the people.”

Such chest-beating is de rigeur for most leaders, as this is usually their most important speech of the year for a world audience.

But there were four elements of Moïse’s speech which were unexpected and noteworthy.

The first was that Moïse made no reference to Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China or ROC), as is customary in a Haitian leader’s UN address, including Jovenel’s last year. Of the UN’s 193 member nations, Haiti is among a mere 16 which recognize the ROC, and only five of those countries have a population of over two million.

Last May, Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, and Burkina Faso abandoned the ROC to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Not coincidentally, Jovenel Moïse was invited to Taiwan for a week-long visit that same month, from May 26 to Jun. 1, to shore up relations.

So it was disquieting for Taiwan to see the Haitian leader not mention it. “Haiti, which had spoken on behalf of Taiwan in the assembly for the past four years, did not mention Taiwan in its address this year,” noted an Oct. 1 article in the Taipei Times. Two other Taiwan allies – Guatemala and Honduras – also made no mention of the ROC, which the PRC calls a “renegade province.”

Such non-mentions often augur a diplomatic break. “[T]he Dominican Republic and El Salvador did not express support for Taiwan in two consecutive general assemblies” before they both severed relations earlier this year, the Taipei Times noted.

Moïse made no reference to Taiwan as is customary in a Haitian leader’s UN address.

China has made in-roads in Africa and Latin America with its worldwide “One Belt, One Road” initiative, offering financing and expertise for development projects. In Haiti, it has proffered $4.7 billion to overhaul greater Port-au-Prince’s infrastructure.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in a Sep. 24 interview with Reuters, called the Chinese challenge to win over Taiwan’s client states a “quandary” for the region, but one which provides“an opportunity for all.”

Secondly, Moïse saluted “the positive results of the 2016 Peace Accord” signed by the Colombian government and the five-decade-old guerilla movement know as the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).  Negotiated in Cuba, the accord, Moïse said,  “indisputably opens a new chapter” in Colombian history and “all the concerned parties should spare no effort to make irreversible the remarkable advances achieved in the framework of the peace and reconciliation process.”

But why highlight this two years after the fact?

Because Colombia’s new ultra-right-wing president, Iván Duque Márquez, was narrowly elected in June and inaugurated in August. He is a protégé of former President Álvaro Uribe, and both aim to torpedo the accord, signed under Duque’s predecessor and Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos. If the accord is broken, it will mean danger for the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, which shares a long border with Colombia. It could possibly even provide a pretext for war, and eventually U.S. military intervention, on which Washington is keen.

Thirdly, Jovenel indirectly but clearly complained about the neoliberal dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), laying blame for July’s uprisings on them. “Last July, following the application of the Gasoline Price Adjustment Act concluded with the International Monetary Fund, the country experienced the unfortunate and painful experience of a popular uprising in reaction to the requirements of the Staff Monitored Programme, concluded with the International Monetary Fund,” he said, citing the IMF twice. “In fact, Haiti, which produces no oil, finds it painfully necessary to continue to provide government subsidies to the price of petroleum products.” Washington and the IMF rarely tolerate such pointed and public criticism of and non-compliance with their policies, especially from a leader they perceive as a lackey.

Finally, Jovenel Moïse laid the blame for Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which has killed 10,000 and sickened a million, on the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) as he did at the UN in 2017, but this year he also called on the UN to compensate the victims, a responsibility the UN has long shunned. “I also take this opportunity to challenge the international community on its obligation to mobilize resources to eliminate cholera introduced by the MINUSTAH in Haiti and to compensate the victims,” he said.

For years, popular organizations have asked that the Haitian government not only point a finger at the UN for introducing cholera but also demand compensation for its victims. Seven years ago, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) began trying to obtain UN compensation for Haiti’s cholera victims. Despite suing the UN in New York State courts, the IJDH and other legal teams representing other cholera victims have not yet been successful.

These four elements of Jovenel Moïse’s speech reflect the squeeze he is feeling between growing popular protests from below and growing imperialist demands from above.

Furthermore, his consideration towards China and Venezuela will also displease Washington.

Having come to power thanks to Washington’s good graces, such dissonance can only spell woe for him in the days ahead.

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