Haiti Demands Accountability
The coffee growing regions of our planet lie almost exclusively between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the belt centered on the Equator that wraps around the globe. As fate and human history would have it, the countries in this region are also some of the most politically and economically turbulent. We are interested in and concerned by the events transpiring in these regions not only because they affect our industry, but because they feel under-reported in our media and deserve more of our attention. The people at Honeybee are especially apprehensive about the current turmoil in Haiti, and we wanted to take an opportunity to discuss what is going on there, why it started, and what it could mean looking forward.
The island nation of Haiti has been plagued by misfortune and exploitation for hundreds of years. After suffering through periods of conquerors, slavery, violent revolutions, dictatorships, occupations, coup d'états, and catastrophic natural disasters, it's easy to see why the people of Haiti have had enough. At this moment there are widespread protests going on in major cities against the corruption that starts at the very top of Haiti's government and permeates nearly every aspect of how the country is managed. Some of these protests have gotten violent, resulting in multiple reported deaths in clashes between civilians and police. Many roads are blockaded, cars have been vandalized and burned, and thousands have taken to the streets.
The protests in Haiti received a boost in interest and intensity last August when Haitian filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. tweeted a photo of himself blindfolded holding a sign reading "Kot Kób Petwo Karibe a???" or "Where is the PetroCaribe money???" The tweet turned into a social media campaign demanding accountability from the Haitian government, and Mirambeau Jr.'s piercing question has become the de facto slogan of the protests.
The PetroCaribe deal in question is an oil trade agreement between Venezuela and Haiti. Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the world, sold oil to Haiti at 60% of the cost due up front, with the remaining 40% due over a period of 25 years with a 1% interest rate. The idea behind this deal is that Haiti would then sell the oil at market price to its citizens and use the excess to invest in public programs such as education, infrastructure, sanitation, etc. If everything went according to plan, this investment into the Haitian people would elevate standards of living and stimulate the economy, making Haiti more productive allowing the PetroCaribe deal to be paid for down the road. In theory, a deal like this would work in everyone's favor. A Haitian Senate report published in 2017, however, revealed a much more disturbing truth.
The Senate report alleges that since the PetroCaribe deal was signed close to 10 years ago, nearly $2 billion has been misused, squandered, or embezzled by the Haitian government and its partners in the private sector. Over a billion dollars of no-bid contracts were awarded to private companies, and many of the projects were never even completed. To have suffered through so much at the hands of nature and foreign powers, Haitians feel as if they have been kicked while they were down by the very people supposed to be helping them up. Not only is Haiti missing out on a $2 billion investment into their quality of life, the debt will still have to be repaid. There is no return on investment to finance the repayment because there was never an investment to begin with, leaving the country in a deeper hole than they began in. Venezuela is also dealing with its own serious issues with the threat of civil war or foreign intervention looming on the horizon. This raises the question of what kind of demands might be made of Haiti from its neighbor across the Caribbean Sea. With absurd inflation rates and a slowly starving population, it seems unlikely that Venezuela will be forgiving of a multi-billion-dollar debt, especially since Venezuela already forgave nearly $300 million after the 2010 earthquake.
At the moment it's uncertain what will become of the unrest in Haiti. The protestors call for President Moïse's resignation which he has refused. In a public statement earlier this month he responded to the criticism by claiming that he has heard the voice of the people and that economic measures will be implemented soon. Other than a few similar statements, President Moïse has been aloof amidst the escalating violence. The U.S. State Department issued a Do Not Travel advisory on February 14th, and over 100 Canadian tourists trapped in a Haitian resort were recently evacuated by helicopter.
We at Honeybee sincerely hope that Haiti, as our trade partner, neighbor, and simply a country of fellow human beings, can resolve its problems quickly and effectively. Our partnership with CREOLE, Inc. continues, and we will be donating $5 of every Haitian retail bag sold. We hope that you, as our reader and customer, have found this article eye-opening, and that you will continue expressing interest in and concern for the countries that sustain our industry.
Sources and resources related to the situation in Haiti: