The Covid-19 pandemic caused this year’s May Day celebrations to be practically nonexistent, save for an address to the nation by President Jovenel Moïse to grace the occasion. Traditionally, a day to celebrate workers, Mayday 2020 was an occasion to highlight the agricultural sector, the main engine to propel and relaunch the economy crippled by both natural and man-made problems. The outlook is that the country has a largely untapped agricultural potential that can accelerate economic growth, but due to lack of development of a distribution chain to move products from farm to finished value added products, the agricultural sector does not create viable jobs that would lead to middle class status. This year marks the third anniversary since the President launched his Caravane of Change, a program designed to prioritize agricultural development throughout the country and to use this as the main impetus to transform and uplift the economy crippled with multiple problems and corruption. Though there’s no tangible proof that the program has been successful in any way, the president is using this occasion to make a new set of promises for a relaunch.
While reiterating his dedication to the agricultural sector as something very dear to his heart, there’s no denying that his key project has yet to record any significant success in the three years since it was launched. In fact, according to leaders of social service organizations in the Artibonite valley, which is the bread-basket of the country, the conditions of the population, especially rural peasants have deteriorated. One of the major problems the peasants face is climate change which has been crippling the agricultural sector in recent years, with droughts and torrential downpours making planning more difficult and hindering the growth of various crops. The President called on the Agricultural ministry and the ministry of labor and social welfare to work together to bring support and relief to farmers, by responding to their needs during this pandemic and the impending hurricane season. Regarding the drought, the President said his administration has already installed solar generated water pumps capable of pumping 900 to 1200 gallons of water a day for irrigating farmlands across the country. Mr. Moise has partnered with the Agriculture Ministry to procure additional water pumps to other areas of the country. According to the economist, Benel Saint-Juste, agriculture comprises 23% of the country’s GDP. The country imports four times what it exports, creating a negative commercial balance sheet; while the unemployment rate hovers around 76%, and now with the corona pandemic in the mix, 2020 does not bode well for the economic health of the country.
Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe echoes the sentiments of many Haitians that the three-year experiment in boosting agricultural production has all but failed and becoming a major contributor to the negative economic growth projected for this year. Speaking at the 10th International Summit on Finance, the Prime Minister listed other factors that contribute to the projected -0.4% economic growth, such as the weakened gourde which saw the purchasing power of households drop precipitously, and the salary compression of workers as well as the decline in the service sector employment. Mr Jouthe added that if drastic steps are not taken soon, over 4 million people will be victim of food shortage. Mr Jouthe listed the decline in public revenue as a key factor also, where the anticipated public investments didn’t work out and the first 5 months of the fiscal year registered a 43% drop in imports, and 10% drop in exports, causing a predicted increase in the deficit at 6.4% of GDP.
In other news, there have been 100 cases of Covid-19 recorded throughout the country with 11 deaths and 10 recoveries, according to officials from the Ministry of Public Health. The Delmas neighborhood is the most affected area with 21 people infected while the municipality of Petion ville has 16. Six (6) people died in the West Department followed by the Northeast where two people were reported dead. And while on the topic of death, eleven (11) people were killed in a clash between street gangs in Martissant resulting in the death of three (3) members each from the Village de Dieu and Base Pilate gangs and the other victims being two residents in the neighborhood and three (3) others who were simply walking down Boulevard Harry Truman. The clash was a result of recurrent battle for turf in the area where the gangs from Village de Dieu control the entire bicentennaire zone and the Base Pilate had a choke hold on Avenues Bolosse and the cemetery area to rue Joseph Janvier.
Finally, the human rights organization, le Centre d’analyse et de recherche en droits humains (CARDH) noted that journalists have continued to be victims both physically and morally of the enforcement actions for the Covid-19 curfew. This revelation was made during the World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2020 under the theme “Journalism without fear or complacency”. According to the Center, since the arbitrary and illegal curfew imposed by the Moise/Jouthe administration, journalists have been victims of abuse, given the restrictive dispositions and injunctions and sanctions for violators that have been put in place. The government is considered predatory in its privations of human rights and fundamental liberties. Since the onset of the COvid-19 pandemic and subsequent government measure to impose a curfew, three journalists have been victims of police violence, the most revolting of which was the case of Georges Emmanuel Allen, who was critically wounded and humiliated by security forces from the Ministry of Interior, in front of his colleague, the Director of SOS journalists, Guyler C. Delva.