In Haiti, bishops ask government to quell ‘fratricidal warfare’

“IT IS NOW THAT they must act to change lives in Haiti. Tomorrow will be too late.” This is the urgent call of the bishops’ Conference of Haiti in an open letter (dated September 27) addressed to Haiti’s political leaders whom the bishops blame for the country’s worsening economic crisis and the intensifying street protests it has sparked. In their letter, the prelates compare the situation to “a state of fratricidal warfare.”

Remains of cathedral in Port-au-Prince, which was destroyed in 2010 earthquake

On Oct. 8, the bishops’ justice and peace commission went so far as to call for the resignation of President Jovenal Moïse, saying “a change in head of state is crucial as is a change in the way the authorities govern the country.”

Speaking by phone with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Désinord Jean of Hinche reported on the impact of the crisis situation that has gone for several weeks, saying: “People cannot go out. We are confined to our homes. All the roads are blocked. Even in urgent cases ambulances or emergency cars cannot move. We don’t have fuel. Markets are closed. Schools have been closed throughout the country. The situation affects the whole nation.”

The population of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is devastating has suffered years of hardship. Among the challenges Haiti has had to face was the reconstruction of the country after the massive earthquake of 2010 and the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, as well as an epidemic of cholera and a stagnant economy.

Social unrest has marked the term of President Moïse, due to extreme poverty and lack of job opportunities. Bishop Jean confirms this: “80 percent of people in the country are unemployed. And this in a country where 65 percent of the population is young. This poverty takes away all hope from people.”

Accusations of corruption triggered the violent street demonstrations. Bishop Jean said that “destroying the country is not a solution. These demonstrations are a way to express frustration but it is not the solution. We have to find a way to talk.”

In their open letter, the Haitian bishops called on government officials to “assume their responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of the country and the institutions.” The letter charges that the country’s leadership is “morally responsible for the safety and well-being of the population … If the country is on fire, it is because of their irresponsibility.”

Bishop Jean said that “despite our repeated pleas for nearly two years, Haiti’s politicians have not responded. In July 2018 we already had a big crisis and the government did nothing. But the other political parties should also work on a solution. The worst thing is that the different factions are not open to any dialogue.”

Bishop Jean, quoting the open letter, said that the Haitian Church calls on the international community to support Haiti “on this difficult and painful journey through the desert.” Addressing ACN benefactors, he said: “I want to thank ACN for your support all over the years. You have been very generous and we know that you love our country. Now we need your prayers. Please pray for us. This country is dying. We know that God is with us but sometimes we feel discouraged. We need your prayers.”

—Maria Lozano