Thursday, January 21, 2016

Haiti’s Fraudulent Presidential Frontrunner, Jovel Moïse Seizes Land for His Own Banana Republic

By Joshua Steckley and Beverly Bell

This report is based on extensive interviews, on-site and via phone, with more than 20 government officials, economic development professionals, peasant farmers, and community organizers, between July 2015 and January 2016. We reached out to Agritrans for comment, but they did not respond.
Agritrans Bananas
The frontrunner in Haiti’s rigged election grabbed land from peasant farmers to grow bananas for export. Photo: Joshua Steckley.
The only man running in Haiti’s fraudulent presidential election run-offs on January 24, 2016, Jovenel Moïse, dispossessed as many as 800 peasants – who were legally farming – and destroyed houses and crops two years ago, say leaders of farmers’ associations in the Trou-du-Nord area. Farmers remain homeless and out of work. The land grabbed by the company Moïse founded, Agritrans, now hosts a private banana plantation.
To grow bananas for export in a hungry nation, Agritrans received at least $6 million in state loans, and possibly much more. Agritrans seized a 1,000-hectare (2,371-acre) tract from farmers, bulldozed their houses and fields, used bribes to buy local support, distorted claims of its benefit to local residents, and created a phantom organization to legitimate itself.
Should he become president, the company Moïse created would likely be a bellwether of loss of family livelihood and domestic food production.
To stand for office, Moïse stepped down from Agritrans last year, though he is still campaigning under the moniker Nèg Bannann, or the Banana Man. He portrays himself as an entrepreneur determined to transform Haiti’s agricultural sector into private enterprise.
Moïse alone will appear on the presidential ballot after the only other candidate who was imposed on the run-off slate said that he would not participate in “this farce… [of] selections.” Moïse is from the political party of the current president Michel Martelly, whose principal platform has been “Haiti: Open for Business.” Martelly himself came into office in 2011 through an invalid election backed – like the current one – by the US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a pivotal role in imposing him.
A Moïse presidency would ensure that political decisions prioritize free trade and private enterprise over support for the destitute majority. This, in turn, would likely give a green light to massive land grabs that are planned or in process, while peasants working the land would be dispossessed.
Expropriation and Destruction of Homes
In August 2013, according to local residents, Agritrans forcefully expelled hundreds of farmers who were legally using the land. Local leader Milosten Castin, coordinator of the organization Action to Reforest and Defend the Environment, said that, with no warning, several bulldozers invaded the land, plowing under crops and forage used for grazing. The machines later destroyed the homes of at least 17 families, many of whom remain homeless today.
After protests organized by the Peasant Movement for the Development of Deveren (MPDD) took place, Agritrans gave the owners of the destroyed homes US$40 to US$700 each in compensation. Gilles St. Pierre, a member of MPDD who lost his concrete block house, said the compensation was inadequate. “What am I supposed to do with 700 dollars?,” he asked in a phone interview last week. “I had a house and land… and now I work as a taxi driver.”
Food for Export, Not for Eating
The Agritrans plantation is the first agricultural free trade zone in the country, established by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. This allows the company to take advantage of perks of reduced tax and tariff payments, along with special customs treatment.