Jovenel Moïse Is Elected President of Haiti After Delays and Disasters


A billboard of Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this month. He was former President Michel Martelly’s handpicked successor. Credit Andres Martinez Casares/ReutersMIAMI — He’s often called the Banana Man, because he exports produce. Now, he will be known by another title: president of Haiti.

Jovenel Moïse, 48, rose from obscurity to win the country’s presidential elections this week, after a nearly two-year electoral process marred by allegations of fraud, delays, natural disasters and a staggeringly low voter turnout.

“I have had 20 months of campaigning,” Mr. Moïse said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I am really ready.”

He received 55 percent of the vote in a field of 27 candidates, Haiti’s electoral council said on Monday night. But three of his opponents are vowing to contest the results, which will not be verified until late December.

It will fall to Mr. Moïse to heal and govern a bitterly divided nation that is still struggling to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake, and that was battered again this year by a catastrophic hurricane.

At first, many Haitians viewed Mr. Moïse guardedly; he was former President Michel Martelly’s handpicked successor, and few people had heard of him.

Mr. Moïse won the first round of the election in October 2015. Although international agencies said the elections were clean, the second round was delayed after losing candidates complained of widespread fraud, including large amounts of repeat voting by election monitors tied to various political parties.

The runoff was delayed several times, and a commission eventually decided that the election process should start over. With Mr. Moïse’s benefactor, Mr. Martelly, out of office and a provisional government in place for nearly a year, only about 21 percent of the electorate, in a country of 11 million, ended up casting ballots on Nov. 20.

Mr. Moïse insisted that he was ready for the challenges that lay ahead — and to dispel the notion that he was Mr. Martelly’s “puppet.”

“It is a good privilege for me to have a former president I can talk to about his success, and his problems also,” Mr. Moïse said. “For example, this morning I called him, because I needed some advice about something. But you know, I am 100 percent Jovenel Moïse.”

Mr. Moïse said that among his first priorities, in addition to addressing corruption and climate change, would be to modernize and revive agriculture, with the aim of establishing a viable organic food industry. If that can be accomplished, he argued, more Haitians may be able to find work in their own country, instead of immigrating to the Dominican Republic or the United States.

He added that he would create a master plan under which all aid groups and foreign governments would have to operate their development projects.

“We don’t just want the help. I want to see results,” Mr. Moïse said. “If they want to spend money, we are open to that, but we will show you exactly where to spend this.”

Many aid groups have been criticized for shutting the Haitian government out of decision-making. Haiti, Mr. Moïse said, needs to stop just receiving handouts. “We want to show the world Haiti can endure,” he said.

In an interview this year, Mr. Moïse shrugged off the notion that he was a virtual unknown before entering the presidential race, noting that he had been president of the chamber of commerce in the country’s northwestern region for eight years. He grew up on a large sugar plantation, he said, adding that he could relate to a vast majority of Haitians who live off the land.

A father of three, he was raised in a rural area in the north but attended school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. He said he had learned the keys to success by observing his father’s profitable farming business.

He runs a large produce cooperative that employs 3,000 farmers.

“Since I was a child, I was always wondering why people were living in such conditions while enormous lands were empty,” he said in January. “I believe agriculture is the key to change for this country.”

Mr. Moïse’s adviser, Damian Merlo, acknowledged that widespread voter apathy had led to the paltry turnout, but he said that Mr. Moïse’s margin of victory was so wide that it should be considered a mandate.

Jake Johnston, a research associate for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, observed the Nov. 20 elections and said that he had generally been impressed with how much the process had improved over the past year.

In 2000, nearly 70 percent of voters cast ballots; just over 20 percent did this time.

“What caused that break and how to fix it is a big question for all political leaders,” Mr. Johnston said

Some of the electoral council members refused to sign the preliminary results, arguing that more clarification was needed regarding the complaints filed by losing candidates.

Jude Célestin, who came in second with 19 percent of the vote, lodged a complaint even before the results were announced, contending that unsigned votes had been accepted. Maryse Narcisse, who came in fourth with just under 9 percent, called it “an electoral coup.”

The Haiti Democracy Project, a Washington-based organization that monitored the elections, said its sample tally matched the electoral council’s results. It noted that the gap between the first- and second-place winners was so big that it would have taken enormous fraud to pull it off.

“They are obviously fishing for some issue on which to challenge the results,” said James Morrell, the group’s executive director.

The election delays helped Mr. Moïse, Mr. Johnston said, because he was able to establish name recognition by campaigning on his own, without being seen as Mr. Martelly’s surrogate.

Mr. Moïse agreed. “Jovenel is his own man,” he said.


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