I first met Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in 2015 in a hotel in Miami. I went to see my friend, then President Michel Martelly.
Martelly was nearing the end of his term, and we were talking about the upcoming elections in Haiti and, of course, a successor.
We talked about continuity, because there is no consecutive re-election in Haiti. Someone with the same passion Martelly had for the people of Haiti was needed. The country needed someone who could continue to do the work started under his administration.
Martelly approached me and said in the calm voice he always has: “Damian, I want you to meet the next president of Haiti.
Jovenel was silent, but gave me a firm handshake when we were introduced. I did not know that I was really going to meet the next president of Haiti.
We had a pleasant conversation, during which, among other things, he told me about his banana business and his vision for Haiti, I was mesmerized. He spoke eloquently and passionately about the promise of a rejuvenated agricultural sector and his desire that all Haitians have the same opportunity he had by building a successful business. It was his banana business that prompted our team to come up with their campaign slogan, “The Banana Man”.
Of course, many were surprised by this slogan, because it was unconventional to say the least. I have worked on many political campaigns, and even for me it was unusual. “Banana Man” was a stretch, but it worked.
In November 2016, Jovenel won the presidential election with 55% of the vote. On February 7, 2017, he began his five-year term as President of Haiti. Following his election, I continued to help Jovenel because I believed in his ideals, his passion and his love for Haiti and Haitians.
Jovenel wanted one thing, and only one thing. A better future for the Haitian people. President Martelly had succeeded in breaking decades of failed policies and Jovenel wanted to continue this work, but it would prove difficult.
Many in Haiti did not support his vision or his policies, but Jovenel was determined. He advanced his program of revitalizing the agricultural sector, running water and 24 hours of uninterrupted energy.
Haitian vested interests strongly rejected his reforms, and ultimately he declared his life in danger because of his maverick presidency. He has said so publicly and in private. I have always been dismissive of his claims. I had no idea his fears would materialize.
His passion for doing the right thing has created many political enemies. Among his plans for Haiti was a new constitution that would be more representative of the wishes of the Haitian people and reform a failing system to make them more accountable to citizens. He was determined. It had to be his legacy. He had no agenda or personal interest in this new constitution. He just knew it was the right thing to do for the country he loved.
I find it hard to cope with what happened on the dreadful night of July 7th. Last week I was to meet Jovenel in the same house where he was murdered. While we were to have our usual political talks, I was also eager to hear about his post-presidential plans. He was still talking about how he would return to northern Haiti.
He didn’t deserve to leave us like this. I am sure that in due course those responsible for this horrific act will be held accountable.
Jovenel was a kind man, a gentle man, who cared about his people, and his untimely death must mean something. He wanted the best for Haiti, a new constitution, elections, prosperity.
He was a husband, a father, a father, a friend to many. The Haitian people, even those who may not have supported him, will realize how much he cared for them. He came from humble beginnings to become president of a country where social mobility is a rarity, if not an impossibility.
The Haitian people need to come together. Haiti must, once and for all, take to heart the words inscribed on its flag: Unity is strength.
Damián Merlo is the director of the Advisory Group for Latin America and worked with Jóvenel Moïse on his campaign. He also led the campaign of former President Michel Martelly.