Monday, July 12 2021

Dive In

I think people, without realising, are always political. Suppose you are a new mother and you have a six-month-old child at home and you need to breastfeed that child and you can’t go and get a job. Suppose your husband lost his job because he was working in the fabric industry which has been affected badly due to demonetisation. So that is a political impact on a person. Without realising, a lot of stuff which you and I experience on a daily basis has to do with politics. So I don’t believe if anyone says that they are apolitical. You are not apolitical, you just don’t know how political you are!

That’s actor Richa Chadha making an unusually strong political statement for a Bollywood celeb—who typically works very hard to stay above the fray. This is from a very candid and wide-ranging interview with The Telegraph which is worth reading in its entirety. Of course, Chadha has had her share of political controversies, including a row over the poster for ‘Madam Chief Minister’.

Big Story

The puzzling assassination of a president

The TLDR: The brazen murder of President Jovenel Moïse has thrown the already beleaguered country in turmoil. There are now 19 suspects in custody and big troubling questions about who really killed Moïse. A political tragedy has now become an intrigue-filled mystery worthy of a Tom Clancy thriller.


A short history lesson

In case, you don’t remember your childhood geography classes, Haiti is located right next to the Dominican Republic, and off the coast of Cuba:


And here’s the history:

  • A former French colony, Haiti gained independence in 1804—but was never recognised by the US until 1862 in case it gave American Black slaves the wrong idea. 
  • In 1915, the US sent troops to build back the country after its President was assassinated—and stuck around for another 20 years, controlling the country’s economy and government. 
  • Fast forward to 1994: Bill Clinton sends in troops again, this time to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he was deposed via a military coup.
  • In January 2010, an earthquake killed over 200,000 people, and the United Nations deployed peacekeepers to help rebuild Haiti.
  • The UN troops instead imported a cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 and infected almost 800,000 Haitians.
  • The UN withdrew in 2017—which is when banana exporter-turned-politician Jovenel Moïse took office as the president of Haiti.


A land of extreme poverty: The average income is $5 a day, and many people live on much less. Haiti’s government is no less poor, and often to provide basic services like trash collection or to hold timely elections. At least 20% of its budget comes from foreign loans—which gives the International Monetary Fund great control over its economy.


About Jovenel Moïse: He was essentially a dictator-in-the-making, according to experts:


“Moïse had been ruling by decree. He effectively shuttered the Haitian legislature by refusing to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2020 and summarily dismissed all of the country’s elected mayors in July 2020, when their terms expired.”


Over the past few years, he has arrested prominent leaders, and attacked neighbourhoods that oppose his rule. Armed gangs prey on civilians with impunity, some of them through kidnap-for-ransom rackets. In fear of the rising violence, Haitians have been streaming toward the US border.


The big controversy: this year was over the length of Moïse’s presidential tenure—which was supposed to end in February. But Moïse argued that since he was not able to take office until 2017—due to political chaos triggered by charges of election fraud—he has the right to serve his five-year term. Seen as a ruse to unlawfully stay in power, the move sparked widespread anger and protests.


The assassination of Moïse

The killing: Around 1 am on July 7, a group of assassins entered his residence and tied up Moïse’s guards, the housekeeper and butler. They shot the president 12 times with high-caliber bullets, with one shot directly in his forehead. His eye had also been gouged out. The interim prime minister Claude Joseph says he was first tortured, and also this:


“Photos and X-ray images posted on social media at the weekend said to be from Moïse's autopsy showed his body riddled with bullet holes, a fractured skull and other broken bones, underscoring the brutal nature of the attack.”


The suspects: According to Haitian authorities, the unit of assassins was made up of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans. So far, 20 have been arrested, and three killed in a gun battle. Eleven of them fled after the killing, and sought refuge in the Taiwanese embassy—where they were later arrested. At least two were caught by a mob of angry citizens armed with machetes. 



In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • Italy breaks England’s heart
  • The first billionaire in space
  • A bizarre co-infection case of Covid
  • Giant Panda not endangered anymore
  • A very tiny, expensive da Vinci


Smart & Curious

  • A must-read essay on what it’s like to be a Muslim journalist in India
  • The argument against caffeine—and our addiction to it

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