Arnold Antonin, Haitian Documentary Maker: "I Do Not Understand The Madness For Elections This Year If The Conditions Do Not Exist"

“It is as if Haiti had received a blow to the head. Nobody moved after the assassination of the president”, describes Arnold Antonin ten days after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. “This is the most dramatic crisis in the history of the country despite the fact that Haiti has had several tragic moments.”

A few months ago, before Moïse’s murder, almost as if guessing what would come next, Antonin came to compare the magnitude of the crisis that the country was going through with the political instability of 1867 that ended with the execution of President Sylvain Salnave.


Antonin was born in Port-au-Prince, almost 80 years ago and under another name. It was during the dictatorship of the Duvalier family (1971-1986) when she stopped calling herself Celesti Corbanese to film her films without being arrested. He has a doctorate in Economics from the University of Rome, but he devoted himself to documentary cinema because he understood that, in a country with half the illiterate population, the best way to communicate his ideas was with images instead of words.

For Antonin, Jovenel Moïse’s ambition to stay in power may be one of the causes of his murder. “He aspired to remain in power even though his term ended on February 7, but he did not have the strength to do so. So he found a way to control the population through the armed gangs that they had a free way to circulate in the country, make statements and parade through the streets without the intervention of the police. From the power, there was a clear will to destroy the institutions and that ended up turning against them, “explains Antonin in an interview with

Moïse’s murder cannot be understood without the growing influence of criminal gangs or, what in Haiti they call, the ‘kidnapping industry’. A symptom of the extreme violence that even made the headlines of the main European media after the abduction of seven religious, including two French, three months ago in Port-au-Prince.

The first part of the year, the number of kidnappings increased by 36%, with 171 complaints registered, compared to 110 in the last four months of 2020, according to data from the latest report by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Meanwhile, the number of intentional homicides increased by 17%, with 525 cases reported from January to April, compared to 436 in the last four months of 2020.

In the midst of this situation, Moïse proposed to move forward with a new constitution through a referendum that, according to Antolin, could only be read as a last attempt to continue in government. “What I was looking for was to recover a constitutional model from the 1930s where the president concentrates all power. Our Constitution, with all the criticisms that can be made, is the country’s greatest democratic conquest since the fall of the Duvaliers. He created problems for Moïse with various actors from civil society, the Churches, the unions, also with the opposition parties and even within his own political space. He was a president with many enemies, “he says.

Among them, Claude Joseph, the prime minister who took control of the government after the assassination of the president and who was in the spotlight as one of the possible beneficiaries of Moïse’s death. However, Joseph announced on Monday his resignation as chief executive and has ceded power to Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister two days before the assassination.

Two years ago, Moïse even said that he had “seven heads to cut ‘‘. Already at that moment he was showing the tensions within his party, but he had not made it clear who those people were. For this reason, many of the leaders of their own party thought that, if they extended their mandate, they could end up being displaced.

Those responsible for the crime, do you think they can be within the president’s own political space?

It is likely, otherwise the absence of reaction from their security forces is not understood. The Haitian Democrats condemned the murder, all they wanted was for him to stay alive so that he could be tried as an accessory to the mass murders in the popular neighborhoods.

Where is former president Michel Martelly (2011-2016), Moïse’s political godfather, left after this?

Michel Martelly was one of the most infuriated with Moïse because he had put him in power and wanted to govern again, but Jovenel had another candidate. That was one of the main reasons that led to opening an internal fight within the match.

What is certain about the case so far?

The only thing that seems to be clear is that Jovenel tried to carry out a coup on February 7 to stay in power and that his assassination can be read as a new coup within the coup.

What is needed to clear up the murder?

We have to create an international and independent investigative commission with Haitian actors that allows us to know who killed Jovenel and for what reason. That is still a mystery.

Is there any leadership, such as former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991, 1993-1996, 2001-2004), that can present an alternative to the ruling party?

No, currently there is no strong or charismatic figure like Aristide, but there are different political forces that alone cannot do anything, although together they can create an alternative.

What place does Aristide, 68, currently occupy in Haitian politics?

Aristide has his party, La Avalancha, which continues to influence public debate to build a political alternative to the ruling party. Aristide has always been one of the most radical opponents of Moïse.

Voter turnout has dropped a lot in recent years. It went from 75% in the 1990 elections to less than 20% in 2015, why do you think people choose not to vote?

People do not vote because they lost confidence in the electoral bodies that have been manipulated and also because they are very disappointed with the results of the different governments.

At what moments did you stop believing in the elections?

There were two moments. In 1987 there was an intervention by foreign powers to prevent the first free elections in Haiti. Then, in the 90s, the military staged a coup and the Americans returned with Aristide in 1994, the people participated although more distrustful. But also, when they see the results of the last governments, they have been so bad that people no longer believe in anything. If there is a certain social enthusiasm, it is not for a positive cause, but to reject the Moïse government.

Haiti should have elections in September, are the conditions to vote in place?

We do not understand why this madness of making elections this year when the technical, political or social conditions do not yet exist to make them. The alternative is to form a transitional government also made up of the opposition, representatives of the different political forces and civil society, which will create the basic conditions for serious elections.

If you had to recommend just one of your more than 60 films to understand Haiti, what would it be?

The kingdom of impunity, because that is one of the biggest problems that this country has always had. The guilty know that they will never pay for their crimes.



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