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Opinion: Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of Haiti’s unraveling democracy

A history of political upheaval, dictatorship and weak institutions, as well as endemic corruption have wracked Haiti for decades and stymied the consolidation of democratic rule and good governance. The country was already on edge following a protracted political crisis centered around the constitutionality of Moïse’s presidential term and a controversial proposal to overhaul the country’s constitution.
While Moïse won the first round of Haiti’s presidential election in November 2015, the runoff was postponed in the wake of fraud allegations. The country eventually scrapped the results and scheduled new elections for November 2016; Moise won outright with a clear majority of 56%.
Meanwhile, an interim president, Jocelerme Privert, served from February 2016 to February 2017.
In Haiti’s polarized political climate, the political opposition has claimed that Moïse’s presidential term started in February 2016, rather than February 2017 — when he actually took the oath of office following do-over elections — and that his five-year mandate thus ended in February of this year. The United States, the United Nations and the Organization of American States supported Moïse’s interpretation, but public anger and social unrest continued to destabilize the country. Moïse did not do much to appease the population, ruling by decree since January 2020 after the mandate of the old parliament expired without an election to replace its members.
Now, the dispute over the constitutionality of Moïse’s term has taken a criminal turn and the question of succession could engender another constitutional crisis. Prime Minister Claude Joseph is currently exercising executive power until new presidential elections can be organized. However, last week Moïse appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who has yet to be sworn in. Another potential contender for the job, according to the Haitian constitution, would be the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, but that person, René Sylvestre, died of Covid-19 last month and has yet to be replaced.
The lack of a functional parliament makes it unclear who has the authority to approve replacements and confirm officials in the line of succession. For now, the Haitian Armed Forces and National Police have deployed to the streets to maintain control after declaring a state of siege.
Meanwhile, grinding poverty characterizes quotidian life in Haiti. In essence, the country is still recovering from a spate of natural disasters, including the scars of a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 estimated to have killed between 220,000-300,000 people. With more than 60% of the population living on less than $ 2 per day, Haiti often ranks as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the World Health Organization, Haiti — which has experienced difficulties getting vaccine supplies — is one of a handful of nations that has not begun vaccination yet even as Covid-19 cases increase.
Recent years have also witnessed an epidemic of kidnappings and the explosion of gang violence, with many neighborhoods in the capital, Port-au-Prince, controlled by criminal organizations. Thousands of displaced people have sought refuge from the growing insecurity in a stadium on the southern edge of the capital.
The Haiti assassination is yet another incident in a series of political, social and economic crises that have festered throughout the Western Hemisphere. The situation is emblematic of a larger democratic regression afflicting many countries — including Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela — where, in lieu of negotiations and political compromise, taking political prisoners and even conducting political assassinations have become worryingly commonplace.
Haiti’s constitutional crisis has failed to register with many Washington policymakers as well as those in the international community for far too long — in part, thanks to the plethora of challenges already present in the Western Hemisphere. Notwithstanding the Biden administration’s claims to the contrary, the inattention of US policymakers in recent years has contributed to the country’s rapid unraveling.
While four people suspected of assassinating Moïse were shot dead by police and two others arrested Wednesday night, this may well be only the first phase in another one of Haiti’s seemingly interminable crises. The short-term emphasis for the US and the rest of the world should be on supporting Haiti’s political leadership, untangling the constitutional questions likely to arise and maintaining order while ensuring that the Haitian armed forces remain confined to their proper constitutional role.
The international community, and in particular the US, should push for an investigation into the assassination and make resources available for bringing the perpetrators to justice — lest they benefit from the impunity that is all too common in Haiti. In the long-term, the international community has a key role to play in encouraging political and institutional reforms that will advance a national dialogue, generate economic opportunities for all and bring greater stability to Haiti’s turbulent domestic politics.
Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of the country’s unraveling democracy and the need to forge a solution to the escalating turmoil that puts Haiti’s constitutional order and the well-being of its people at its center.

Jovenel Moise death: Haiti police shoot dead FOUR ‘mercenaries’ after assassination

Police chief Leon Charles said officers shot four people over the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in his home on Wednesday. In a televised briefing, the chief said: “The police is still in combat with the assailants. They will be killed or captured.”

Mr Charles said three officers held hostage by the suspected gunmen were freed late.

Interim prime minister Claude Joseph said the police and military were in control of security.

In a televised national address, Mr Joseph declared a state of emergency across the country, and made a call for calm.

He said: “The situation is under control.”

Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the US, said the attack on the 53-year-old President Moïse “was carried out by foreign mercenaries and professional killers — well-orchestrated’.

Mr Edmond added they were masquerading as agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA has an office in the Haitian capital to assist the government in counternarcotics programs, according to the US Embassy.

Joe Biden said of the incident in a written statement: “We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for first lady Moïse’s recovery.

“The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”

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Author: Dylan Donnelly
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How the Assassination of Haiti’s President Follows Years of Turmoil

The country freed by slaves from French colonial overlords more than 200 years ago has struggled with a legacy of corruption, violence and political paralysis.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti in a brazen attack at his private residence on Wednesday compounded the Caribbean nation’s turmoil and deepened fears of more widespread political violence.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said the president had been “cowardly assassinated,” called on the country to “stay calm,” and sought to reassure Haitians and the world that the police and army were controlling the situation.

But Mr. Joseph’s words did little to blunt concerns of possible chaos.

“There is no more Parliament, the Senate is missing for a long time, there’s no president of the Court of Cassation,” said Didier Le Bret, a former French ambassador to Haiti, adding of Mr. Joseph: “Everything will rest on him.”

A history of political violence.

How the Assassination of Haiti's President Follows Years of Turmoil
Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

The assassination of Mr. Moïse is the culmination of years of instability in the country, which has long been seized by lawlessness and violence. Haiti, once a slave colony notorious for the brutality of its masters, won independence from France after slaves revolted and defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces in 1803. But in the two centuries since, Haiti has struggled to emerge from cycles of dictatorships and coups that have kept the country impoverished and struggling to deliver basic services to many of its people.

For two decades, the country suffered under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, and then his son, Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc. A priest from a poor area, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. But in less than a year, he was deposed in a coup, then returned to power in 1994 with the help of thousands of American troops.

Mr. Aristide was re-elected in 2000, but forced out again after another armed uprising and went into exile. He has called it a “kidnapping” orchestrated by international actors, including the American and French governments.

Earthquake, cholera, corruption.

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

When a devastating earthquake flattened much of the country in 2010, the disaster was seen as an opportunity to resuscitate battered infrastructure and start fresh, by shoring up the government’s own capacity to rebuild. More than $ 9 billion in humanitarian assistance and donations poured in, buttressed by an additional estimated $ 2 billion-worth of cheap oil supplies and loans from the then-powerful ally Venezuela. International aid organizations rushed to help manage the recovery.

But the money did not set Haiti on a new path — and many experts believe the country is worse off since the reconstruction began. A cholera outbreak soon after the quake that killed at least 10,000 Haitians was linked to the arrival of infected peacekeepers from the United Nations, which only admitted involvement years later but denied legal responsibility, shielded by international treaties granting the organization diplomatic immunity.

Michel Martelly, a one-time popular singer who became president in 2011, was accused of widespread corruption and mismanaging funds intended for reconstruction.

Reports by Haitian court-appointed auditors revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $ 2 billion lent to the country by Venezuela was embezzled or wasted over eight years. Before he entered politics, President Moïse, then a little-known fruit exporter, was implicated in one of the reports for his involvement in a scheme to siphon off funds intended for road repairs.

Fed-up Haitians take to the streets.

Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

In the years that followed, persistent economic malaise, rising crime and corruption led to protests by Haitians fed up with their government and demanding Mr. Martelly’s resignation. But he held onto power and after one term tapped Mr. Moïse to succeed him in 2015 elections.

Mr. Moïse’s bid for power was marred from the beginning. His campaign was accused of fraud and corruption and he took power 14 months after voters went to the polls, after an electoral tribunal found no evidence of widespread electoral irregularities. He took office in 2017 facing an indictment for graft related to Venezuelan aid.

Over the next several years, Mr. Moïse used his control of the judicial system to dismiss the charges and undermine the opposition, which never accepted his electoral victory. The result was an increasingly paralyzed government that became gridlocked completely in early 2020, just as the country faced the coronavirus pandemic.

A leadership crisis, power vacuum, and Covid-19.

Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

A disagreement between Mr. Moïse and the opposition about the start of his presidential term spiraled into a full political crisis, leaving the country without a parliament or a new election date. As the crisis dragged on, Mr. Moïse began governing by unpopular decrees, further undermining his government’s legitimacy. Protests against his rule accelerated.

The political gridlock severely undermined the country’s already weak health care system as coronavirus cases spread. Haiti remains the only country in Western Hemisphere to not receive any Covid-19 vaccines as it now struggles to deal with the latest spike in infections. Although official coronavirus deaths remain relatively low because of limited testing, aid workers have said the hospitals are overwhelmed.

Criminal gangs and a reign of terror.

Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

Haiti’s power vacuum has been increasingly filled with the leaders of organized crime, who have taken over parts of the capital over the past year, instilling a reign of terror. Kidnappings, lootings and gang-associated violence have made parts of the country ungovernable, leaving many Haitians fearful to even leave their homes and forcing some aid organizations, on which many in the country depend for survival, to curtail activities.

Rights organizations have linked a surge in gang violence to the country’s political deadlock, accusing prominent politicians of working with organized crime to intimidate opponents and settle scores in the absence of a functioning government.

Last month, one of Haiti’s most prominent gang leaders publicly declared a war against the country’s traditional elites, calling on citizens to raid established businesses.

“It is your money which is in banks, stores, supermarkets and dealerships,” the gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, better known by his alias Barbecue, said in a video message on social media. “Go and get what is rightfully yours.”

Harold Isaac contributed reporting.

Author: Natalie Kitroeff and Anatoly Kurmanaev
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