Political Crisis in Haiti

As many of you know, Jovenel Moise refused to step-down from Haiti’s presidency on Sunday, February 7, 2021. Moise is arguing that a delay in his inauguration (he did not take office until 2017) means he should serve until February 7, 2022. The United States government and Luis Almagro, OAS General Secretary are standing by Moise. Meanwhile, most of Haiti is not.

Woy magazine published one of the clearer explanations of the argument about Moise’s term, sighting the section 134-2 of the Constitution, as amended in 2012: The president elected enters into his functions on 7 February following the date of his election. In the case where the ballot cannot take place before 7 February, the president elected enters into his functions immediately after the validation of the ballot and his mandate is considered to have commenced on 7 February of the year of the election.

Moise won election in 2016 (following allegations of fraud during the original 2015 election), hence, his mandate is considered to have begun on February 7, 2016. Seems clear enough.

That said, another president might have garnered the benefit of the doubt. But not Moise. He has been the target of ongoing demonstrations since July 2018. At that point frustration with economic decline, revelations (some implicating Moise) of billions of dollars stolen out of PetroCaribe funds, and an IMF mandated cut in fuel subsidies all combined to send thousands of people into the street, and ultimately led to the collapse of the government and resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant.

Moise, however, survived.  Over the last two and half years, there have been ongoing protest cycles that have locked the country down repeatedly, the one consistent demand: Moise’s resignation. Another Prime Minister was forced to resign following protests in February of 2019, and a new government, at least one approved by Parliament, never materialized. Yet, Moise remained. Then in January 2020, the terms of the House of Deputies, and the majority of Senators expired. Since then, Moise has been ruling by decree and the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated even further.

Moise’s refusal to step down was not a surprise. He has been indicating that he intended to stay in power for some time now. He has proposed a constitutional referendum for this April, to be followed by two rounds of elections in the fall. The Electoral Commission he appointed to oversee all of this, was not approved by most sectors and is widely seen as illegitimate. The opposition, though divided in many ways, remains united in the demand the Moise step aside and allow a provisional president or council to oversee elections. There is precedent for this. Mosie’s predecessor, Michele Martelly stepped down in 2016 despite there being no replacement, to allow a provisional president to complete the electoral process (delayed for wide spread accusations of fraud) that brought Moise to power.

Timeline of activity this week

Events since Sunday have evolved quickly – too quickly to offer much detailed analysis (below the timeline I point to some resources that give a deeper understanding of the context of events). Here I simply offer a summary and highlight stories and statements

Sunday

Moise announces a foiled coup attempt from the airport, (on his way to Jacmel). 

Those arrested include a Supreme Court justice Yvickel Dabrésil and police inspector Marie-Louise Gauthier

Many are skeptical of the coup story.

Later in the day, Moise issues a pre-recorded message, declaring his intent to remain in office and hold a referendum on Constitutional changes. 

Opposition leaders select Supreme Court Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis as provisional president. He gives a brief statement.

Monday

Monday morning, Haiti National Police surround the Supreme Court

Moise issues an order “retiring” three Supreme Court justices

Many are skeptical of the legality of this order,

The Haitian military (FAdH) release a press statement citing responsibility to “assure national security” and defend “democratic order.”

During protests on Monday, two reporters are shot (both still alive)

Tuesday

OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro Issues a statement expressing concern, but endorsing Moise’s position.

The United States Embassy issues a statement claiming to be “deeply concerned” about order to remove judges. However, the U.S. does not walk back form its support of Moise’s decision to remain in power.

Guerline Josef from the Haitian Bridge Alliance appears on Democracy Now to discuss the Biden administration’s resumption of removal flights to Haiti after only a one day suspension.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, students demonstrate in Port au Prince

The demonstration is broken up by the police, who once again target journalists covering the march.

Moise announces a new agroindustrial park – apparently on behalf of the Apaid family (apparel industry giants, among other business interests in Haiti)

Thursday

Supreme Court justice Yvickel Dabrésil, one of the accused in the alleged “coup” plot, is released from jail.

Demonstrations are announced for the coming Sunday

Resources/Background

Some reactions from Haiti’s civil society to the arrests and forced retirements from the last few days (List from Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti)

More Haitian civil society statements (most have been translated) on crisis on the new Haiti Watch blog

More back ground, see Mark Schuller’s excellent NACLA article,”The Foreign Roots of Haiti’s ‘Constitutional Crisis’”published online February 6, 2021

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s most recent report on the human rights situation

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