Since January 13, 2020, Haiti‘s President Jovenel Moïse has, despite tides of protests and a mountain-pile of corruption allegations, been ruling by decree, after the country failed to hold legislative elections for both lower and upper houses of the bicameral legislature in October of 2019.
The role of law-giver and executor in one man is not unfamiliar to post-independence Haitian politics. However, as a country hoping to pick itself from treacherous man-made and natural calamities, Moïse’s current situation comes with tricky possibilities for Haiti.
When their term ended in January of 2019, all of the members of Haiti’s lower chamber as well as two-thirds of the upper chamber had to make way. But that has not been critical to the recent clamor by the opposition. Moïse, having been sworn into a five-year term on February 7, 2017, insists that he has a year more.
The opposition however argues that Moïse’s term came to an end on February 7 of this year because he was first elected in 2015. The election the opposition refers to was eventually canceled when Jocelerme Privert took over from Michel Martelly as interim president. It was alleged that the 2015 polls had been soiled by fraud and another election, in 2016, was organized.
Moïse beat closest rival Jude Célestin, an engineer who has been a recurring runner for the presidency, going back to the year after the earthquake of 2010. Moïse, a Martelly loyalist, has been continuously accused of overseeing a corrupt government in Haiti where about three in four Haitians are poor.
With the country’s failure to hold legislative elections, Moïse reign has been described as illegitimate by the opposition. His term has seen many protests in the capital and biggest city Port-Au-Prince, and the current unrest is no different. Burning tires and generally blocking roads, young Haitians chant war songs and call for the president to resign, a frustration obviously borne out of desperate economic conditions.
At the weekend, protesters were reportedly injured by rubber bullets shot by police in Port-Au-Prince as well as other cities where protests have been ongoing as well. Ivickel Dabresil, leader of the opposition party and a Supreme Court judge was arrested on an order by the president who alleged that Haiti’s national security had foiled a coup attempt supposedly masterminded by Dabresil and others.
Dabresil himself has been a “provisional president” by the opposition who say they will not back down until the president resigns. His party denies any attempt at carrying out a coup and has pointed to the wider opposition to the president by citing civil society bodies, religious organizations and human rights groups that have all called for Moïse to resign.
Be it as it may, Moïse can currently count on the support of the regional Organization of American States (OAS) as well as the United States, two entities that have both said the presidential term ends in 2022. Moïse will be expected to hold to announce presidential elections this year if the OAS and US support is to stand.
Moïse will be grateful for the external support, particularly from the Americans. The US is heavily influential in Haiti and its support is often sought by Haitian leaders.
The interest held by the United States in Haiti goes back to over 150 years. In 1889, abolitionist Frederick Douglass was appointed as ambassador to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison. Between 1915 and 1934, US Marines occupied Haiti and when the dictator Francois Duvalier took power, he was in 1957, the Americans have been accused of turning a blind eye to his atrocities because his anti-communist stance was viewed in Washington as a counterbalance to Cuba.
The content of this interest has changed over the decades. Presently, the Americans believe stability in Haiti is crucial to security in Central and Latin America as well as to the fight against trade in illicit drugs.