Haiti Faces Unrest As President Refuses To Step Down

Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s rise to power and administration has been anything but stable. Moise was elected in 2015 under allegations of fraud. He was elected again in 2016 for a five-year term but was sworn into office in 2017, claims Al Jazeera. He asserts that he deserves another year in office since a temporary government was in place the first year of his term.

The Haitian Times and the Center for Economic and Policy Research claim that the Organization for American States and writers of the 1987 Haitian Constitution confirm that Moise’s term began in 2017 and thus must end in 2022. However, the opposition does not interpret the Constitution this way. Given this ambiguity, the president wants to modify the document with clearer language to pave the way for timely elections and more accountability for government leadership, according to the Haitian Times.

The New York Times claims Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Haitians have struggled for years with poverty and the government’s inability to provide necessities. Despite the hope that circumstances would improve under Moise’s rule, Haitians believe the country “is in the worst state it has ever seen,” according to the New York Times. Pierre Espérance, a Haitian human rights activist, claims conditions Haitians are living in are “worse than during the dictatorship” under the Duvalier family, who ruled until 1986.

Moise blames government inefficiency on parliament while the opposition accuses him of impeding political processes, claims Al Jazeera. In the last year, the current president of Haiti removed two-thirds of the Senate, all of the Chamber of Deputies, and every mayor, according to the New York Times. No elections have been held over the last four years under Moise’s leadership. This leaves only 11 elected officials in the country to represent 11 million Haitians. Haiti’s president plans to continue his presidential decrees by modifying the country’s Constitution through a referendum in April. Without proper representation, Moise’s opposition fear a vote won’t be fair.

To fight the government’s attempts at staying in power, Haitians are taking to the streets to protest. On 7 February 2021, the opposition attempted a coup to overthrow Moise, according to the Haitian Times. Though their plan failed and dozens were arrested, the opposition is not backing down. André Michel, leader of the opposition group, the Democratic and Popular Sector, promises more demonstrations in the streets if the current president remains in power, claims Al Jazeera.

The Haitian government is accused of employing local gangs to intimidate government opposition, says the New York Times. These gangs have been given free reign and are now acting untethered and unpunished. Because of this, Haitians are afraid to leave their homes to do daily activities, like grocery shopping or sending their children to school. The opposition is seeking to gain additional support from the country’s millions of unemployed citizens as a large portion of Haitians live in poverty. However, the opposition’s battle is uphill. Opposition groups cannot agree on strategies, and they face a strong pro-Moise front, asserts the New York Times.

In December, the U.S. condemned some officials in Moise’s government for providing weapons and protection to gangs, according to the New York Times. However, a U.S. State Department spokesman, Ned Price, claims the U.S. backs Moise’s additional year in office and should be succeeded by another elected president, according to Al Jazeera. Price asserts the importance of timely elections, supporting democratic institutions, and following the will of the people. Additionally, human rights groups assert that the United Nations’ forces on the ground in Haiti are supporting Moise, claims Al Jazeera. These decisions further sow seeds of hopelessness for Haitians looking to outside actors for assistance.

The Moise government’s avid attempts to remain in power for another year are hindering democratic processes in the country and further catapulting Haiti into social chaos. Anti-Moise protesters want him out of office, an end to rampant gang violence, and a temporary government to get democratic elections back on track. Haiti’s president promises to revamp the energy industry, reorganize elections, and reform the Constitution in his next year, claims Al Jazeera. However, there is doubt that he has the best interests of Haitians in mind if he could not achieve positive results in the last four years of his term.

It is clear some influential countries and organizations do not support the goals of the opposition in Haiti, which seems to suggest Moise should remain in power until February 2022. Though the Constitution may give the current president another year in office, most Haitians want a change. In this case, Moise should step down to allow for a transitional government to clear up Constitutional ambiguities, improve basic services for all Haitians, and assure democratic institutions and processes are upheld for the future. Regardless, Moise’s government and opposition should compromise for the future of Haitians as continuing this trajectory will lead the country into future chaos, disorder, and oppression.