The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse at his home threatens to exacerbate Haiti’s already endemic problems.
“Anything that could go wrong seems to go wrong,” said Robert fatton, an expert on Haitian politics at the University of Virginia, and originally from Haiti itself.
The western part of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti is perched in the Caribbean just 600 miles southeast of Florida. He overthrew French rule with a successful revolt, becoming the first republic ruled by blacks in 1804.
The United States has a long history of intervention there: it occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The United States sent the Marines twice in the past three decades to restore order under President Bill Clinton , then again under President George W. Bush.
Even before Moïse’s assassination on Wednesday morning, Haiti was in crisis: political instability, the lasting effects of a devastating earthquake and cholera epidemic, foreign political interference and gang violence all pervaded wreaks havoc.
“You have this situation where the institutions are not functioning, where the economy is stagnating (…) politics has been extremely volatile. The current government has been challenged by the population. There have been massive accusations of corruption,” Fatton said. “So you name it, in terms of instability and institutional decay, you have it right now in Haiti.”
The country faces a constitutional crisis
Francois Pierre Louis, an expert on Haitian politics at Queens College at the City University of New York, said he was not very surprised to learn of Moses’ murder.
Moses had stripped rival political parties, businessmen and great families of power. “He made a lot of enemies. [The attack] could come from anywhere. And he has alienated too many people, “Pierre-Louis, from Haiti, told NPR.
Moses took office in 2017 after a protracted and contested election. He had never held political office before; he was a businessman who had enriched himself as a fruit exporter.
The opposition said his term should have ended in February, but Moïse said since it took him a year to officially take office, his term should be extended until 2022.
The 53-year-old president had ruled by decree for over a year when he was assassinated, after dissolving parliament and failing to hold legislative elections.
On July 1, the United Nations Security Council issued a declaration expressing “its deep concern regarding the deterioration of political, security and humanitarian conditions in Haiti”.
Moïse also proposed a referendum on changes to Haiti’s constitution.
Among others, the UN Explain, the constitutional changes desired by Moses would allow the president to run for two consecutive five-year terms without a currently stipulated break. It would also effectively abolish the Haitian Senate and establish a vice president who would report to the president, instead of a prime minister. He called for free and fair elections in 2021, when they are scheduled.
But not everyone thinks it’s even possible right now. “Many civil society organizations in Haiti – and I think rightly – claim that you cannot have elections in the current climate, which is one of very high instability and insecurity,” he said. said Fatton.
He still struggles to recover from a crippling earthquake
In 2010, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, the main shock of which shook the ground for nearly 30 seconds. At least 220,000 people are estimated to have died and some 1.5 million people have been displaced. “About 300,000 were injured and much of the country was buried under tons of twisted metal and concrete,” according to NPR. reported.
The earthquake destroyed Haiti’s infrastructure. And this infrastructure has not yet been really rebuilt.
“People are still traumatized by the earthquake. They have lost members of their family, ”says Pierre-Louis. “They couldn’t rebuild because they don’t have an income. And then you have generations of people who are gone.”
A devastating cholera epidemic
This earthquake was followed by another deadly force: cholera.
As Jason Beaubien of NPR reported in 2016, “UN peacekeepers inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti in 2010 just after the devastating earthquake. The epidemic, which is still ongoing, sickened nearly 800,000 people and killed nearly 9,000. Before 2010, cholera had not been reported in Haiti for decades. “
The UN apologized for its role in the cholera epidemic in 2016. Yet, as Pierre-Louis notes: “People were not compensated for the loss of family members who were supporting family.
Gangs are multiplying
Gangs have become a scourge in the capital Port-au-Prince. A recent UN report mentionned 5,000 people had been displaced by gang violence in the first 10 days of June alone.
“The violence has left several people dead or injured, as rival gangs fight to exert control over populated areas like Martissant, Cité-Soleil and Bel Air. Hundreds of homes and small businesses have also been set on fire,” said UN police stations were also attacked by armed assailants.
Some areas of Port-au-Prince are not even accessible because gangs control them, Fatton says, reflecting the government’s inability to govern. “And these areas are very close, in fact, to the seats of power, to the presidential palace, to the Legislative Assembly,” he said.
Haiti has yet to deliver vaccine doses as COVID rises
Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to at the World Bank.
Almost half of the population needs immediate food aid, according to to the United Nations World Food Program.
Hurricane Matthew hit the country in 2016, further damaging the country’s economy. More than 90 percent of the Haitian population is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the World Bank.
The country has seen a recent resurgence of COVID-19. It is also one of the few countries that has yet to administer a dose of the vaccine, Reuters reports.
“It’s a climate of insecurity,” says Fatton.
There is a power struggle
It is not yet clear who is responsible for the murder of Moses. But Pierre-Louis believes that a possible narrative in his murder is the fight between the incoming elite of Moses and the old elite.
“He was trying to dispossess several people in Haiti who have long been well known as businessmen in Haiti,” he said. “You always have that in Haiti, where when a person becomes president, that’s how the person tries to accumulate wealth: by using the resources of the state, by using other means to dispossess others. who already have wealth and power.
Yet Fatton says an assassination is a new phenomenon in modern Haitian politics. While Haiti’s first independent ruler was assassinated in 1806, such violence has not been typical in the country’s modern era.
“It was a very brutal and shocking event,” says Fatton.