Haiti enters new chapter of political turmoil and risk of violence

. Feb 10, 2021
Port-au-Prince: A woman pushes her merchandise away from tires set on fire by protesters during a countrywide strike demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Photo: MCCV/Shutterstock Port-au-Prince: A woman pushes her merchandise away from tires set on fire by protesters during a countrywide strike demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Photo: MCCV/Shutterstock

Haiti is no stranger to crisis. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of its 11-million population lives under the poverty line on less than USD 2.41 per day and suffers from daily power cuts. And the Caribbean nation has been hit by some extreme climate events in recent decades, such as the 2004 floods which killed over 5,000 people — or the devastating earthquake that left 300,000 dead in 2010. 

It is also home to a continuous cycle of political crisis, which entered a new chapter this week as political forces squabble over when the term of President Jovenel Moïse should end. The opposition — as well as a large part of the domestic political spectrum — claims his time in office expired on Sunday, while the president claims he still has one year to go.

</p> <p>February 7 was the sixth anniversary of the 2015 election, which was canceled and postponed on multiple occasions before Mr. Moïse won the vote on November 20, 2016. Between February 2015 and 2017, Haiti was ruled by a caretaker government. The dispute now is over whether the president&#8217;s term should be counted from the original election date — meaning it came to an end on Sunday — or after he effectively took office, which would allow him to remain in power until next year.&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the country has no sitting Congress nor a constitutional court to rule on such cases. Disputes over President Moïse&#8217;s term have been made even more heated by the head of state&#8217;s intention to draft a new Haitian Constitution, further concentrating his power.</p> <p>Mr. Moïse is &#8220;taking [the] country to the brink of explosion,&#8221; according to the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, after the government arrested 23 people this week — including a member of the Supreme Court and a senior police official. The president claims the arrests were made to interrupt a coup that planned to murder him.</p> <p>Meanwhile, opposition forces promise civil disobedience and riots — saying that 72-year-old Judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis should take office as caretaker president.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="666" src="" alt="Haiti Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Photo: Gregory Reed" class="wp-image-56528" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>“I am not a dictator,” said Haitian President Jovenel Moïse after making 23 arrests. Photo: Gregory Reed</figcaption></figure> <h2>Intervention in Haiti is a delicate issue</h2> <p>Foreign intervention has been a constant in Haitian history, including a 19-year U.S. occupation at the first half of the 20th century and multiple <a href="">UN-backed peacekeeping missions</a>. This time around, however, outside observers are set to look on from afar. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said a mission in Haiti is monitoring the situation &#8220;with concern,&#8221; and called for the disputing parties to find common ground.</p> <p>&#8220;It is difficult to think about the role of the UN or of the Organization of American States in regards to Haiti,&#8221; says Arthur Murta, a foreign affairs professor at São Paulo&#8217;s Pontifical Catholic University. &#8220;The last international missions in the country were widely considered to be disasters, with multiple allegations of abuse that only brought more instability to the Haitian social fabric.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Murta refers to the Brazil-led United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (<a href="">MINUSTAH</a>), which lasted between 2004 and 2017. It was Brazil’s biggest and most ambitious military action since the country sent a force to fight in Italy during World War II.</p> <p>In Haiti, the Brazilian military generals took an active role in police operations, often ending in multiple casualties. In 2005, Brazilian troops led Operation Iron Fist, a raid into the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité Soleil, targeting a warlord known as Dread Wilme. After a seven-hour gun battle, the peacekeeping troops fired over 22,000 bullets, killing dozens of people, including Dread Wilme. The commanding officer, General Augusto Heleno — who currently serves as Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s chief security officer — considered the raid a success. Human rights groups called it a &#8220;massacre.&#8221;</p> <p>Besides the violence, the mission was also accused of <a href="">introducing cholera</a> to the country and there were several reports of sexual abuse and human rights violations.</p> <p>“What the international community needs to understand is that there will be no democratic and peaceful solution for Haiti without the world providing the country with resources and inputs so it can follow a path of development,&#8221; ponders Mr. Murta.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;It is necessary to strengthen national institutions from the inside, not generate a cycle of dependence.&#8221;

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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