The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse plunged the Haiti in a vacuum of power and in a panorama of maximum uncertainty. Despite the Caribbean country’s long history of disgrace and political turmoil, the last murder took place in 1915, precipitating the first US occupation, which lasted nearly 20 years. After President Moïse was shot dead on Wednesday at his home, Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a state of siege in the country, giving the army broad powers.
The different scenarios that open up from now on range from the early call for elections to an unlikely coalition government. All involved in an extreme institutional fragility, in a spiral of unbridled violence and under the watchful eye of the United States. “It’s still not clear who will lead Haiti,” acknowledged US Ambassador Bocchit Edmond on Wednesday afternoon.
The Haitian Parliament was partially dissolved in January of last year, awaiting presidential and legislative elections called for next September 26, which Moise could not run for re-election. The elections had been approved by the international community as a way to find a way out of the umpteenth Haitian crisis. After the assassination, legislation calls for new elections to be called within 90 days to renew the parliament and the presidency. Despite the deadline being later than the date already set, doubts are growing that the elections can be held.
“That won’t happen. There is neither a census nor an electoral court capable of organizing the elections”, says Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University (USA). A consultant for years to different Haitian Governments, Gamarra describes the country’s panorama as a “complete absence of authority and even organized civil society”. Proof of institutional chaos is the current coexistence of two prime ministers: Claude Joseph, who has held the post on an interim basis since April, and Ariel Henry, appointed by Moise last Monday, but who had not yet officially taken over .
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The possibility of a concerted government also seems remote. “Political parties do not exist as such in Haiti. In fact, there are two fronts”, says political scientist Gamarra. On the one hand is the center-right PHTK, to which Moise belonged. On the other, the current linked to the left of historic presidents such as Jean-Bertrand Aristide, overthrown on up to two occasions with the collaboration of the USA. In this current there is one of the main opponents, Jean-Charles Moïse, related to Chavismo. Venezuelan oil sustained Haiti’s precarious economy for years until the recent rupture of the assassinated president to get closer to the US.
The opposition is accused of being behind the riots in the streets and even the criminal groups that are plaguing the country. A report by the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights (CARDH) indicates that in Haiti there is a “hegemony of crime”. In June alone, more than 150 people were murdered — including 30 police officers — and another 200 were kidnapped in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. “The country is besieged by armed groups that sow terror, murders, kidnappings, rapes (…). Port-au-Prince is under siege in the south, north and east,” says the organization in a document released last Tuesday.
“These are organizations associated with drug trafficking, kidnapping and even factual powers such as businessmen, for which they function as paramilitary groups,” says Gamarra. The circle of the most powerful families in Haiti was also one of Moise’s enemies. Like the Vorve, owners of the country’s electricity and whom he turned away from the juicy energy business. Over the past few months, the president had accused these business groups of being behind the coup attempts.
The wave of instability that has hit the country also includes Jimmy’s recent statements barbecue Cherizier, a former police officer who leads one of Port-au-Prince’s most powerful violent groups, empowered by the boom in the kidnapping industry and the arms and drug trade. Through social media, Cherizier announced an “insurrection of the poor” against the government and the elites.
“The rise of criminal groups coincides with the departure of the UN from the country. The most likely scenario is the return of a new international mission, as the US does not seem willing to do so”, says Gamarra about the 2017 departure of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) after 13 years in the territory. MINUSTAH was implemented in 2004 to support Haiti after the armed movement that toppled Aristide for the second time, and strengthened to help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake.
So far, the official US stance has been one of caution. President Joe Biden condemned the attack on Wednesday morning. In the afternoon, Haitian police announced the deaths of four suspects in a clash with authorities in Port-au-Prince, as well as the arrest of two others. In the first hours after the bombing, a series of videos circulated on social media showing the alleged attackers identifying themselves as members of the DEA, the US drug enforcement agency. The speculations were scathingly rejected by both the US State Department and Haiti’s own ambassador to the US.
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