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CWA # 551, 11 September 2021

Latin America
Haiti: Two months after the assassination, the storm is still brewing

  Joeana Cera Matthews 

Two months since the President’s assassination, Haiti continues to grapple with deteriorating political, economic and social issues. The trends appear to point towards further spiralling.

On 7 July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his residence. This pushed an already disturbed Haiti into further chaos. Amidst extreme confusion on who will lead the country and the legitimacy of this leader, the dwindling economic and social conditions pointed to the inability of the Haitian political administration to ward off these crises. The weakening institutions in Haiti, both before and after the assassination, do not offer any comfort to the situation.

Pre-Assassination Crises
Moïse's illegitimate rule seems to have been the crux of most of the problems. He had overstayed his mandate, which ended in February 2021, by claiming he took charge much later which garnered massive opposition. This eventually led to Haiti becoming a parliamentary democracy with no parliament. Moïse had ruled Haiti by decree for over a year. Elections hadn’t been conducted implying there wasn’t a legislative body that could oust the President or run the country. The Haitian government consisted of only 10 senators from the expected 30. Moïse had also limited judicial review and created an intelligence service that answered only to the President.

Such unilateral decisions taken by Moïse amassed a strong opposition which led to protests and coups. The opposition was not just limited to those from the political arena but larger public discontent existed against Moïse – first over corruption allegations, then over his mismanagement of the economy, and finally over his increasing grab on power. This dissent also converted into violence giving rise to Haiti’s gang culture. Large parts of the country are now controlled by these groups who apparently commit ‘legitimate violence’. 

The pandemic only worsened the Haitian crises. Until recently, Haiti was the only country in the Western hemisphere that was yet to administer a single shot of the coronavirus vaccine. According to UNICEF, gang violence was what furthered the delay in the arrival and distribution of vaccines. The inflation rate added to Haiti’s problems as 60 per cent of the country’s public earns less than USD 2 per day. With a population of 11 million, Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Americas. The scarcity of food intensifies concerns as 4.4 million people – nearly half the population – live in hunger while 1.2 million people suffer from severe hunger.

Post-Assassination Crises
The primary issue post-assassination was the ambiguity in the line of succession. The apparent power of the Supreme Court Chief Justice was ruled out as he had expired and hadn’t since been replaced. Elections had been interminably delayed implying the absence of a National Assembly to elect a new leader, which would have been the next logical option. It is in this background that Joseph Claude Joseph took charge as interim Prime Minister. The ambiguity didn’t end here. Before he was assassinated, Moïse had made an announcement to replace Joseph Claude with Ariel Henry on 8 July. However, after Moïse’s assassination on 7 July, Claude took charge. A third contender in this tug of war was Joseph Lambert who vied for the vacant Presidential post. Despite the possibility of a power struggle, Claude maintained his upper hand as he’d already assumed charge. A three-way power struggle between Claude, Henry and Lambert were on the cards. However, this was avoided by Claude stepping down for Henry, after about a week as interim Prime Minister. Lambert’s claim to be President was objected to by Claude, who said that the only way to become President was through elections.

The extensive foreign intervention also raised Haitian concerns. The US had backed Moïse’s rule and agreed to his claim of technicality used to prolong his term. After the assassination, the US-backed out of its obligations despite pledging assistance and support. This backtracking clearly implied the US’ double standards. The massive Colombian involvement in the assassination also had Haitians worrying. However, Colombia provided consular assistance in the investigation while questions about the assassination loomed large. Investigators have since spoken about the internal involvement in the assassination; they say former Haitian justice ministry official Joseph Felix Badio may have ordered the assassination. The latest allegations also include one against Ariel Henry. The entire event seems dubious. Even if we were to push aside these reports as tell-tales, they raise suspicions of both internal and external involvement.

The worsening pandemic and spiralling economy continue to affect the social and economic trends in Haiti. The infection rates stay the same as they were last year as the authorities repeatedly ignore the international community’s warnings to take necessary steps to reduce the spread. The latest addition of a disastrous earthquake only helped further the state of emergency in Haiti.

What lies ahead?
The September presidential and legislative elections (postponed to November) along with the referendum to change Haiti’s constitution – promised by Moïse to bring about political stability – was reiterated by Claude. Though Moïse’s move was suspected of being a tactic to increase the President’s power, the process could bring an end to the administrational and constitutional void despite its questionable credibility. With political polarization and growing hunger in the country, there are imminent fears of unrest. The country seems to be on the verge of a breakdown. The gang violence has increased and protests following the assassination implicate more turmoil.

Haiti’s dependency on the US – be it aid or otherwise – has put the country in a tight spot. They need to be able to reduce the influence of such external actors and build a democratic set-up within the country if they’re to make any progress. Since the European invasion to that of the US, Haiti has been cursed by authoritarian regimes and coups. The continued repression and recurring coups have tormented the Haitians continuously. The authorities fear a situation similar to that of the 1991 mass migration to the US and this is a strong motive for those in power to maintain stability and peace.

The country has been struggling to achieve stability since the fall of the Duvalier dynasty in 1986 and the series of natural disasters it later suffered. The frequent foreign interventions and coups that have plagued the country have made chaos the norm in Haiti. Haitians are worried about their future and confused about the legitimacy of their administrative authorities. The rest of the world stands to watch amidst this chaos, as the perfect storm brews. 


About the author

Joeana Cera Matthews is a Postgraduate Scholar at the Department of International Relations, University of Mysore. She previously interned at the School of Security and Conflict Studies, NIAS (Bengaluru). Her research interests include the migrant and refugee crises in Europe, human rights violations of transgender and non-binary people in Europe, and the political issues faced by unrecognized countries. She is currently working on Sino-European relations and its influences in weakening European cohesion.

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