The assassination of Haiti’s Moise, shocking, but not surprising – Part 2

Deceased Haitian President Jovenel Moise
Deceased Haitian President Jovenel Moise (Photo credit: President Jovenel Moise (Twitter: @moisejovenel))

When a devastating earthquake flattened much of Haiti in 2010, the disaster was seen as an opportunity to resuscitate the country’s battered infrastructure and provide a fresh start by shoring up the government’s own capacity to rebuild. More than US$9 billion in humanitarian assistance and donations poured into Haiti, buttressed by an additional estimated US$2 billion-worth of cheap oil supplies and loans from the then-powerful ally Venezuela. International aid organizations rushed to help manage the recovery.

Michel Martelly, a one-time popular singer who became president in 2011, like his predecessors, was accused of facilitating widespread corruption and the mismanagement of funds intended for reconstruction. In the years that followed, persistent economic malaise, rising crime and corruption led to protests by Haitians fed up with their government and demanding Martelly’s resignation. But he held onto power and after one term tapped Moïse to succeed him in the 2015 elections.

From the outset Moise’s turn at the wicket was fraught with problems, preceded by a one-year vacuum caused by Martelly’s transition. Moïse’s backers claimed that he was not inaugurated until February 2017 because his predecessor (and mentor), Michel Martelly, ended his term without holding elections for his own succession. Instead, an interim government led by the head of the Senate (Jocelerme Privert), in a procedure whose legality has been questioned, governed from February 2016 to February 2017. Moïse’s 2016 election win was not certified until 2 January 2017, and Privert did not conclude his interim presidency until 7 February 2017. In an address to the nation on 7 February, Moise, in listing his administration’s achievements, had insisted that he had another year in his mandate. “Democracy works when we all agree to play by the rules of the game … Today marks the first day of my fifth year,” he had said.

Haiti’s electoral council had postponed legislative elections indefinitely in October 2019, and Moise had been governing by decree since January 2020, when the legislature’s mandate expired. Moise blamed the country’s Parliament for the postponement and for failing to approve an electoral law, while his opponents accused him of instituting manoeuvres to hijack the electoral and political process.

In a tweet on 13 January of last year, Moise announced the close of the 50th legislature, saying the terms of all deputies in the lower house (Chamber of Deputies) were over, as were those of two-thirds of the Senate. His political approaches to governing were deemed unconstitutional as he sought to entrench himself at the seat of Haiti’s government. He had issued decrees that effectively removed judges from the supreme court in violation of the Constitution and sought to drive the nail further home by appointing replacements to the court, also without following constitutional guidelines.

Moise had also formed an electoral council and consultation committee to prepare a new constitution, for which he planned to hold a referendum on 25 April. Moise had said the current constitution “is one of the sources of social, economic and political crises that the country is currently experiencing”.

As part of his reforms, Moise had intended to eliminate the position of prime minister, a post, he had argued, which gave too much power to someone who is not directly elected. Under the current constitution, Haiti’s prime minister is accountable to Parliament and cannot be dismissed by the president. In this case, the Haitian Bar Federation, the Superior Council of Judicial Power and Quisqueya University have said Moise’s mandate ends in 2021. Several Haitian civil society groups and intellectuals also urged Moise to leave office at the end of April, while the Episcopal Conference has said, “No one is above the laws and the Constitution”.

According to Robert Fatton, an expert on Haitian politics at the University of Virginia and a native of Haiti, himself, “You have this situation where the institutions are not working, where the economy is stagnated … the politics has been extremely volatile. The current government has been challenged by the population. There have been massive accusations of corruption …so you name it, in terms of instability and institutional decay, you have it at the moment in Haiti.”

It appeared that in a country with a corruption perception index of 25.44 on the Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index which ranks the country 157th place out of 180 countries, Moise may have outlived his usefulness and there was a growing throng which wanted him out. Francois Pierre-Louis, an expert on Haitian politics at Queens College at the City University of New York, said he wasn’t that surprised to learn of Moïse’s killing. According to Pierre-Louise, Moïse had stripped rival political parties, business-people and prominent families of power. “He made a lot of enemies and the attack in the circumstances could have come from anywhere. And he alienated too many people,” Pierre-Louis, who is originally from Haiti, told NPR.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a Jamaican creative artist residing in the United States.

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