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Where Does the Assassination of Moïse Leave Haiti?

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse speaking into a microphone. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday has resulted in a new crisis and more uncertainty for Haiti. // File Photo: Haitian Government.

The assassination early Wednesday morning of President Jovenel Moïse has plunged Haiti, which was already dealing with political unrest, widespread insecurity and economic hardship, into a new and unexpected crisis. The killing was condemned by leaders around the world, including U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who said, “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.” To what extent will Moïse’s assassination create a political vacuum and new unrest in Haiti? Will those responsible face justice? What effects will the episode have on the presidential and legislative elections and the constitutional referendum, which are currently scheduled for September? What will the situation mean for the functioning of Haiti’s economy and commerce?

Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States: “Under article 149 of the Haitian Constitution, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph will assume the functions of the executive branch until elections in September. The government has increased security presence and declared a state of siege to ensure the safety of all citizens. An investigation is underway by the Haitian National Police, Department of Justice and all relevant ministries to ensure that the culprits of this heinous crime are brought to justice. First Lady Martine Moïse was severely wounded and is hospitalized in critical condition. We are committed to finding truth and justice for the family of the president and the people of Haiti. While several suspects have been arrested, we have requested investigative assistance from the U.S. government with our ongoing investigation. Although our nation is mourning the assault on our democracy, the government, including all relevant stakeholders, are working to ensure free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections in September. President Moïse may have been assassinated, but his vision for a more prosperous Haiti has not. While Haiti is one of the three countries of the region that managed the Covid-19 pandemic successfully, we cannot ignore or overlook the economic impact of the pandemic on tourism and agriculture, as well as tax collections and the informal sector. Despite the economic challenges, the government increased its spending to purchase medical equipment and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. We are nonetheless open for commerce. The death of the president may further exacerbate the economic challenges facing our nation, but the people of Haiti are incredibly resilient. Thus, we shall overcome.”

Georges Fauriol, fellow at the Caribbean Policy Consortium and senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS): “With disputed national elections and a constitutional referendum delayed several times but now scheduled for Sept. 26, the assassination of Jovenel Moïse generates even greater uncertainty. The tragedy does, however, offer a narrow opportunity for a consensus to emerge among Haiti’s dysfunctional political factions and the government—outlining an agreement regarding an interim national leadership structure, tied to a legally functioning national electoral council, an electoral timetable and concrete plans to clamp down on gang violence. But none of this will be easy. The short-term challenge is confirming the institutional authority, let alone political legitimacy, of Moïse’s immediate successors. Outgoing interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph claims he is running the country, but he faces a challenge from his successor, Ariel Henry, designated by Moïse on Monday but not sworn in. Any dispute emerging over the nation’s leadership, coupled with a fractured opposition, worsens the odds that Haiti’s political community will on its own reach a workable agreement. What the United States does in the coming weeks is therefore critical. For starters, the United States and others must help Haiti identify those behind the assassination. Perhaps by naming a special envoy, Washington can also play an effective behind-the-scenes role encouraging Haitian political and civil society leaders to coalesce around a path forward. This implies that the international community synchronizes a core message—essentially lacking so far. Most importantly, this means that the Biden administration must shift from it seeming indifference toward Haiti and ratchet up its focus on the country’s widening crisis.”

Bianca Shinn Desras, social justice advocate and policy advisor: “President Moïse’s assassination has widened Haiti’s political unrest and insecurity. The perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice with the urgent assistance of Haiti’s international community and friends. Unfortunately, we have rarely witnessed criminals and organized thugs being brought to justice in Haiti. The utopia of impunity in Haiti must come to an end for the country and its citizen to have an opportunity to move forward. The perpetrators and network of operatives that planned the president’s execution will most likely face no consequences for their actions. We have witnessed the brutal killings of journalists, and recent massacres, and too many to list go unpunished. The current situation will force the country into an economic whirlwind of collapse. We must prepare for a complex humanitarian crisis because of Covid-19, insecurity and a leadership vacuum. The international community’s neocolonialist and systemic racist postures and policies require a shift. These practices have consistently led to a chaotic history of instability. This new crisis will only create more division among the political class while certain powerful entities will solidify their authority in the country. The climate is not feasible for an election. The Biden administration must shift its policy toward forced elections in Haiti and, for once, listen to the voices of the Haitian civil society. The priority should be placed on strengthening institutions, such as the police, judiciary and public health, to avoid plunging into a complete failed state.”

Chantalle F. Verna, associate professor of history and international relations at Florida International University: “The vacuum and unrest are already at play, despite Prime Minister Claude Joseph’s statements that things are under control. The declared state of siege extends executive power to Joseph, whose authority was already under question. It is uncertain how consensus will be reached in order to move forward with elections, but such consensus is essential. If there is any role for foreigners, it is to support dialogue and movement in that direction among in-country actors across sectors rather than pushing any particular trajectory. Close attention to and following of the existing constitutional guidelines are a sound course of direction. Also, serious engagement with leaders and representatives of popular organizations to ensure the involvement of perspectives from across civil society is critical. It is not clear who is responsible for this heinous act—be they individuals from inside and/or outside of Haiti—and at what point we may ever come to know. That said, statements in Haiti and outside of it have emphasized that those responsible must be held accountable. The record thus far on holding individuals and organizations involved in the murder of men, women and children across sectors of Haitian society has not been encouraging, particularly during the past year and decades. Furthermore, given the history of foreign involvement in political assassinations, be it through funding, weapons supply, training or hired mercenaries, and the broader forms of assault on human life in Haiti, it will be critical that we see a far-reaching conversation about accountability. Remittances are likely to be even more in demand in Haiti. But innovative approaches to supporting Haiti’s economy and commercial opportunities should also lean further toward the needs and interests of consumers with less disposable income and small-scale entrepreneurs.”

Raymond Joseph, former ambassador of Haiti to the United States: “Haiti is finally getting the attention of world leaders who, understandably, condemn the assassination of the Haitian president. It could have been otherwise, had those leaders paid attention and responded appropriately to the demands of the Haitian people who have been suffering all sorts of abuses from this president, who was ruling by decree since January 2020. He systematically failed to renew the terms of legislators, mayors and other local officials who were replaced by his own agents. Moreover, gangs flourished under his administration, bringing desolation to families and causing tens of thousands of refugees. World leaders weren’t disturbed by the massacres in Haiti, including those of June 29-30, which took the lives of 23 people, among them journalist Diego Charles and popular activist Marie-Antoinette Duclaire. The president planted the seeds of unbridled violence that led to the current mayhem. Certainly, the investigation underway will bring light on the machinations behind the assassination. Will justice be done? Perhaps, but all investigations have been blocked in the assassination of Monferrier Dorval, president of the Port-au-Prince bar association, who was gunned down last August, just a few yards from the president’s residence. Unless the gangs that gained prominence under the ruling PHTK regime in the past decade, despite the watch of three United Nations missions, are defeated, Haiti will go further down the drain, economically, socially and politically. Corruption and impunity in high places must be addressed. There can’t be free, fair, inclusive and democratic elections in this chaotic ambiance, in which armed bandits are the law.”

James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project: “The most likely culprit is elements of the political opposition, seeking to wrest power. Three of the four leading opponents are linked to past political murders. It could also have been a drug cartel; we may never know. In the 2000 murder of journalist Jean Dominique, indictments came 12 years later, but no one went to trial. The FBI implicated members of the presidential palace in the 1995 murder of lawyer Mireille Durocher Bertin—same result. Pending definitive forensic evidence, two factors had already put Moïse in danger: First, the opposition falsely declared his tenure illegal. Second, there was weak support from the United States. Haiti’s constitution sets five years as the presidential term, and Moïse was serving out his last year. An amendment required a president elected late to take office immediately and juggled the schedule for that. But Moïse was not allowed to do that. The amendment was not applied. Later, the opposition extracted the scheduling from it and made it into an enabling myth, making itself complicit in the murder. On the second point, weak support from the United States: We pulled the U.N. mission from Haiti in 2017, leaving Moïse entirely on his own. U.S. policymakers forgot how hard you have to work just to have an elected president in Haiti. The antics of the opposition were predisposing, but given the huge power discrepancy, the U.S. forfeitures were the clincher. The choices before the United States are stark. Leave Haiti as a giant refugee factory off our shores? For that is all that the factions will do with it. Or resume international stewardship despite the blight on sovereignty? The United States has spent 28 years searching for an easier choice and has not found one.”

Francois Pierre-Louis, professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York: “President Jovenel Moïse created a ‘one man’ administration, in which power resided only with him. His assassination has created a power vacuum that puts Haiti on two contradictory paths. The first one is the continuation of the chaos and anarchy that his gangs had unleashed in the capital. If Haiti goes down this path, it may end up in a destructive civil war. The second path is to rebuild the country’s democratic institutions by supporting a real dialogue with all the political parties and civic groups, disarm the gangs, fight impunity and promote economic development. There have been several massacres during Moïse’s administration, including summary killings of prominent lawyers, journalists, students, civic leaders and activists. The only way to bring peace to Haiti is for the new government to bring to justice those who are responsible for these acts. Even though President Moïse is dead, it is still important to bring those who carried out his orders to justice. Moïse’s agenda no longer exists. However, it is urgent to hold presidential, legislative and municipal elections as soon as possible under the 1987 amended constitution. The new interim officials must move fast to hold these elections, instead of prolonging their rule. Moïse’s monetary and economic policies destroyed Haiti’s agriculture, commerce and trade. With the surge of Covid-19 and an unvaccinated population, the interim government will face tremendous challenges to revamp the country’s economy as 60 percent of its revenues come from foreign aid. The bottom line is for the government to end the tax-exempt privileges that Moïse gave to his friends and to encourage foreign investments and diaspora tourism.”

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