Political Vacuum in Haiti Could Let President Rule Single-Handedly
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haitian President Jovenel Moise could be ruling by decree later this week, a scenario he said would help break the Caribbean nation's political deadlock but which critics fear will undermine its fragile democracy.
In the early hours of Monday, the president said the mandates of lower house deputies and most senators formally expired because no successors have were elected in October after the troubled country failed to hold elections.
The power vacuum could deal a significant blow to democratic governance in the poorest country in the Americas, three decades since the end of the dreaded Duvalier family dictatorship.
Moise, however, sees the side-lining of Haitian lawmakers as a positive.
"The current situation is an opportunity to stop the permanent crisis," said Moise, who has come under pressure from months-long street protests and opposition groups to resign or hold early elections.
Despite the current respite from months of protests and government violence, the country’s rampant corruption threatens to unleash chaos once more.
Port-au-Prince—My friends in Haiti told me not to come—too much chaos, too much violence. If I insisted on coming, they advised, I had to find a bodyguard, a driver, and an armored car. They said: Bring expired credit cards to give to armed robbers; don’t bring cash. Dress down (as if I ever dress any other way) and don’t wear jewelry. And of course, don’t visit any ATMs or banks. Don’t go near the shantytowns, where I previously spent hours talking to people, hanging out. Don’t drive late at night. Don’t go downtown.
It all seemed a little extreme. But then, a week and a half before I arrived, a French couple who had never been to Haiti before were killed shortly after they flew in to adopt a kid—gunned down in front of their hotel, in an area you pass all the time, no matter where you’re going.
For more than a year, the country has been rocked by protests against its corrupt president, Jovenel Moïse, a former banana dealer known in Haiti as Neg Banann, and against the corrupt political system more broadly. Peaceful sit-ins came together outside government buildings in the capital, and large, stirring marches took place throughout the country. The system responded: Well-armed police in battle gear fired on many of the protests, and at least 187 people were killed, some execution style. Journalists were assassinated.
By the time I was planning my trip, Haiti seemed on the edge of a crisis or breakdown. I’d seen such moments there before. Sometimes they would swing in favor of the people, more often in favor of the ruling elites and the status quo.
Haiti was cornered—exhausted, hungry, exasperated with the old, afraid of the new. To make matters worse, in mid-January, the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people would arrive, and so would the international media, to show Haitians and the rest of the world how little the country has changed for the better during the past decade, how deeply it has sunk back into the old, bad ways. Yet new threads of hope were gleaming and glittering through this dark material, new ideas coming from young people who feel that without change, they have no future in this country. Older opposition figures—some valuable, some not—are also trying to figure things out, a fractious but united group whose breadth hasn’t been seen here recently.
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