Tens of thousands of people in Haiti took to the streets again on Sunday to protest President Jovenel Moïse, exceeding all expectations. Demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, the capital, accused the head of state of trying to establish a new “dictatorship,” and criticized U.S. support for his government.
Protests since then have been taking place daily in Port-au-Prince, although with a much smaller number of demonstrators,. Although the demonstrations were peaceful, police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. “Despite all the kidnappings and massacres in the poor neighborhoods, the United States continues to support him,” protester Sheila Pelicier told the AFP news agency. According to the Spanish news agency Efe, at least one person was shot and killed in the capital and others were wounded.
Moïse’s opponents in the government say that his five-year term should have ended on February 7, and have appointed Supreme Court judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis as interim president. Civil society groups, human rights organizations, the judiciary, lawyers’ federations, and religious leaders have also called on Moïse to step down.
On Friday night, Jean-Louis — who was named by several Haitian opposition parties and organizations as “president of the transition” — addressed the people of Haiti for the first time since his appointment: “My country is calling me. I will answer. I solemnly declare that I am the president of all Haitians.” He condemned “arbitrary arrests, illegal decisions, and political persecution.”
Moïse, for his part, maintains that his election in 2015, which was annulled due to allegations of electoral fraud, cannot be considered the beginning of his term. He insists that his 2017 swearing-in constitutes the start of his five-year term, and has reiterated that he will remain in office until next year to overhaul the country’s 1987 constitution — he has handpicked a committee to do so — and hold elections.
The U.S. State Department backs his claim and supports his presidency. But a joint statement released Saturday from three self-described “U.S.-based law clinics working in solidarity with Haitian civil society” at Yale, Harvard, and New York University law schools shows the opposite: based on an analysis of the Haitian constitution and the Supreme Court’s interpretation, Moïse’s presidential term ended on February 7.
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But on February 7, Moïse instead claimed that a coup d’état by the opposition had been foiled. He announced that the authorities had detained 23 coup-plotters, among them Supreme Court judge Ivickel Dabresil, which has worsened the institutional crisis.
The president has been ruling by decree without a sitting parliament for a year, since he considered the body “dissolved” in January 2020 due to the failure to hold the legislative elections that had been scheduled for October 2019. Supposedly, these elections were postponed because of anti-government protests that paralyzed the country at the time.
Moïse has less and less support within the country, but last Friday he received the express backing of the Biden administration, which argues that his mandate lasts until 2022. The United States is not alone in backing Moïse. He also has the support of Canada, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community, and Haiti’s bourgeoisie, all of which have indicated that they favor transparent and democratic elections in 2021.
The demonstrators have harshly criticized the position of international organizations, and reject their interference in internal Haitian affairs. They have also challenged 13 years of UN peacekeeping forces, considered by many to be a foreign occupation of sovereign territory.
The Haitian people have mobilized since 2018 against Moïse, his corruption, and his repressive neoliberal policies, which are sinking the country even deeper into economic crisis. But Haitians are also distrustful of opposition political leaders linked to the bourgeoisie — many of whom face corruption allegations. Were it not for the policies of this opposition, the tremendous mobilizations against hunger and misery that have shaken the country in recent years would have likely already taken Jovenel Moïse down.
Neither the Moïse government nor the opposition parties offer a genuine alternative for the Haitian people. The latter propose nothing beyond Haiti’s historical subordination to the United States and the International Monetary Fund, which has been destroying the country and plunging it further into economic crisis. As socialists, we must show our solidarity with the people of Haiti as they mobilize against these corrupt alternatives, and fight the capitalism and imperialism that are at the heart of the crisis.
First published in Spanish on February 15 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translation by Otto Fors