For the last three weeks, there have been massive protests in Haiti against U.S-backed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
“Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in the capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and citizens demonstrated. Demonstrators are also criticizing the United States and international organizations for supporting Moïse, CNN reported.
The protests, which began on Feb.7, were sparked over a dispute about the president’s term limit: Moïse has served four years of the usual five and says his term ends in 2022 — a move backed by the United States, United Nations, and Organization of American States.
But protesters charge he should have stepped down February 7, pointing to a constitutional provision that starts the term once a president is elected, not when he takes office.
“We want the international community (to) understand that the Haitian people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moïse must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN.
Here are five things you should know about the protests in Haiti.
Legislative elections are long overdue in Haiti, CNN reported. The country’s parliament dissolved in 2020 and when President Moïse failed to organize new elections, it left legislative and municipal positions unfilled, meaning the population is effectively unrepresented. It also means that due to a vacant parliament, Moise is currently ruled by decree.
Moïse also demanded that three Supreme Court justices retire, accusing them of wanting to run for President. In protest, Haiti’s judiciary has halted work, putting courts and tribunals across the country in limbo.
Jovenel Moïse was elected president in 2016, after a highly contested and drawn-out electoral process. According to a wide coalition of people and groups, including the political opposition, the Superior Council of Haiti’s Judiciary, the Haitian Bar Federation as well as a group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers and U.S. human-rights clinics, per Haiti’s constitution, Moïse’s five-year term started on February 7, 2016. As such, his term ended on February 7, 2021.
The Biden Administration and the United Nations, however, support Moïse’s claim that his term extends until February of 2022 because he didn’t officially take office until 2017, The New Yorker reported.
Twitter had plenty to say about Biden backing Moïse.
“The people of Haiti have been deceived: the US determines who will rise and fall as Haitian leader and larger financial interests connected with the oligarchs determine Haiti’s path. Haiti is not disorganised. It’s organised for those who profit from its misery! @FictionsofHaiti,” one person tweeted.
Another questioned why outisders should have any say in Haiti’s government: “Who are you? What are you? You’re not the Haitian People, you’re nothing. The Haitian People voted for president Jovenel Moïse for a five year term. No one can tell him to leave the office before February 07, 2022, and he will pass the power to another elected president.”
The U.S. is Haiti’s biggest donor. “As the poorest country in the hemisphere, and the only country in the past three decades to see a long-term decline in GDP per capita, Haiti has been a focus of concern and interest for donors of humanitarian and development assistance for two generations,” according to the new book “Building a More Resilient Haitian State” by Keith Crane, James Dobbins, Laurel E. Miller, Charles P. Ries, Christopher S. Chivvis, Marla C. Haims, Marco Overhaus, Heather Lee Schwartz and Elizabeth Wilke and published by the Rand Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank.
The U.S. has been Haiti’s largest bilateral donor of humanitarian and development assistance every year since 1990, followed by Canada and the European Union.
This might explain why the U.S. has felt free to voice an opinion about Haiti’s election process.
Before any new election Moïse has said he wants to make changes to the country’ s constitution, claiming that the current version has made Haiti ungovernable, The New Yorker reported. He wants to reform the statutes through a referendum this coming April.
Also, Moïse’s Provisional Electoral Committee has announced plans to hold legislative elections in September, followed by a Presidential vote in November, The New Yorker reported.
“We’ve urged the government of Haiti to organize free and fair legislative elections so that Parliament may resume its rightful role,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors, and local officials was to have been held in 2018 but the polls were delayed after Moïse declared he is entitled to stay for another year.
Twitter isn’t having the delay. One person tweeted, “Cut the crap please! The current government is on its last year in office. It’s sole objectives are to 1- Have a referendum on the constitution 2- Organize elections 3- Hand power to the next elected president This is no sign of dictatorship as you are claiming. Let Haiti be.”
In a letter to the UN mission in Haiti, several human rights and women’s advocacy groups blamed the mission for “providing technical and logistical support for the president’s plans to hold a constitutional reform referendum in April, then-presidential and legislative elections later in the year,” Al-Jazeera reported.
“The United Nations must under no circumstances support President Jovenel Moïse in his anti-democratic plans,” the letter stated.
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These groups said that according to the Caribbean country’s constitution, the president’s term is at its end.
The mission’s response to the letter was that “its mission is to advise the government on promoting and strengthening political stability, good governance, and the rule of law,” Al-Jazeera reported.