Haitians Are at an Impasse Over the Country’s Future

The New Yorker, By Edwidge Danticat, February 19, 2021

It was a tale of two gatherings. One took place in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, on February 14th, when thousands marched against dictatorship and against the Presidency of Jovenel Moïse. Moïse was elected in 2016, after a highly contested and drawn-out electoral process. A broad coalition of people—members of the political opposition, civil-society groups, the Superior Council of Haiti’s Judiciary, the Haitian Bar Federation, and Haitian diaspora organizations, as well as a group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers and U.S. human-rights clinics—contend that, per Haiti’s constitution, Moïse’s five-year term started on February 7th of that year, and therefore ended this past February 7th. (Others, including the Biden Administration and the United Nations, support Moïse’s claim that his term extends until February of 2022, because he didn’t officially take office until 2017.) The other gathering took place over several days in the northwestern coastal city of Port-de-Paix, where Moïse, vowing not to leave office until February, 2022, partied and basked in covid-era carnival festivities.

At the Port-au-Prince demonstrations, some protesters carried copies of the 1987 constitution or posters of the seventy-two-year-old Supreme Court judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, whom the opposition had named as the interim President of a transitional government. In response, Moïse fired and replaced Jean-Louis and two other Supreme Court judges, including Yvickel Dieujuste Dabrezil, whom Moïse and his government accused of plotting a coup and an assassination attempt against him. Dabrezil was arrested but eventually released; twenty-two others detained with him, including a police inspector, Marie Louise Gauthier, and her sister, Antoinette Gauthier, a former Presidential candidate, remain in custody. Demonstrations calling for Moïse’s departure have been taking place since the summer of 2018, echoing the similar outcry against Moïse’s mentor and predecessor, Michel Martelly, a konpa musician who goes by the stage name Sweet Micky. Both came to power in contested elections and both have been linked, by a 2017 Haitian Senate report, to the squandering and embezzlement of funds from Venezuela’s oil-purchasing program, Petrocaribe.

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