Jovenel Moïse; Freezing until Assassination

  • Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at his home on 7 July 2021. 
  • Moïse incredibly unpopular in Haiti before the time of his assassination. 
  • Gang violence riddled the nation as Moïse looked to reform the constitution.
Jovenel Moïse

Why was Moise’s Temperature Freezing

Answer: Moïse was seen as a corrupt President who often relied on gang violence for political gains. 

On July 7th, 2021, Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at his home in Port-au-Prince in the middle of the night. His assassination was amidst an already devastatingly unstable political and economic situation in Haiti, as crime and poverty riddled the island nation. Though even when he was leading the country, he was incredibly unpopular as many saw the country sliding down the wrong path under his leadership.

More specifically, Moïse was being criticized for almost every big thing he did; introducing constitutional reform, delaying elections, and staying in power despite widespread protests. Though he was also being criticized for everything he neglected to face head-on; worsening security crisis, lack of Covid-19 response, and mass corruption accusations. 

With Moïse being assassinated, Haiti now sees its previous security crisis on the verge of disaster as gangs such as the G9 gangs seem to become more salient in Haiti’s political scene. After the assassination of Moïse, Jimmy Cherizer, the head of the G9 gangs and former police officer, has held speeches and recently said that Haitians must “wait on his order to avenge the slain President.

Though the order from Cherizier is incredibly loyal to him, it is almost unsurprising because of the fact the G9 gangs have been suspected of creating instability in neighbourhoods that support political opposition, at the request of Moïse. Violence at the hands of the gangs is one of the most important factors that make Moïse unpopular, especially as some believe that he gave these groups a “free pass” to commit crimes with impunity. 

Moïse was elected in 2015 and installed a year later in 2016 after critics believed the election was plagued with widespread fraud. Though taking office in 2016, many in Haiti expected to see Moïse step down from his 5-year term in February of 2021 and set up elections for a new government. Moïse instead stayed in power, defying the Haitian Superior Council, and refused to set up legislative elections, which created a defunct Parliament as only 10 of the 149 parliamentary seats remained filled, as the legislators’ terms expired.

This led to a situation in which Moïse was effectively ruling on a decree without any legislative checks or balances. Of course, this legislative deadlock and lack of any actual functioning government were due to the negligence from Moïse completely disregarding the need for legislative elections, to solidify his grip on the country. 

Both gang violence and delaying of elections are what made Moïse an incredibly unpopular figure in Haiti prior to his death. Widespread protests against Moïse refusing to step down and ignoring the security crisis were two of the most important factors regarding opposition against the late President. Though the country looks to recover from the assassination of Moïse, it must also look towards a realistic path to solving the crises that Moïse either ignored or worsened while achieving their goal of administering elections in September. 

What was changing Moîse’s Temperature?

Answer: Moïse looked to reform the constitution while Haitians protested gang violence. 

Opposition protests are nothing new to Moïse as during his mandate. Earlier in Moïse’s tenure, Haitians protested against the deteriorating security problem of gang violence and gas shortages. As previously stated, Moïse was in some hot water before his assassination because of the fact that he refused to step down from the executive seat. Due to his rejection to step down, Haitians flooded the streets of Haiti to protest while citing the unconstitutional extension of his mandate along with corruption accusations of stealing $700,000 from Haiti’s Petrocaribe fund as their biggest grievance.

Following the protests in February 2021, an alleged plot to assassinate President Moïse and set up a coup d’état was foiled by the police with Yvickel Dabresil, a Supreme Court Judge, being detained and later released. The United States and the Organization of American States backed Moïse to stay in power despite calls for his resignation, making him even more unpopular as many Haitians saw it as a case of foreign intervention- something they are historically very opposed to. 

During Moïse’s mandate, he also looked to reform the constitution of the country through a nationwide referendum. In the constitutional change, Moïse looked to increase the power of the Presidency through abolishing the Senate and the Prime Minister position, to install the office of the Vice President. The decision is backed by the hope to decrease political fragmentation between Parliament and the executive.

Other articles of the constitution would have allowed the President to run for two consecutive terms (though article 271 excluded Moïse from running a second time after the end of his mandate), creating presidential immunity during a president’s mandate, and allowing for more power in the armed forces, which Moïse recently reinstated after two decades of dormancy.

The talks of a constitutional referendum also came during the time of what many described as an increase of authoritarianism in Moïse’s rule. The drafted constitution was written by a group of five experts, appointed by Moïse, making many skeptical of the process. The referendum is set to run on September 26, 2021, giving Haitians an opportunity to dramatically change the country’s political system. 

Gang violence also played an increasing role in how Moïse was freezing in popularity in the country. Since he and his Tet Kale Party were accused of working with the G9 gangs, many saw their violent methods as a way to destabilize opposition support (by attacking opposition neighbourhoods) to stay in power. The UN had also noticed the gangs being employed by the government, while at the same time, the National Police were under fire for allegedly committing human rights abuses.

Some of these abuses include the lack of protection for civilians prior to massacres taking place in some of Haiti’s poorest neighbourhoods. Not only were many of the members who carried out these attacks off duty Haitian National Police, but many received impunity from the government. Many blamed Moïse for not doing enough to tackle the daily violence Haitians suffered from at the hands of the various gangs within the country. 

With Moïse gone, many will remember his legacy as a mandate filled with widespread public dissent and an attempt (though may be successful through a vote) to change the country’s constitutional fabric. Freezing up until the time of his death, many Haitians will look back and remember a President who participated in dirty political tactics and failed to address some of the country’s biggest modern-day crises. 

What was driving Jovenel Moïse?

Answer: Creating an executive with less barriers. 

In creating a new constitution, Jovenel Moïse was answering some of the genuine calls to fix Haiti’s most powerful document. The inefficiencies within the government can be seen as the country in 2020, was operating on the 2017/2018 budget as a new one was not passed for two years. Moïse also had appointed seven different Prime Ministers during his mandate, which is another example of what Moïse saw as the difficulties in the Haitian parliamentary system.

During a phone call with the New York Times, Moïse said, “we need a system that works… The system now doesn’t work. The President cannot work to deliver”. Of course, Moïse looked to create a system in which the President was empowered, bypassing any parliamentary deadlock and to create, what he saw,a more effective form of government. Of course, Haitians wanted to see some sort of constitutional reform, but some saw increasing the power of the executive as a potential road back down to dictatorship, as many people are still alive from the era of ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, the father and son dictatorship regime. 

Moïse, being backed up by the United States to stay in power, gave him much perceived legitimacy to continue his mandate. Although the United States did not support the constitutional referendum being set up by Moïse, they continued to support the leader, despite his track record for ignoring devastating violence in his own country. Moïse, who was given many chances in the past to answer the calls and tackle the country’s instability head-on, largely ignored the crises, and in fact, worsened it. Though like many other Presidents, Moïse was looking for something to help his own personal legacy and political party, even though he was incredibly disliked before the time of his death. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Haiti likely to see problems, while USA and DR look to spur migration. 

Obviously, as any assassination would, Moïse’s assassination took over the media cycle highlighting the potential for instability and chaos in Haiti. Though following the assassination, lead a turbulent power between the former Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, and the newly appointed Prime Minister, Ariel Henry. Though Joseph was leading the country for a short time after the assassination, he stepped down from the position, allowing Ariel Henry to take the reigns of the country, honoring the wishes of the late President.

For Haitians, the hope of the new government is to bring the country to the polls in September, elect a new president, and hopefully put the country on the right track, which is something PM Ariel Henry has committed to. In the country, gang violence truly is a plague to the hopeful scenario of stability and political cohesion.

With the assassination taking place, it is almost certain that the number of displaced people from the violence will shoot up, from its previous value of 15,000 since early June, as gang violence will continue to impact everyday life. The economic situation is likely to only hurt Haitians well during the post-assassination phase. The price of food and petrol has increased, making the situation even direr for everyday working-class Haitians. 

For the United States, Claude Joseph has called for their intervention, which was an incredibly unpopular request for Haitians in and outside of Haiti. Joe Biden said that the United States did not have any immediate plans to intervene militarily on the island after the time of the assassination. The decision whether or not to intervene came with much uncertainty from the Biden administration as Haitians waited to see if American troops would once again patrol Port-au-Prince, reminiscent of 20 year occupation of Haiti after the assassination of Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915.

Despite knowing the devastating situation in Haiti, and the possibility of migrants coming by sea, the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said that “the time is never right to attempt migration by sea”, hinting at the hard-line rejection of Haitian migrants leaving their devastating situation. 

As for the Dominican Republic, the country closed its border with their Haitian neighbours after the assassination as they guessed a dramatic influx in migration would occur. The Dominican ambassador to the United Nations, Jose Blanco, requested to the United Nations that Haiti were to be under “permanent monitoring”. Since the assassination, the Dominican Republic reopened the border for humanitarian reasons to prevent an increase in migration flows across the border. Of course, migration has been and will continue to be a concern for the Dominican Republic, especially after the assassination, the Dominican Republic hopes Haiti finds its feet to create a more stable situation on the island.