Haitians are preparing for more violence and instability as assassinated President Jovenel Moise’s term of office officially comes to an end, but the crisis-stricken Caribbean nation does not seem closer to a political transition.
Large numbers of police patrolled the streets, and schools and businesses were closed Monday as the country celebrated a grim anniversary.
It’s been seven months since Moise was assassinated by gunmen in his home on July 7, 2021, and Monday was also the end of the assassinated president’s term.
Opponents have demanded that Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took office less than two weeks after Moise was assassinated, resign, arguing that his administration is unconstitutional.
“We are in a situation where fear is taking over peace,” Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, told The Associated Press. “Our country can not continue to live like this.”
Haiti is facing an ongoing political crisis as the nation of 11 million has experienced aggravated gang violence and insecurity in the wake of Moise’s assassination.
Thousands of people voted to stay home on Monday, fearing even greater violence would erupt as Haiti’s political instability deepens, kidnappings escalate and gangs grow stronger amid a crumbling economy.
Henry has promised to create a provisional election council soon to pave the way for elections in Haiti, which he says will take place by the end of this year as his administration seeks to improve security conditions.
“The heinous assassination of President Jovenel Moise last year has brought our country to the brink of chaos, and our institutions are completely dysfunctional,” Henry wrote in an opinion published Sunday by The Miami Herald. “My mission and that of the government that I preside over is to get our country back on track to achieve democracy as soon as possible.
“This country has completely deteriorated,” he said. “You do not know who you can rely on, who you can trust to lead the country on the right path.”
Haiti currently has only 10 elected officials since it failed to hold legislative elections in October 2019 amid political bottlenecks and major protests, with Moise ruling for more than a year by decree before being assassinated.
While Henry has the support of the US and other Western powers, his authority has been questioned by Haitian civil society activists – including those who rejected an international effort earlier this year to hold quick elections.
Since then, numerous opponents have challenged Henry and nominated their own leaders, moves the prime minister has not acknowledged.
“A president cannot be nominated, appointed or elected by any group of people or organization,” Henry wrote in The Miami Herald. “Elections are the only way forward.”
One of the most high-profile groups opposing Henry, the Montana Accord, named after the hotel where it was signed, proposed a two-year transition period to give Haiti time to create a safer environment for voters.
The group, which consists of thousands of supporters, including prominent politicians and civil society leaders, was recently nominated as its leader Fritz Jean, former governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti.
“We are close to a situation of chaos,” Jean said in a recent interview with the Reuters news agency, adding that voters will not be able to participate, given the country’s security concerns.
“We can not talk about elections in times of such violence in the country. If you can not participate, what credibility can these elections have? ” said Jean.
Lionel Fortune, a 33-year-old law student, was among the few who ventured outside on Monday and waited a long time for a public bus to run on the empty streets.
While political figures are fighting to be Haiti’s new leader, Fortune has lamented the rise in prices of basic food products, accusing the government of doing nothing to improve people’s lives.
“The economy has reached the bottom. It can not go beyond what it has. Nobody can really survive. ”