Haitians are bracing for more violence and instability, as assassinated President Jovenel Moise’s term in office has officially come to an end but the crisis-stricken Caribbean nation appears no closer to a political transition.
Large numbers of police patrolled the streets, and schools and businesses were shut down on Monday as the nation marked a grim anniversary.
It has been seven months since Moise was killed in his home by armed men on July 7, 2021, and Monday was also the end of the slain president’s term in office.
Opponents have demanded that Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took office less than two weeks after Moise was killed, step down, arguing that his administration is unconstitutional.
“We’re in a situation where fear is taking over peace,” Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, told The Associated Press news agency. “Our country cannot continue to live that way.”
Haiti is facing an ongoing political crisis as the nation of 11 million has experienced worsening gang violence and uncertainty in the aftermath of Moise’s assassination.
On Monday, thousands of people opted to stay home, fearing that even greater violence would erupt as Haiti’s political instability deepens, kidnappings spike and gangs grow more powerful amid a crumbling economy.
Henry has promised to create a provisional electoral 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 tries 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 op-ed published on Sunday by The Miami Herald. “My mission and that of the government over which I preside is to get our country back on track to achieve democracy as soon as possible.
“This country has totally deteriorated,” he said. “You don’t know who you can count on, who you can trust to lead the country to the right path.”
Haiti currently has only 10 elected officials since it failed to hold legislative elections in October 2019 amid political gridlock and huge protests, with Moise ruling by decree for more than a year before he was killed.
While Henry has the backing of US and other Western powers, his authority has been questioned by Haitian civil society members – including those who rejected an international push earlier this year to rapidly hold elections.
Since then, numerous opponents have challenged Henry and nominated their own leaders, moves that the prime minister has not recognized.
“A president cannot be named, appointed or selected 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 that opposes Henry, the Montana Accord, named after the hotel where it was signed, has proposed a two-year transitional period to allow Haiti time to create a safer environment for voters.
The group, made up of thousands of supporters including prominent politicians and civil society leaders, recently nominated as its leader Fritz Jean, former governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti.
“We’re close to a situation of chaos,” Jean told the Reuters news agency in a recent interview, adding that voters would be unable to participate given the country’s security problems.
“We cannot talk about elections in times of such violence in the country. If you cannot participate, what credibility can these elections have? ” Jean said.
Lionel Fortune, a 33-year-old law student, was among the few who ventured outside on Monday and was waiting a long time for a public bus to materialize on the empty streets.
As political figures vie to be Haiti’s new leader, Fortune lamented the spike in prices of basic food staples and accused the government of not doing anything to improve people’s lives.
“The economy has hit rock bottom. It can’t go farther than it has. No one can really survive. ”