By: Miriam Castillo, September 26, 2021
A Presidential Assassination Adds to Haiti’s History of Setbacks
On July 7, 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at 1:00 AM inside his private home in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. This violent assassination left the people of Haiti uncertain and worried about the future of their country.
Naturally, questions arose about who would replace the president following the assassination. Before his assassination, President Moïse unpopularly advocated for a constitutional referendum and began to rule by decree. When the parliament’s term expired, President Moïse failed to call for an election, leaving Haiti with only a total of 11 elected representatives to represent a population of 11 million. Additionally, the head of the Supreme Court, who the 1987 constitution designates as the president’s replacement, had recently died of COVID-19 and had not been replaced.
Claude Joseph, who was the acting prime minister, appointed himself as the interim president with the support of the police and military. To add to the uncertainty that the Haitian people faced, Moïse had appointed Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who helped lead the country’s response to the 2010 cholera epidemic, to be his new prime minister. However, Henry had not been formally sworn into the position. While the elections to formally choose the successor to President Moïse were originally to be held on September 26, 2021, officials have recently announced that these elections have been postponed until November 7, 2021. During these elections, the Haitian people will also vote for a new legislative assembly and on a referendum.
The political uncertainty and lack of legitimate executive power is only an addition to the economic and humanitarian devastation Haiti faces. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has faced many devasting setbacks in its history. The World Food Program reports that 4.4 million Haitians need immediate food assistance, and among them, 1.2 million suffer from severe hunger. After the infamous 2010 earthquake, where 250,000 people were killed and Haiti’s infrastructure was decimated, Haiti never fully recovered. While Haiti has received more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in the years since the earthquake, many experts believe the country’s infrastructure is worse off since the reconstruction began due to mismanagement and corruption. Shortly after, Haiti suffered from a cholera epidemic that was later linked to the infected peacekeepers from the United Nations that had arrived for natural disaster relief. The UN admitted fault to the cholera epidemic years later but hid behind diplomatic immunity to avoid legal responsibility.
Given the political instability and the unlikeness of Moïse’s presidency, gang violence is spiraling upward and has displaced more than 14,700 people in one month alone. The political violence has only weakened the country’s health system and response to COVID-19. Days after the assassination of President Moïse, Haiti became the last country in the Americas to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines. The first administration of the vaccines commenced on July 16, 2021, falling behind most of the world. The World Bank reports that more than 96% of Haiti’s population is highly vulnerable to deadly natural hazards. On August 14, 2021, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 struck Haiti, leaving thousands dead, injured, or misplaced.
Given this very brief discussion of the setbacks Haiti has faced, it is natural that many Haitians would migrate and seek refuge in countries such as the United States. Haitians are similar to those of countries who the U.S. has historically granted refuge and asylum to. Under United States law, a refugee is someone who fears prosecution and is of special humanitarian concern. The Haitian administration has asked the U.S. for a humanitarian moratorium to halt the recent intensified deportations of Haitian nationals. Without the moratorium, Haiti will be receiving about six flights per day with deported migrants, many of whom are being returned to Haiti after years of not living on the island, all while in the aftermath of political unrest, COVID-19, and a need for natural disaster emergency assistance. The future of Haiti and whether there should be international intervention remains a debated topic.