Riots continued in Haiti over the weekend in denouncement of the upcoming April referendum. Protestors claimed that the referendum, proposed by President Jovenel Moïse to make changes to the constitution, violates the law of the land and goes against the people’s will. This comes amidst a turbulent Moïse administration with many allegations of fraud and corruption.
The issues began following the 2015 Haitian presidential elections in which Moïse was declared the winner, but when exit polls were released showing that he only received 6% of the vote rather than the declared 32.8%, claims of election fraud were made and protests erupted. Protestors made demands for a new election, which took place a year later, with an interim president taking office until it concluded.
Moïse won the new 2016 election, but with extremely low voter turnout (21%), and more claims of election fraud, many did not think he was representative of the Haitian people. Nevertheless, Moïse went on to serve his term starting on February 7, 2017.
The current unrest comes after a constitutional dispute in which Moïse is claiming he should be able to serve for another year, which would mark 5 years since he took office. However, the Haitian Supreme Court ruled that a presidential term ends 5 years after the election, rather than 5 years after the inauguration. The ruling mandated the president to stand down on February 7th of this year, a demand that he has refused. In doing so, Moïse has not only defied the supreme court, but also the Haitian Bar Federation, trade unions, human rights organizations, religious groups and more all calling for his resignation.
The upcoming referendum, brought into being by Moïse, takes place in April and will propose massive changes to the constitution and the Haitian government at large. Proposed changes include the abolition of the country’s senate as well as its prime minister position, both roles that act as power balances to the president. Along with this hefty overhaul is a proposal to change rules regarding term limits in order to let Moïse run for another consecutive 5-year term.
Modifications of the constitution by the order of referendum in and of itself is against the law, but this is perhaps Moïse’s most minor offence. After the supreme court ruling didn’t go his way, Moïse forcefully retired three of the judges that ruled against him. When asked for his justification, Moïse said that the judges shouldn’t have involved themselves in politics.
The plethora of actions taken by Moïse and his ‘Tèt Kale’ party are quite obviously part of an attempt to consolidate power in the country and can be very accurately described as an ongoing coup. He doesn’t intend to serve one more year in office to then bow out decorously; Moïse is attempting to seize unilateral control of the Haitian state against the will of the people.
He has a good chance of doing so as well, with the full backing of the Biden administration. When asked about the current circumstances, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. “will always support democracy, human rights, and the security and prosperity of Haiti.” But these words are clearly not representative of Washington’s real intentions. The State Department has officially recognized Moïse’s ‘extra year’ in office as legitimate and has maintained that the regime is a U.S. ally.
Unlike countries like Venezuela or Iran, which under allegations of fraudulent behaviour (whether true or not) are met with destructive sanctions, if not military intervention, the U.S. has been very tolerant of the incumbent leadership. The difference is that the Moïse regime has fully capitulated to Washington’s neocolonial model, giving access to its vast natural resources and cheap labour.
This U.S. puppet regime has done little to nothing in fixing the systemic issues which impair Haiti. The overexploitation of the Caribbean country has rendered it the poorest in all of the western hemisphere. This is what is underlying the riots against Moïse; it is a cry from the Haitian people to say that they have had enough.
This is nothing new, Haiti has had a long history of resistance to colonial power. Under the brutal rule of the Spanish empire and then the French, Haiti had a full-scale revolution for independence led by their enslaved population. Since then, the nation has been subject to the neocolonial whim of the United States, installing dictatorships and couping disobedient democratically-elected leaders over the past century.
The results of the upcoming referendum are yet to be seen, but what is to be acknowledged is that regardless of the outcome, the powers that be will seek to manipulate the aftermath.