Haiti’s last sitting Senators left office on Monday, January 9, leaving the country with no elected government officials. Much of Haiti’s legislature has sat empty since 2020, after planned elections failed to be completed, and now the country’s last 10 Senators have reached the end of their terms too.
Haiti has suffered from much instability in past years, facing issues of political corruption and influential criminal elements. Attempts to hold fresh elections have thus far failed, with the entire chamber of deputies, and two thirds of the senate being left empty in January 2020, after the sitting members’ terms expired.
Things only worsened for the national government in 2021, when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. His replacement, then Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has still not had his acting position ratified by government.
Henry announced the creation of a High Transitional Council on New Year’s Day, 2023. He called the establishment of this council “a new beginning”, to serve as “a commitment to an inclusive transition and transparent elections.”
This appointed body is supposed to consist of five members, though currently Henry has only managed to appoint three –– Myrlande Manigat, Laurent Saint-Cyr and Calixte Fleuridor. Manigat works in constitutional law, while Saint-Cyr heads the Chamber of
Commerce, and Fleuridor belongs to the Protestent Federation of Haiti.
Some opposition politicians have attacked this Transitional Council as illegitimate.
The crisis of legitimacy in what remains of the Haitian government certainly extends beyond the views of opposition politicians. When elections have been held, such as the presidential election of 2016, turnout was very low –– recorded at 21%.
With all elected seats left empty, Renata Segura of the International Crisis Group says, “The constitution, which until now we have been referring to as the framework for political transition, is essentially just a letter, because none of the institutional architecture that it describes is currently in place.”
The failures of government in Haiti has left 4.7 million people in acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). This is in a country with a population of less than 12 million. The WFP figures also record 1.8 million Haitians as suffering from critical malnutrition.
As a result of a virtually non-existent government, gang crime has risen monumentally. It is estimated that two rival gangs control around 60% of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Gang crime has also been attributed to the recent outbreak of cholera, closure of hospitals, and worsening famine affecting much of the population.
It unsurprising then that many citizens have chosen to leave the country, often attempting to emigrate by small boat. Thousands of these boats were intercepted by the US government in 2022, with President Biden’s administration choosing to return these people back to Haiti.
Only last week, Joe Biden announced that the USA would immediately turn away migrants, including those from Haiti, upon arrival at the US-Mexico border. In November 2022, unconfirmed reports also stated that the Biden administration were considering sending Haitian asylum seekers to Guantanamo Bay.
Mia English, is Challenge’s News Editor