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How the Haitian President’s assassination follows years of turmoil


The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in a brazen attack in his private home on Wednesday exacerbated the turmoil in the Caribbean country and deepened fears of widespread political violence.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said the president was “cowardly murdered”, urged the country to “keep calm” and tried to reassure Haitians and the world that the police and army were in control.

But Mr. Joseph’s words did little to dispel concerns about possible chaos.

“There is no parliament any more, the Senate has been missing for a long time, there is no President of the Court of Cassation,” said Didier Le Bret, a former French ambassador to Haiti, and added to Joseph: “Everything will rest on him.”

The murder of Mr Moïse is the culmination of years of instability in a country that has long been gripped by lawlessness and violence. Haiti, once a slave colony notorious for the brutality of its masters, gained independence from France after the slaves revolted in 1803 and Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces defeated the country impoverished and struggled to provide basic services to many of its people.

For almost three decades the country suffered under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, and then his son Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc. A poor local priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. But in less than a year he was ousted by a coup and returned to power in 1994 with the help of thousands of American troops.

Mr. Aristide was re-elected in 2000, but after another armed uprising, he was forced out of office and went into exile. He has called it a “kidnapping” staged by international actors, including the American and French governments.

When a devastating earthquake razed much of the country in 2010, the disaster was seen as an opportunity to revive and start over the ailing infrastructure by strengthening the government’s own reconstruction capacity. More than $ 9 billion in humanitarian aid and donations flowed in, supported by an estimated $ 2 billion in cheap oil supplies and loans from the then powerful ally Venezuela. International aid organizations rushed to help with the recovery.

But the money has not set Haiti on a new path – and many experts believe the country has been worse off since the rebuilding began. A cholera outbreak shortly after the quake that killed at least 10,000 Haitians has been linked to the arrival of infected United Nations peacekeepers, who admitted their involvement years later but declined legal responsibility, protected by international treaties, which granted the organization diplomatic immunity.

Michel Martelly, a former popular singer who became president in 2011, has been accused of widespread corruption and improper management of reconstruction funds.

Reports by Haitian court-appointed auditors detailed that much of the $ 2 billion Venezuela lent the country was misappropriated or wasted over eight years. Before entering politics, President Moïse, then a little-known fruit exporter, was in one of the reports for his Participation in a program to absorb funds for road repairs.

In the years that followed, the ongoing economic crisis, rising crime and corruption led to protests from Haitians, who were fed up with their government and called for Mr. Martelly’s resignation. But he stayed in power and elected Mr. Mo tapse to succeed him in the 2015 election after a term.

Mr. Moses’ pursuit of power was tarnished from the start. His campaign was accused of fraud and corruption and he took power 14 months after voters went to the polls after an electoral court found no evidence of widespread irregularities in the election. He took office in 2017 on a transplant charge related to Venezuelan aid.

Over the next several years, Mr Moïse used his control over the judicial system to reject the charges and undermine the opposition, which never accepted his election victory. The result was an increasingly paralyzed government that stalled completely in early 2020, just as the country faced the coronavirus pandemic.

A disagreement between Mr Moïse and the opposition over the start of his term as president created a complete political crisis that left the country without a parliament or a new election date. As the crisis dragged on, Mr Moïse began to rule by unpopular decrees, which further undermined his government’s legitimacy. Protests against his rule accelerated.

The political deadlock has seriously undermined the country’s already weak health system with the spread of coronavirus cases. Haiti remains the only country in the western hemisphere not receiving Covid-19 vaccines as it now grapples with the recent surge in infections. Although official coronavirus deaths remain relatively low due to limited testing, aid workers have said hospitals are overwhelmed.

Haiti’s power vacuum is increasingly being filled by the leaders of organized crime, who took over parts of the capital last year and thus established a reign of terror. Kidnapping, looting and gang violence have made parts of the country ungovernable, many Haitians are afraid of leaving their homes and forced some aid agencies, many of which are dependent in the country to survive, to curtail their activities.

Human rights organizations have linked a surge in gang violence to the country’s political impasse, accusing prominent politicians of collaborating with organized crime to intimidate opponents and pay bills in the absence of a functioning government.

Last month, one of Haiti’s most prominent gang leaders publicly declared war on the country’s traditional elites and urged citizens to raid established companies.

“It’s your money that is in banks, shops, supermarkets and car dealerships,” said gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, better known by his pseudonym Barbecue, in a video message on social media. “Go get what is rightfully yours.”

Harold Isaac contributed to the coverage.

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