On Monday, March 15, Jovenel Moise declared a “state of emergency” in Haiti in a decree endorsed by his Council of Ministers. According to news reports,
A decree adopted by the Council of Ministers said: “The state of emergency is instituted in gangsterized areas for one month, during which certain rights can be suspended in neighborhoods concerned, in order to allow the PNH (National Police of Haiti) to regain control of the situation.”
The decree defines the state of emergency as “a situation in which a regime applies restricting certain fundamental freedoms and exceptional powers of the executive which are justified by a situation of proven or imminent national disaster, terrorist attack or serious breach of public order challenging the police and endangering national security and requiring the adoption of urgent measures.”
Though a “State of Emergency” is defined legislatively, the Council of Ministers amended legislative provisions in order “to give the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) the means to combat banditry and crime, and to empower the PNH and the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH) to work in synergy to combat.”
Specific areas named in the decree include: Village de Dieu, Grand-Ravine, Delmas 2, and Savien (in the Artibonite). However, the decree allows for the emergency declaration to be applied in other areas defined by the Council, so enforcement could ultimately reach anywhere.
With declaration in hand, Moise met with officials at the Organization of American States on Monday, and the United Nations on Tuesday to ask for “technical and logistical” support for police activity.
Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, restated U.S. qualified support for Moise during hearings last week. Blinken’s statement was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday: “I share concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocratic actions that we've seen. Decrees need to be limited to essential functions. We need to see the Haitians organize, with international support, genuinely free and fair elections this year.”
The moves this week all point toward Moise attempting to consolidate his grip on power in the wake of the bloody and disastrous police invasion of Village de Dieu last Friday. The police effort to take control of Village de Dieu, reportedly a location where many kidnapping victims are held, and under the control of the “5 Seconds” gang, ended in disaster. Armed groups in the area seized one of the police’s armed vehicles, burned another, and killed four police officers, while wounding another eight - three of whom required emergency surgeries. Gang members shot video of the violence, including desecration of the bodies of the police officers; videos were shared widely on social media.
The whole episode has magnified criticism of the government - including, now, from members of the police force. For over a year, some members of the national police have been organizing periodic protests against the government in disputes over pay and dismissals. Formally, demands for better pay and treatment have come from the Syndicat de la Police Nationale d’Haiti (SPNH17). Informally, some members of the police have mobilized under the banner of Phantom 509, which has ridden through sectors of Port-au-Prince on motorcycles and burned vehicles during various protests over the past year.
This week, Phantom 509 issued an ultimatum to the gangs in Village de Dieu to hand over the bodies of police officers killed in the operation last Friday. Then on Thursday, Phantom 509 marched again with other police officers. Under the auspices of SPNH17 some police officers issued a call for the resignation of Chief of Police Leon Charles. Members of Phantom 509 also invaded a police station to set free members arrested in other actions.
Where does this all lead? If one interprets the police operation in Village de Dieu last Friday as an effort to establish credibility on Moise’s part, it clearly backfired - massively. Moise is now seen as even more inept, with calls for his removal widening even further (see #FreeHaiti). Among rank and file police officers Friday’s disastrous attack has only widened divisions further.
So, now Moise is retreating to where he always has - seeking support from international bodies and the U.S. government.
Over the weekend the U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere stated, “The vile murder of Haitian National Police officers in Village de Dieu highlights the broader insecurity challenges in Haiti. We call on the Haitian government to provide the police with the resources it needs to protect the Haitian people from gangs.” (emphasis added). Moise has taken this “advice” to heart with the declaration of a State of Emergency, providing expanded powers to the police, alongside the prospect of joint operations with the Armed Forces of Haiti (presumed to be loyal to Moise).
Biden may well tire of standing with Moise, as the situation continues to unravel. Of course, Moise would not be in power were it not for the machinations of the last administration of which Biden was a part. Obama’s team at the State Department under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped put the PHTK in power back in 2010-2011, and U.S. pressure helped put Moise himself in power. Accountability for such interventions being foreign to the United States, I don’t expect Biden to actually change course now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Haitians are left to reap what the elite and their allies in D.C. have sown.