On February 7, Jovenel Moise refused to step down from the presidency of Haiti. As we reported last week, there has been a flurry of activity since, as Moise has sought to secure his position and attack opponents. On the morning of February 7th, Moise had 20-23 people arrested, including a supreme court justice and police inspector, on charges that they were plotting to kill him and take control of the government. The coup narrative, reported widely around the world that day, served its purpose of deflecting attention away from the source of the crisis (Moise’s refusal to step down) but has mostly been met with skepticism since.
Later that evening a segment of the opposition selected another supreme court justice, Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis , to serve as a provisional president. The next day, police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building, and Moise, later “retired” three more justices. The retirements were likely not legal, and neither was Moise’s appointment of three replacements on Friday. With the Supreme Court recast in his image, and Parliament defunct, Moise has contained any institutional opposition to his continued rule.
Not surprisingly, of course, over the past week there have been demonstrations against the government. In several of these demonstrations police very clearly targeted journalists, two of whom were shot. Mobilization from popular neighborhoods in the capital are dangerous, as many of these neighborhoods are under the control of gangs aligned with the government. The biggest demonstration of the week came on Sunday, February 14.
Moise is still holding the executive office, and is pressing ahead with plans for a referendum on a package of constitutional reforms to be held in April (though when or if this happens is still an open question). The reconstitution of the Supreme Court takes on increased relevance here, as the referendum itself is likely unconstitutional. If Moise proceeds, he is likely to use the new court to approve the various measures he is attempting to roll out.
While many people have rallied behind Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis as a provisional president, he is hardly a consensus choice. This underscores an important point for all of us reading the crisis from abroad: The opposition is not a singular entity. In March of 2019 Commune published an article by the Kolektif Anakawona that provides background on different facets of the opposition, a rubric that is still largely applicable and worth a review.
There is, of course, a “partisan” opposition, made up of current and former parliamentarians. These folks were the focal point of attention when parliament was still in session, but many of them struggle with legitimacy among grassroots and popular organizations. Youri Latortue, for example, led the charge in investigations of abuse of PetroCaribe funds, yet has himself been the target of corruption investigations. If one focuses solely on the disputes between opposition members of parliament and Moise, it gives the appearance that the crisis is rooted in partisan wrangling. That is certainly how the White House under Trump and now Biden has viewed it. This would be a gross oversimplification.
People have been mobilizing not for a change of party but for structural change. What this means might vary group to group, but ultimately it is a demand for a more inclusive society - not simply better elections. Nou Pap Domi, a grassroots organization that grew out of the PetroCaribe protests, for example, issued a “Message to the Nation” on February 6, 2021 that said, “NOUPAPDÒMI does not recognize the legitimacy of the rest of the senators in parliament, nor some civil society actors as well as some politicians who were involved in all the wasteful negotiations and initiatives that got us into this crisis, to organize any dialogue or play any role in the country’s governance after the presidential term ends. There will be a RUPTURE from all the people, all the groups that never worked for the well-being of the people, who are up to their elbows in everything that got us into this state of turmoil today.”
Though there is a diversity in the long and medium term vision of where Haiti needs to go - from politicians seeking new elections and new positions in a newly reformed government, to youth organizations seeking a rupture with the past and reconstitution of political and economic forces - there is near unanimity that Moise’s term has expired and a transition must begin immediately. Again, reading the crisis from the United States, we are confronted with the fact that our government’s position stands against the vast majority of Haiti’s political organizations and civil society. That said, we must keep in mind that no one group “speaks for the people of Haiti,” an obvious fact that somehow gets glossed over. From the U.S. then, we should demand that Biden’s State Department drop its support for Moise’s mandate extending to February 7, 2022 - but not argue about who gets to take charge, or how. Under no circumstance should we demand that the U.S. play any role in removing Moise.
As we’ve said many times, the U.S. needs to get out of the way of a solution rather than promote the one that seems most conducive to U.S. interests. By simply saying, some variation of “the United States supports the people of Haiti in deciding the way forward...,” the Biden administration would make a solution far more likely. Currently, however, what we see is a stream of patronizing platitudes raining down on Haiti from the U.S., O.A.S., and U.N. that endorse Moise's tenure. The expressions of concern, cautions about constitutionality and the expressed need for dialog all become pretty vacuous when enjoined with, “and we think Moise’s mandate ends February 7, 2022.”
Biden has removed more people to Haiti in three weeks than Trump did in all of FY2020
Yes that is true. The Biden administration is expelling people to Haiti at an insane rate. And they continue to, After flying people out nearly every day (there were three expulsions flights to Haiti in one day last week!), this week there was a short break due to the weather - not principle - with transportation and energy infrastructure in Texas largely shut down. That said, there were still removal flights to Haiti on Monday and Friday.
According to ICE’s recently released annual report for FY 2020 (which runs from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), 895 people were removed to Haiti during that year - which includes Title 42 removals from March to September. While precise numbers on the flights this month are not known (flight manifests are not public) there have been 13 flights since February 2, some full with 135 people, others with fewer. But estimates are that at least 900 people have been removed so far this month, most of whom have been part of family units. Including infants.
So, Biden’s ICE isn’t any nicer than Trump’s. Amidst the current crisis in Haiti, this level of removal is unconscionable.
What you can do?
For now, we are very much focused on ending the expulsion of people to Haiti. There are a number of petitions and statements circulating that you can join onto. While these actions do not address the roots of the crisis in Haiti, they are directed at one of the inhumane responses of our government to that crisis - continuing to expel people.
The Haitian Bridge Alliance is circulating a letter calling for a halt to removals to Haiti. It is a strong letter and open to organizations and individuals. You can view the letter hereand sign here.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is circulating a sign-on letter for congregations and other organizations, calling for end to removals. You can sign your group on here.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is also circulating a letter for individual faith leaders to sign. View that here
Faith in Action is also circulating a statement to end removals to Haiti in the context of the political crisis. You can sign that here.
There is a growing movement to press Biden to revoke Title 42 sooner rather than later. The Latin America Working Group has launched a petition to the effect which you can sign here.