Washington Once Again Confronted with Haiti’s Chaos

After the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, helping Haiti form a transitional government capable of stabilizing the country enough to hold new elections should be the priority of the United States.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Haiti, whose president, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated on Wednesday, July 7, is a failed state. This country of 11 million, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and was, alongside the United States, one of the first independent nations in the Americas, seems cursed. Dictatorships, coups, corruption, earthquakes, storms and epidemics have for decades perpetuated the misery and insecurity of a powerless population.

The assassination of an elected head of state is in itself a major political trauma. It is even more destabilizing when, as is the case in Haiti, it occurs in an almost total power vacuum. Moise was, incidentally, one of the architects of this political failure, governing by executive order since January 2020 after having failed to hold legislative elections.

The country no longer has a functioning parliament or a Supreme Court. All in all, it has 10 people elected to the National Assembly and 10 senators. After being accused of using armed gangs, the only sector that seems to be thriving in Haiti, the president could very well have been the victim of one.

Two days after his death, no one has admitted to the assassination, and the arrest of 15 or so people, most of them Colombian except for two Haitian Americans, has not led to identifying those who were behind it.

This latest tragedy in Port-au-Prince has forced the international community and the United States — Haiti’s No. 1 supplier of aid — in particular, to ask themselves some serious questions. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent over several decades to try to stabilize the country and its democracy have not led to any progress — or almost none. Haitians obviously need assistance, but once again, the time has come to question how to do so.

The Fragility of the Situation

The question first and foremost concerns Washington. More than 800,000 Haitians, many of whom have become Americans, live in the United States. In May, the Biden administration extended the temporary residency status of 100,000 of them by 18 months, recognizing that the precarious situation in Haiti did not allow them to return home. Haitian immigration to the United States allows numerous Haitian families to survive thanks to money sent back home, but this is not a sustainable policy.

Donald Trump was perfectly comfortable with Moise’s leadership and closed his eyes to Haiti’s chaos. His successor, Joe Biden, faced other emergencies when he took office in January and simply called for elections in Haiti. In February, and then again in May, members of Congress nonetheless drew the attention of the White House and the State Department to the fragile situation in Port-au-Prince and to Moise’s abuse of power.

It is unrealistic to envision “free and fair” elections, as the democratic process demands, under the current conditions. Common sense would tell us to temporarily stop holding onto the sine qua non condition of elections — what Haiti needs immediately is governance. Helping the Haitians form a transitional government capable of stabilizing the country enough to hold elections should be the United States’ priority, with the support of the Organization of American States.

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