Is the death of Jovenel Moise the last straw in Haiti’s long democratic erosion?
Following the assassination of Jovenel Moise and a contentious election fast approaching, democracy in Haiti is hanging in the balance. Jovenel was assassinated in his home on July 7, 2021, and his wife was severely injured by a group of mercenaries. The signs that democracy is eroding in Haiti include low voters turnout, multiple protests against the government, international mingling, insecurity, and the assassination of the president.
During the 2016 election, which was won by Jovenel Moise, turnout was only 18%. A low voter turnout is concerning because it shows that citizens have a low sense of political efficacy. Such a low turnout is the consequence of voter suppression, violence in the streets, and distrust in the government. According to Freedom House, those are all signs that democracy in the country is declining. Freedom House gives a very low score to Haiti on free and fair parliamentary elections.
At the beginning of 2021, significant protests erupted against the Jovenel government in Port-au-Prince. Aljazeera also reported that a Supreme Court judge and a senior police official were arrested because of rumors of a failed coup against the former president. People expressed their frustration with the government, and many said that the Jovenel presidency was a dictatorship. Some protestors argued that his term was up. Many Haitians were especially worried about his administration’s plans to change the country’s constitution.
Additionally, during the Jovenel administration, conditions in the country deteriorated significantly: gangs took over the street of Port-au-Prince, with rape, killing, and kidnapping being almost a daily routine in the capital. As a result, many people rose up and asked the former president to step down from office. Yet, despite all these shortcomings, the Biden administration continued to support his administration, publicly agreeing that Jovenel’s term would end in 2022.
Lack of trust in the country’s leadership is a long-term problem in Haiti. Many Haitians believe that the first and the last free election was in 1990 (won by Jean-Bertrand Aristide). Since then, many Haitians believe that the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the United States, and more have been meddling with Haiti’s elections and political affairs. According to Robert Fatton in the Washington Post, international observers are supposedly in Haiti to make sure that the elections are fair and free of corruption. The Haitian people seem to think otherwise as they protest the involvement of these countries every time. Given Haiti’s history with countries like the US, France, and Canada since colonialism, we can understand why the Haitian people do not trust them.
In “How Democracies Die” (2018), Levitsky and Ziblatt explain that when many people believe that elections are not fair, it is a sign that the democracy of that country is threatened. This has recently become an issue in the United States, “as three out of four Republicans are no longer certain that they were living under a democratic system with free elections.” (Levitsky, Ziblatt, 38). The situation is even more dire in Haiti. High levels of distrust suggest that Haitians no longer believe in the republic and the constitution. They don’t think that they live in a free country with the right to a fair and accessible election.
Lastly, the assassination of the late President Jovenel Moise is a clear sign of the struggles of democracy in the country. This tragedy was an eye-opener for many on the international stage of what the Haitian people have been screaming: they are not safe, and their democracy is at risk.
If the most protected person in Haiti was killed in his home, what does that say for the rest of the population who do not have the same luxury of 24 hours security?
Election Guide. Republic of Haiti ELECTION FOR PRESIDENT. Election Guide Democracy Assistance & Elections News, 2016. Election Guide Democracy Assistance & Elections News, https://www.electionguide.org/elections/id/2985/.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Penguin Books, 2019.
Fatton, Robert. Will Haitians get the chance to determine their future — without foreign interference? The Washington Post, 2021. The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/07/23/will-haitians-get-chance-determine-their-future-without-foreign-interference/.
Freedom House. Haiti. Freedom House, 2019. FreedomHouse, https://freedomhouse.org/country/haiti/freedom-world/2020.
Thomassiant Joseph, Ralph. What is happening in Haiti, where political crisis persists? Aljazeera, 2021. Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/28/what-is-happening-in-haiti-political-crisis-persists.