PARIS — The French capital is a hive of activity. The country of Haiti was in bad shape even before its president was assassinated and rival factions claimed control of the country. Its Parliament was almost completely vacant, its judiciary was in tatters, its Constitution was in dispute, its poverty was crushing, and its history was a chronicle of unrest.
It’s currently in a state of meltdown.
According to Peter Mulrean, a former United States ambassador to Haiti, “Haitian democracy has been eroding for a long time, and with each election cycle, the situation has gotten worse.” “There isn’t much time left to save anything.”
Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, and eight of the ten remaining members of Parliament in the entire country of 11 million people have both asserted that they have a legitimate right to assume power and fill the void left by the death of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the resignation of his cabinet.
With Mr. Joseph serving as the current governor, the Biden administration is hesitant to get sucked into a political quagmire with him as the incumbent. Due to the fact that it was elected, the reconstituted Senate has some legal authority, but it is beset by allegations of corruption and self-dealing.
When power is in question, institutional strength and the rule of law take precedence over all else. Haiti has little or no natural resources. It finds itself in the midst of a hopeless void. As the struggle for power intensifies, there is little left of Haiti’s democratic institutions that can resolve the conflict that has erupted following the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Mose, in his home on Wednesday.
A mob incited by former President Trump stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, but the country’s legal checks and balances were able to prevent a constitutional coup in the long run. Further violence was averted, but only by the barest of margins.
In the absence of strong institutions, a significant amount of international investment in stability is required. Afghanistan is only marginally more stable than Haiti in terms of political stability. It is impossible for either state to assert that it has a monopoly on the use of organised violence within its own borders, which is the traditional definition of a government’s authority.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, managed to overcome a similar crisis the previous year. Immediately following the 2020 election, both the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, and his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, declared themselves victorious. Mr. Abdullah initially denounced the election results as a “coup.” He later changed his mind. It appeared as though a violent confrontation was on the horizon. However, it was the United States that was able to mediate a compromise through intense diplomacy.
“The United States had troops in the country,” Barnett Rubin, a former State Department official with extensive knowledge of Afghanistan, said in an interview. “It was backed by advisors. It had been invested. Mr. Ghani was on the receiving end of the tacit support.”
Because of this overriding national interest, the United States made significant efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution and pave the way for peace talks with the Taliban, even if those efforts appear to be in vain now that the United States has begun to withdraw its troops and the Taliban has advanced across the country.
Neither the rule of law nor any indication that the United States of America is eager to intervene militarily and force a resolution exist in Haiti at this time. If it has any national interest, it lies in preventing upheaval so close to its shores and avoiding another mass Haitian migrant exodus like the one that followed the 1991 coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
It is clear that the situation in Haiti has the potential to deteriorate further. Mr. Joseph immediately declared a “state of siege,” which is a form of martial law, but it was unclear whether he had the authority to do so. A lot of the damage done by gang violence had already been done, and Haiti had already been reduced to the state of a country under siege.
The Senate, or at least what’s left of it, wants Joseph Lambert, its president, to take over as provisional president and Mr. Joseph to be replaced as provisional prime minister by Ariel Henry. Mr. Lambert is currently serving as Senate president. Mr. Mose had appointed Mr. Henry, a neurosurgeon, to the position of prime minister prior to his death, but he had not yet been sworn in to the position.
The path to resolving a standoff is hazy at best. Parliament was systematically destroyed under Mr. Moese. In addition, the terms of two-thirds of the nation’s senators had expired, as had those of every member of the lower house, and there had been no elections to replace them in either chamber.
Mr. Mose’s critics charged that he presided over the collapse on purpose in order to consolidate power even further. When he was assassinated, the country was left without a sense of direction.
It is possible for countries to function to varying degrees when there is no one in power or when power is disputed. Italy and Belgium were able to function without a government for extended periods of time following World War II because they had strong democratic institutions in place.
With two military forces — the national army and the Hezbollah militia — and a sectarian power-sharing system, Lebanon has limped along for many years in dire financial straits. To the millennial generation, this looks like a licence for the political elite to loot with impunity while the country suffers. Despite this, it has managed to avoid a return to civil war.
In the Ivory Coast, however, violence was ultimately used to settle a power struggle that erupted after two candidates declared victory in the country’s presidential election in 2010. Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president, refused to step down despite the fact that international electoral observers had declared his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, the victor in the election. More than a thousand people were killed during a brief civil war that ended with the French army assisting pro-Ouattara forces in ousting President Gbagbo.
As in the United States, Nicolás Maduro, the authoritarian leader of Venezuela, has clung to power through more than two years of turmoil despite the claims of Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader who has garnered support from dozens of foreign governments, including the United States, that he is the country’s legitimate president.
The Maduro government has been unable to generate much revenue as a result of American sanctions. As a result, mass migration has occurred, precisely the type of migration that the Biden administration wishes to avoid in the case of Haiti.
Democracies take time and effort to establish themselves, and Haiti has experienced turmoil almost continuously since becoming the first independent state in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1804. The country is at its most vulnerable and combustible when it is crippled by debt imposed by France, occupied by the United States for nearly two decades in the early twentieth century, undermined by corruption and coups, struck by an earthquake in 2010 and plagued by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year.
However, the Biden administration, at a time when the president is attempting to bring the country back from its endless wars, is wary of any significant Haitian involvement, particularly if the country’s leaders request that American troops be deployed. Haitian leaders frequently look to the United States for support and approval in order to strengthen their political credentials.
As far as the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations are concerned, seeking to resolve the power struggle by encouraging Haiti to proceed with elections scheduled for September may be the most expedient course of action for them. The Biden administration has already done so, as if voting were some sort of panacea for all ills.
However, in an article published in Just Society, Mr. Mulrean, who served as the United States ambassador to Haiti from 2015 to 2017, wrote that holding elections would be “a mistake.” Mr. Mulrean was the American ambassador to Haiti between 2015 and 2017.
Despite the fact that it is tempting to believe that new elections will clarify the situation and restore stability, past experience has taught us that this is not the case. “What Haiti needs is for people to take stock of what is broken and figure out how to fix it.”
That is exactly what a broad coalition of opposition parties and civil society organisations is calling for. They point out that voting accomplishes nothing if the institutions that ensure democracy have ceased to function properly.