In a tense atmosphere in Port-au-Prince, the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse could worsen the crisis in Haiti. The incumbent president, Claude Joseph, decreed a “state of siege” throughout the country to avoid riots and political instability, while the police claim to have captured Moïse’s assassins.
According to Haitian authorities, the assailants of Jovenel Moïse (who also wounded his wife in the shooting) spoke Spanish and English among themselves and managed to approach Moïse’s security circle claiming to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.
The police took into their custody 15 Colombian mercenaries and two Haitians implicated in the assassination. It still remains to be clarified who ordered the mercenaries to assassinate the Haitian president.
Crisis in Haiti: a divided society and a destroyed economy
The assassination of the president could not have come at a worse time for Haiti. The island nation now finds itself without functioning independent courts and the parliament has been dissolved since January 2020 on Moïse’s orders.
Before the assassination, the country was engulfed in a series of protests against Moïse’s regime, who, according to the protesters, was due to finish his term in February 2021, while Moïse claimed he was due to finish a year later, in 2022. Prior to his murder, he planned to hold a referendum (twice postponed) on September 6 to amend Haiti’s constitution.
The country’s political instability has deterred the arrival of foreign investment and makes it difficult to create a long-term government policy. Evidence of this is that, in less than 35 years, Haiti has had more than 20 governments.
The island nation was already in a dire situation when Moïse assumed the presidency, with more than 60% of its population living in poverty and almost 24% in extreme poverty. In addition, it never fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake that devastated much of Port-au-Prince and left the population in even more acute poverty than they were already facing.
Since then, Haitians have faced physical poverty at levels reminiscent of African countries. In that sense, little more than 52% of the population has access to drinking water and less than 24% have a toilet connected to the aqueduct network in their homes.
Power outages are also common in the country. Haiti’s electricity generation sources are highly dependent on fuel, so the country has to export thousands of gallons of fuel per year in order to generate electricity.
Haiti has long depended on Venezuela to import its fuel, but with the social and economic crisis in the South American country, imports have fallen and blackouts have become more frequent.
Corruption in Haiti is endemic
After the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, more than $13 billion has poured into Haiti thanks to international aid to rebuild the country and modernize its infrastructure. Although there has been some progress as a result of international aid, such as controlling the cholera epidemic (which broke out after the earthquake), Haitians have seen little change in their quality of life over the past decade.
The security situation is no better than their economic situation. Hundreds of gangs roam the streets of Port-au-Prince and have been used by incumbent governments to influence elections. Crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, home invasions and common robberies are no strangers to the population, which has to suffer the yoke of the growing influence of street gangs (often acting in complicity with members of the police) and their clandestine wars.
Organized crime goes hand in hand with endemic corruption in the Caribbean country. According to the NGO Transparency International, Haiti is the eleventh most corrupt country in a ranking of 180. This corruption caused the International Monetary Fund to suspend a $229 million loan in 2019, alleging that Haiti did not have a functional government to receive the funds.
Despite the massive international collaboration it has received, the lack of transparency has meant that this aid has served more to preserve the corrupt institutions that corrode the country, than to bring about a change in improving the quality of life of its inhabitants.