Haiti’s last elected senators officially left office this week, as its people seek to escape a humanitarian crisis and Canada sends military support.
The developments have raised concerns about the future of democracy in a poor, crime-ridden country that has not been able to hold elections since 2016.
With not a single elected official on the national stage as of Tuesday, and gangs ravaging the Caribbean nation, its future seemed uncertain 18 months after its last president,
Canada sends support
Canada delivered armored vehicles Wednesday to help combat criminal gangs as Haiti grapples with a humanitarian crisis, the Canadian foreign ministry said.
She added that a Canadian military plane had handed her over to the Haitian National Police in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Most of the country has been controlled by Haitian gangs since Mr Moise’s assassination, leading to routine gun battles with police.
Haitian Senator Patrice Dumont speaks during a news conference at the end of his term on January 9, 2023 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Source: GT / Richard Perrin/AFP
Canada and the United States provided tactical vehicles, armored vehicles and other supplies in October after Haiti urged the international community to send a “specialized armed force”.
Ottawa also sanctioned Haitians accused of gang links, including a former president, two former prime ministers, and three high-profile entrepreneurs.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was attending a summit of North American leaders alongside US President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said Canada will continue to provide support but that the Haiti crisis must be resolved domestically.
“What is particularly important in this situation is for the Haitian people themselves to be at the center of supporting, building stability, and resolving the crisis in Haiti right now.”
Haitians scramble to obtain passports to enter the United States
Meanwhile, Haitians seeking an escape from poverty and despair are flocking to government offices in hopes of getting a passport and perhaps their ticket to life in America under a new US immigration program.
At the main immigration office in Port-au-Prince, the large crowds meant security officers closed the metal gates and only let people in one by one.
Under the new policy announced by Biden, the United States will admit 30,000 people a month from Haiti and a few other countries mired in crisis — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — but on one condition: they stay away from the overcrowded US border with Mexico. and arrive by plane.
Haitians wait outside an immigration office to apply for a passport in Port-au-Prince on January 10, 2023. Source: GT / Richard Perrin/AFP
To qualify for this program, candidates must also have a sponsor in the United States who can show sufficient income to support them.
People who apply for a passport must purchase a postage stamp that costs about $50 (US$70) — a fortune in the poorest country in the Americas.
But the application process is slow and riddled with corruption, so people eager to get a passport more quickly pay twice the standard fees of specialized agencies to bypass red tape.
‘Barely a democracy anymore’
Haiti’s deteriorating democracy has been a gradual process: the legislature effectively ceased to function again in January 2020, when all deputies and two-thirds of the lower house of the National Assembly left office without successors to replace them.
“It can hardly be called a democracy any longer,” said attorney Samuel Madesten, “and it comes at a time when the state is losing control of the majority of its territory, 60 percent of it, to armed gangs.”
For Mr. Madisten, Haiti is “a country that practically no longer exists.”
The assassination of Mr Moise by an armed commando squad at his private residence in July 2021 amplified the deep political crisis the country was already mired in due to the paralysis of public institutions.
Currently, Prime Minister Ariel Henry leads the country, but after he was appointed rather than elected, just 48 hours before the president was killed, his legitimacy is widely questioned.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise amplified the deep political crisis. Source: Environmental Protection Agency / EPA/Jean-Marc Herve-Abelard
Allegations of faltering elections and international failure
Mr Madistin believes that the Haitian Tèt Kale (PHTK), the party once led by Mr Moise, has deliberately stopped organizing elections in the country, out of self-interest.
But he adds: “The failure is also the failure of the international community and the United Nations, whose mission was to achieve stability in the country politically.”
After 13 years of the UN’s MINUSTAH mission, which deployed as many as 9,000 Blue Helmets and more than 4,000 international police officers from 2004 to 2017, the UN has scaled back its presence in Haiti.
Having reduced its staff today to about 60, the global organization has maintained its mandate to “promote political stability and good governance.”
The inability of anyone today to effectively govern Haiti to pass laws does not particularly move the country’s population, who are more directly concerned by the twin threats of gang violence and grinding poverty.
“Citizens are not really concerned with the problem of representation: their priority is security,” notes Gideon Jan, director of the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights (CARDH).
During the year 2022, the civil society organization recorded no less than 857 cases of kidnapping at the hands of armed gangs.
More surprisingly, perhaps, the country’s downward spiral into chaos isn’t always high on the agenda of politicians either.
Patrice Dumont, one of the senators whose term ends Monday, took advantage of his news conference as he left to expand on his accomplishments in parliament — and to condemn the waste of public money by his fellow lawmakers.
Parliament: high standing for corruption
This lack of interest in politics has grown over the years as the list of scandals involving ministers, deputies or senators grows ever larger – without any action being taken by the Haitian justice system.
More than 20 percent of voters cast their ballots in the last polls the country was able to conduct in late 2016.
“Parliament has become a high ground for corruption: people cast their votes for money, for management positions,” said the CARDH director.
“We had corrupt people in Parliament, drug dealers, and people who were used for money laundering,” Mr. Jan added.
The latter legislature had lost its reputation even before its members had begun to serve their terms.
In January 2017, four days before he was sworn in as a senator, which would have granted him immunity, Guy Phillip, a former senior police officer and Moyes ally, was arrested in Port-au-Prince.
Extradited the same day to Florida, he pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to nine years in prison for laundering money from the drug trade.
In November 2022, the United States and Canada sanctioned several businessmen and politicians, including outgoing Senate President Joseph Lambert, accusing them of links to drug trafficking and organized crime.
“We need to think about introducing some ethics into political life and cleaning up the electoral system, to prevent people from making the next elections hostage with dirty money,” warned Mr. Jan.