The Haitian government announced on Sunday (7) the arrest of more than 20 people, claiming they were involved in an attempted coup and a plot to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse. But the exact details of the charge have yet to be presented.
The detainees – on charges the opposition said were falsified – included a Supreme Court judge and one of the police inspectors general.
The case is another episode of the political crisis that has dragged on for more than a year in the country and adds to a series of problems: the country’s legislature is closed, the president orders by decrees and the number of demonstrations in the street against the government increased.
At the heart of the dispute is a discussion about the end of Moses’ tenure. He was originally elected to the post in the 2015 presidential elections and is expected to take office on February 7, 2016 for a five-year term.
Amid accusations of fraud, however, the request was rejected and had to be redone the following year. During this period, the country was commanded for a year by an interim government.
Moïse won the new vote and took command of Haiti on February 7, 2017. The presidential term in the country being five years, he therefore says he should remain in office until February 2022.
The opposition believes that the one-year period of interim government should be included in the tally, even if Moïse was not. Thus, his mandate would have ended exactly on the last Sunday, February 7, 2021.
The arrests carried out by the government came shortly after Haitian opposition figures announced a plan to replace Moïse with a new head of state, who would be chosen from among the judges of the Supreme Court.
Also on Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets of several cities in Haiti to demand the departure of the current president – in the capital, Port-au-Prince, there was a confrontation with the police.
In an hour-long speech, delivered on the same day as the protests and arrests, Moses looked down on his critics. “I am not a dictator,” he said. “My term ends on February 7, 2022.”
During a press conference, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe – who is an ally of the president – reported that 23 people were arrested on Sunday, including a magistrate, and that police also seized money, weapons and ammunition.
He added that these people would have contacted police officials at the presidential palace to carry out the plot. “The mission was to arrest the president and also to facilitate the inauguration of a new president,” he said.
“The dream of these people was to attack my life. Thank goodness that did not happen. The plan was aborted, ”said Moïse at the airport in the capital, alongside his wife and the Prime Minister, before embarking for the seaside town of Jarmel.
Besides the controversy over the mandate, Moïse also faces charges of authoritarianism. He has been ruling the country by decree since last year, after suspending two-thirds of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all mayors. Haiti currently has only 11 elected to power, with the president refusing to hold elections for the past four years.
The opposition denies the attempt to overthrow the current government by force. “There is no coup d’état with two pistols, three or four rifles,” lawyer André Michel, leader of the coalition against the government, told AFP news agency. He said he accused President Moïse of “choosing the path of political repression”.
The opposition’s plan to change the country required members of civil society and political leaders to choose a new president from among the Supreme Court justices, rather than wait for the general elections scheduled for September. According to Michel, if the president does not resign, the opposition will make more protests.
“We are waiting for Jovenel Moïse to leave the National Palace to proceed with the inauguration of Mécène Jean-Louis”, he continued, referring to Judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, member of the Court of Cassation.
In a video message, Jean-Louis read a brief speech in which he said he would accept “the choice to serve the country as interim president of the transition”, which heightened tensions.
A referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for April, and the opposition fears the vote will not be free and will only encourage Moïse’s authoritarian tendencies, which the president denies. This year, legislative and municipal elections were also due to take place, but they have been postponed.
On Friday (5), the United States supported the argument that Moses’ mandate ends in February 2022 and called for “free and fair legislative elections so that Congress can regain the power it has”.
State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a warning to Moïse over the postponement of the election and the ruling by executive order. “The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions.”