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Haiti’s Democratic Cupboard Is Bare

Ambassador Mark Green

There is not a single elected official left in Haiti. Not one.

The world has a number of “faux” democracies—countries where leaders carefully create a veneer of citizen support, but in reality, they are only in office because they’ve effectively rigged elections and throttled democratic freedoms. Venezuela’s Maduro and Nicaragua’s Ortega, for example, each hold their country’s highest office because they’ve jailed credible political opponentsbanned opposition parties, shut down independent media, and bent judges and election officials to their will. Russia’s Vladimir Putin keeps getting “re-elected” because he effectively controls every Russian institution and source of power…and his most vocal critics have a habit of dying off or languishing in prison.

But Haiti’s situation is different. Its democracy isn’t faux—it’s nonexistent. 

On paper, Haiti is a representative democracy. Its constitution provides for a directly elected president who serves a five-year term and a bicameral legislature made up of a 119-seat chamber of deputies and a 30-seat senate. When Jovenel Moise, Haiti’s last directly-elected president, took office in early 2017, the country was rated “partly free” by Freedom House. But within a few years of Moise becoming president, any semblance of a functioning democracy largely vanished. 

The 2016 elections which brought Moise to power would turn out to be the country’s last. In 2019 and 2020, citing security concerns and COVID-19, Moise repeatedly refused to organize elections for parliament, cycled through prime ministers, and began to rule by decree. He ignored calls by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, and other regional leaders for elections to be held as soon as “technically feasible.” As a result, most of the country’s elected officials, including those at the local level, would see their terms expire in 2020 without concrete plans for how their successors would be chosen. 

Facing increasing calls for his ouster, Moise named Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon by trade, to serve as his new and seventh prime minister in July 2021. Tragically, Moise was assassinated just days before Henry was supposed to be sworn-in.  With no president and no functioning legislature, Henry was neither ratified by Haiti’s legislature nor even formally sworn-in. Yet at the urging of the international community, Henry assumed the role of interim prime minister and Haiti’s de facto head of state. 

By January 2023, the country’s 10 remaining senators—the only remaining Haitian officials who were elected to their office—saw their terms expire. Henry, never having been elected, continued to stay in power. In April 2024, at the strong urging of the US and other governments, a new Transitional Presidential Council was formed—again without any elected members—which has pledged to hold elections in 2025 in order to have a new president by February 7, 2026. As previously arranged in the negotiations that produced the new council, Henry stepped down from office.   

In the wake of Moise’s murder —a crime that has yet to be solved— more than 200 gangs are operating in Haiti, many of them among the world’s most violent. Gang violence killed almost 5,000 people in Haiti last year —an increase of 110% from 2022—and the gangs are responsible for an estimated 2,500 kidnappings. Already this year, they are responsible for more than 2,500 deaths and injuries, according to the United Nations, and are fanning a deeper humanitarian crisis with the main international airport and the seaport being shut down for months. 

The most powerful countries in the Western Hemisphere, such as the US and Canada, and the UN have largely said that they won’t intervene in Haiti unless there’s a clear mandate from the Haitian people. But who speaks for the people of Haiti? Anybody?

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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