Tensions rise in Haiti amid fears that outside groups could make play for power

Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, when a group of armed attackers stormed his official residence in Port-au-Prince. His presidential term officially expires on Monday. File Photo by Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA-EFE
1 of 4 | Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, when a group of armed attackers stormed his official residence in Port-au-Prince. His presidential term officially expires on Monday. File Photo by Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA-EFE

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Exactly seven months after its president was assassinated, the Caribbean island of Haiti faces renewed political upheaval on Monday as President Jovenel Moise's term officially ends and there are fears about who will try to take power next.

Moise was assassinated last July 7 when armed attackers stormed his home in Port-au-Prince. The gunmen shot and killed Moise and wounded his wife, Martine Moise. Since then, Prime Minister Ariel Henry has led the country to fill out the remainder of Moise's term.


Now, that's over. And observers and political experts know that there's no shortage of groups who want to take the reins of the often-troubled island in the Caribbean.

An opposition group known as the Montana Accord has called for the United States to withdraw its support for Henry, stating that the present ruling government will be rendered unconstitutional with the end of Moise's term.


Claude Joseph, a rival of Henry's, served as prime minister of Haiti for about two weeks before stepping down to allow Henry, who Moise had selected as prime minister just two days before he was killed, to take power.

The Montana Accord has called for the creation of a transitional government, to be helmed by its leader Fritz Alphonse Jean, to restore security before holding new elections.

"Insecurity is rampant, fear of kidnapping and rape are the everyday situation of the average Haitian," Jean said on Friday, according to The New York Times. "This is a state of disarray and the Henry government is just sitting there unable to address those challenges."

Haiti has been rocked by more than just political upheaval. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the island in August 2021 and a group of Christian missionaries were kidnapped for weeks in October. File Photo by Orlando Barria/EPA-EFE

But Haiti's recent troubles are not limited to the political arena.

In addition to losing its leader, Haiti has also had to face a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August and a rising gang presence that further destabilized the country in October when it set off a fuel crisis by blocking the country's main roads and ports and holding a group of Christian missionaries hostage.


Armed gangs, who control more than half of Haiti and half of the capital of Port-au-Prince, have called for Henry's resignation, Brain Concannon, founder of the U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told Al Jazeera.

"People live in daily fear that going to work or to school or getting some food at the store will be a lethal decision," Concannon told the outlet. "People don't even leave their houses for days and hospitals are closing because it is too violent for staff to get there."

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has faced criticism for not doing enough to support the country, including returning Haitian refugees that gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border and video that showed agents on horseback charging and herding migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande.

At the same time, the United States and other international observers have been accused of being too involved in Haiti's politics.

Former U.S. special envoy, Daniel Foote, who resigned following the U.S. treatment of the refugees, said the U.S. administration has displayed "stubborn arrogance" in its attempts to "strong-arm Haitians" to accept an unelected prime minister and rush into elections.


Foote has also said that Henry has "impeded investigations" into Moise's assassination for six months, adding that the "nonexistent assassination investigation is led by [the] key suspect."

Port-au-Prince's top prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, sought charges against Henry last September, citing phone records that show he spoke shortly after Moise's death with former Haitian Justice Ministry official Joseph Felix Badio, who's a suspect in the assassination.

A street is seen in the gang-controlled Martissant neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Some fear that the gang sector could seek to make a play for power with the expiration of Moise's term. File Photo by Orlando Barria/EPA-EFE

Henry has repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination, saying that the masterminds of the killing have not yet been captured.

In the wake of the killing, Haitian police detained more than a dozen possible suspects and U.S. officials have so far charged two suspects. Several were also killed in gunfights with police. U.S. officials fear that these threats -- and Henry's tenuous grip on power -- could lead to sustained violence and political collapse.

"How the government of Haiti moves forward after Feb. 7, the official end of assassinated President Jovenel Moise's term, will be an important inflection point for Ariel Henry's government and its ability to bring some measure of political stability to Haiti," one U.S. intelligence official told McClatchy.


Amid the uncertainty, some migrants have fled Haiti since Moise's death and headed for the United States. Dozens arrived in northern Florida last fall and almost 200 arrived in the Florida Keys and were detained by the U.S. Coast Guard a week ago.

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