Haiti awoke Tuesday stripped of its last democratically elected institution—this time, its Senate—an alarming development that solidifies what some call a de facto dictatorship nominally in charge of a country wracked by gang violence. While only 10 senators had been symbolically representing the nation's 11 million people in recent years because Haiti had failed to hold legislative elections since October 2019, their terms expired overnight, leaving Haiti without a single lawmaker in its House or Senate amid a spiraling political crisis. Organized crime groups have been running virtually unchecked since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, who himself had been ruling by decree.
"It's a very grim situation," said Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociologist at Wesleyan University, "one of the worst crises that Haiti has had since the Duvalier dictatorship." The bloody regime of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who fled the country in 1986, marked the last time Haiti lacked elected officials. The Parliament building in downtown Port-au-Prince remained deserted on Tuesday, with only security guards at the gate. Similar scenes were evident outside Haiti's nonfunctioning Supreme Court and electoral commission, reports the AP.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who assumed leadership of Haiti with the backing of the international community after Moise was killed, has failed to hold general elections despite multiple pledges over the last year and a half to do so. His latest promise, on Jan. 1, was that the Supreme Court would be restored and a provisional electoral council tasked with setting a reasonable date for elections. But Henry offered no timeline. "There are no powers to check his decisions," Dupuy said. "As long as that situation continues, Henry is going to be behaving like a dictator."
"We are scared to step out of our houses," said Daniel Jean, 25, who sells phone chargers and other equipment in the capital. "We are cornered: kidnapping, extortions. Gangs are killing people because we don't have ransom." Haitians have lost all trust in the democratic process, Jean said, adding that he won't vote if the same politicians and parties appear on the ballot: "They have more influence than the gangs. They control all the gangs."
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