Political unrest in Haiti resulted in the arrest of more than 20 people in the nation’s Port-Au-Prince capital over the weekend, as President Jovenel Moise continues to deny requests from opposition leaders and members of the public to step down from office.
Moise’s opponents say that his presidential term should have ended on Sunday, February 7, based on the provisions of Haiti’s constitution, reports VOA News.
February 7 marks the day in 1986 that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was overthrown by an uprising in Haiti, and it is specified in the nation’s constitution as the date when democratically elected presidents should be sworn in.
Moise did not hold presidential elections in 2020, and is now ruling by decree after dismissing parliament earlier this year. He has maintained that he has an additional 12 months remaining in his presidential term and has until February 7, 2022 to leave office. The Biden administration, United Nations, and Organization of American States have supported Moise’s position, according to VOA.
But on the ground in Haiti, protesting citizens and Moise’s political opponents have pushed back against his continuing rule—culminating in heavily policed demonstrations on Sunday and the arrest of 23 people who Moise’s administration accused of attempting a coup.
Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe described the police operation during an afternoon press conference at his official residence as “operation catastrophe” during which police targeted a location called Habitation Petit Bois in the Tabarre neighborhood of the capital. The prime minister said police made 23 arrests and seized U.S. and Haitian currency, weapons and munition.
“Among the 23 arrested, unfortunately there was a Supreme Court judge and an inspector general for the national police force. We deplore this,” he said.
The Supreme Court judge has been identified as Hiviquel Dabrezil and the Police Nationale d’Haiti Inspector General was identified as Marie Louise Gauthier. Agronomist Louis Buteau was also detained.
Prime Minister Joseph described the alleged attempted coup:
“Those people had contacted the official in charge of security for the national palace who were to arrest the president and take him to Habitation Petit Bois and also facilitate the swearing in of a new provisional president who would oversee the transition.”
In a Facebook livestream following the arrests, Moise told the nation “I am not a dictator,” according to VOA.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asking the U.S. State Department to “condemn President Moise’s undemocratic actions.”
“President Moise has lost credibility,” reads the letter, which was co-authored with Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and also signed by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.). “His attempt to unilaterally name the members of the body that would certify the results of a future election also demands scrutiny.”
The letter pointed to violence in Haiti, seemingly targeted at those who challenge the state, as well as extra-judicial decrees that Moise has used to establish a domestic intelligence force and criminalize protests as evidence of the growing crisis in the Caribbean nation.