UNITED NATIONS — Haiti’s president blamed powerful oligarchs on Monday for seven attempts in his four-year term to overthrow Haiti’s democratic system, most recently an attempted coup on Feb. 7, but said he remains committed to democracy.
Jovenel Moise defended his use of decrees — recently retiring three supreme court judges and appointing their replacements. He said he had to take off his “gloves” to fight against organized crime, rampant insecurity and kidnapping instigated by the oligarchs.
Nonetheless, he told a virtual meeting of the U.N. Security Council that “we see the democratic regime and elections are the only way to have access to power.”
The president spoke after U.N. special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, told members that efforts by part of the opposition to unseat Moise on Feb. 7, as well as the president’s actions reacting to the alleged coup attempt and a senior judge’s announcement of his appointment as interim head of state, “have further hardened the positions of the principal actors in the political crisis that has for too long affected the lives of the Haitian population.”
“As the country prepares to enter a tense pre-electoral period, the polarization that has defined most of president Moise’s term in office has become even more acute,” she said, pointing to shrinking civic space and an alarming and deteriorating humanitarian situation.
La Lime also cited the Feb. 14 peaceful demonstration in the capital Port-au-Prince by some 3,000 demonstrators “to denounce what they deem to be a looming risk of return to authoritarian rule.”
The opposition claims that Moïse’s five-year term ended on Feb. 7, but Moïse has reiterated that it ends in February 2022 since he wasn’t sworn in until 2017. Prior to that, a provisional president ruled Haiti for one year following chaotic elections marred by allegations of fraud.
Moise has repeatedly said he will step down in February 2022 and has called for legislative and presidential elections to be held Sept. 19, with a runoff scheduled for Nov. 21.
Critics accuse Moïse of amassing more power in recent months, noting that he already had been ruling by presidential decree ever since he dissolved the majority of Parliament in January 2020 after failing to hold legislative elections in 2019 amid political gridlock.
Moise countered that the government faces “an enemy which is powerful and has a great deal of means.”
He said his administration put in place an economic system “to stop the systematic pillaging by our authorities to the detriment of our people” but the oligarchs didn’t want reforms or change so he instituted reforms in the utility sector and purchase of petrol, and dismantled 64 of the 100 existing gangs the oligarchs support.
The president’s use of decrees drew a strong reaction from acting U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis who said the Biden administration “is disturbed that Haiti’s prolonged period of rule by decree continues.”
“We believe decrees should be limited to actions necessary for essential functions, safety and conduct of elections,” he said. “However, recent actions unilaterally removing and appointing three supreme court judges, creating a national intelligence agency, and actions constraining the role of Haiti’s independent audit agency risk damaging Haiti’s core institutions.”
President Moise told the council he will continue to use decrees “in a limited fashion until the parliamentary and presidential elections this year.”
DeLaurentis urged Haiti’s government to hold overdue legislative elections “as soon as possible to restore the parliament’s constitutional role.”