Posted on January 21, 2023

As Its Only Remaining Elected Officials Depart, Haiti Reaches a Breaking Point

Becky Sullivan, NPR, January 18, 2023

Haiti, a country long beset by catastrophe and political turmoil, is facing perhaps its steepest challenge in recent decades as its piecemeal government, now lacking any democratically elected officials, struggles to chart a path forward amid gang violence and a cholera outbreak.

The constitutional mandate of Haiti’s de facto ruler, Prime Minister Ariel Henry — which some viewed as questionable from the start, as he was never technically sworn in — ended more than a year ago.

The country has had no president since its last one, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in 2021. Its Senate is supposed to have 30 members, and its lower legislative chamber should have 119; all of those seats are unfilled. Haiti’s elected mayors were all reappointed or replaced in 2020.

And last week, its 10 remaining senators departed office after their terms ended, leaving behind a nation’s worth of elected offices that now sit empty after years of canceled elections.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born political scientist at the University of Virginia. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the current crisis is one of the most severe crises that Haiti has ever confronted.”

The country of 12 million people last held national elections in 2016. In the years since, the turmoil — political and otherwise — has been relentless.

Gang violence has displaced more than 150,000 people from their homes and forced aid groups such as Doctors Without Borders to close facilities and relocate staff. A new outbreak of cholera is suspected to have infected nearly 25,000 Haitians since October. In 2021, an earthquake killed 2,000 people and wrought new devastation to a part of the country that had been hit just five years before by a Category 5 hurricane.

Rampant inflation has sent the cost of food and gas spiraling; food insecurity is so widespread that about 40% of the population do not have enough to eat. And the disasters have combined to keep thousands of the country’s schools closed, meaning millions of Haitian children have lacked steady education and meals since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I grew up under dictatorship, so I’m not idealizing the Haiti I grew up under. But this is the first time I think we have seen this level of lawlessness, this level of gang violence where people’s lives do not matter,” said Cécile Accilien, a professor of Haitian studies at Kennesaw State University, in an interview with NPR.


Even before the shocking assassination of President Moïse in July 2021, in which he was killed inside his private residence in Port-au-Prince, Moïse had been ruling by decree. He declined to call elections in 2018, then again in 2019, causing the terms of most of the country’s legislators and mayors to expire in January 2020.

That had already made him increasingly unpopular. Then, shortly before the still-unsolved assassination, Moïse appointed Dr. Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and former government minister, to serve as prime minister.

But lacking a quorum in the legislature to consider his appointment, Henry was never formally sworn in. After Moïse’s assassination, Henry emerged from a power struggle as de facto ruler. Even that shaky constitutional backing ended long ago; Haiti’s constitution requires elections to be held within 120 days of a presidential vacancy, a period that ended in November 2021.