After a year-and-a-half of political crisis, Haiti is finally set to hand over power to an elected president.
Jovenel Moïse, a Haitian businessman at the center of a government money-laundering probe, is expected to assume the country’s presidency on Tuesday, ending nearly a year of transitional rule by interim President Jocelerme Privert and his government.
More than 2,000 people, including Haitian parliamentarians, foreign ambassadors and heads of states, have been invited to the transfer of power, which will include the taking of the oath of office at the parliament and a ceremony on the grounds of the National Palace.
The guest list includes at least four foreign presidents — Danilo Medina, of the Dominican Republic; Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro; Trinidad and Tobago’s Anthony Carmona and Guyana’s David Granger — and a U.S. delegation led by Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., under secretary of state for political affairs. Also part of the U.S. delegation: Omarosa O. Manigault, the former reality star, now assistant to President Donald Trump and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
“Haiti is a member of the Caribbean community and it’s my duty to welcome the new president,” said Granger, who is also pulling double duty, representing the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as its incoming chairman. “It’s not just a matter of showing solidarity with a country that has suffered more than any other CARICOM member state in terms of environmental disasters, but it’s also an important statement in terms of our confidence in the democratic process in this country.”
As delegations began arriving on Monday, municipal authorities in Port-au-Prince and Pétionville were hastily cleaning main roads, police were removing old cars near major hotels, and workers were putting tiny flags around the fence protecting the grounds of the National Palace. The route from the airport to many hotels was decorated with red-and-blue flags bearing Moïse’s image and the number 58 — he’s the 58th president.
Lucien Jura, a spokesman for Moïse’s transition team, said this ceremony will be low-cost compared to the swearing-in ceremonies of former Haitian presidents Michel Martelly and René Préval, which cost $2 million and $4 million, respectively.
“The president-elect does not want the expenses to exceed $1 million,” Jura said during a press conference.
Still, the capital lacked much excitement, despite the impending swearing-in of a new president after nearly two years of political uncertainty.
“I just came to look, but there is nothing about the swearing-in that interests me,” said Mackenson Pierre, as he walked past the palace.
Echoing the apathy that brought Moïse to power in one of the lowest voter-turnout elections, Pierre said he has no hope that anything will change in Haiti after Tuesday: “These people will not bring change to Haiti. They are a cancer that destroys the country. I don’t believe in them.”
A banana farmer from northern Haiti, Moïse, 48, was relatively unknown when Martelly threw his support behind Moïse to succeed him as president. Moïse’s presidential victory was confirmed on Jan. 3, 15 months after fraud allegations in the October 2015 presidential vote plunged Haiti into an electoral crisis and forced Martelly to leave office without an elected successor.
Since his win, Moïse has been on a countrywide tour, celebrating his victory, endorsing candidates for the recently held local elections — and battling money-laundering suspicions.
Moïse has dismissed the suspicions as the work of political opponents. The probe began in 2013 under Martelly’s administration when the anti-financial crimes unit was tipped off about a suspicious bank transaction, the current head of the unit, Sonel Jean-François, has said.
Over the weekend, an investigative judge assigned to the case sent his findings to the government prosecutor, but the judge’s order has not been made public. Government prosecutor Danton Léger has yet to say whether he will dismiss the case, send it back to the judge for further review, or prosecute Moïse.
Should he seek to prosecute Moïse, Haiti could find itself in an even deeper crisis than the one triggered by the annulled October 2015 presidential elections. Complicating matters, late last week a former presidential candidate, Jean-Charles Moïse, filed as a plaintiff in the pending case against Jovenel Moïse, ensuring that the issue doesn’t go away easily.
The case risks crippling Moïse’s presidency and the country’s stability.
Already lacking political experience, Moïse comes into the office with the support of less than 10 percent of the Haiti’s 6.1 million registered voters. Still, expectations are high, especially among Haitians who believed Moïse’s campaign promise to reinvigorate the country’s agriculture sector.
Moïse’s top three presidential competitors, including Jean-Charles Moïse, have continued to challenge Moïse’s victory and have asked supporters to remain mobilized in street protests. Several opposition senators also have signaled their intentions to boycott Tuesday’s swearing-in, citing the money-laundering suspicions.
Another unresolved issue: whether Moïse’s presidency will be four or five years. While he has referred to his as a “five-year presidential mandate,” Haitian constitutional experts say he lost a year because of the electoral crisis. Citing several articles in the Haitian Constitution, the experts that say the term started Feb. 7, 2016, and thus Moïse’s presidential term ends Feb. 7, 2021.