The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How the U.S. can choose to be on the right side of history on Haiti

Police officers search for suspects in the assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 8. (Joseph Odelyn/AP)

Rosy Auguste Ducena is a member of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince Bar Association and program manager for the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, which monitors human rights abuses.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse shocked many across the globe. But, tragically, violent deaths had become the norm in Haiti under Moïse’s watch — and his assassination is likely to cause heightened violence and insecurity.

Over the past two years, despite criticism from many members of Congress, the State Department has consistently supported Moïse’s rule, to the frustration of many Haitians. Now, in light of recent events, what Haiti desperately needs is a transitional government that can ensure legitimate, free and fair elections in due course. Haitians have had enough of living in a climate of violence, which has touched us all.

Just last month, I was working with my dear friend, the young activist Antoinette (Netty) Duclaire, to organize yet another protest against Haiti’s corrupt government. Conversations with Netty always left me feeling reassured. Her brave and tireless commitment to build a real democracy in Haiti was energizing. In just her early 30s, she had launched a news site with her friend and fellow journalist Diego Charles.

Today, both are dead. Netty was brutally assassinated alongside Charles last week. As she dropped him off at his house, armed gang members on motorcycles approached their car and opened fire. At least 19 people were killed the same night.

This dark night of targeted killings follows more than two years of horrific, politicized gang violence aimed at opponents of Moïse and his party. These gangs were empowered, instrumentalized and politicized by Moïse, who — with the backing of the Biden administration — had refused to step down, though his electoral mandate had constitutionally expired in February.

The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) has documented the violence that has taken place while Moïse was in power. The atrocities include 13 massacres of seven or more people, hundreds of killings and disappearances — including more than 100 killings of police officers and five of journalists — dozens of gang rapes and rampant kidnappings. More than 10,000 people are displaced after fleeing violence, burned homes and destroyed businesses. This routine violence forces the population to endure a perpetual state of terror, which would have enabled Moïse and his allies to gun their way into and through sham elections planned for September.

Yet, despite Moïse’s record of human rights abuses, the U.S. government continued to back the legitimacy of his presidency. And the State Department has maintained the wrongheaded policy of pushing for national elections in the coming months — no matter how much blood is shed, no matter how many innocents like Netty are murdered, no matter how unsafe it would be for the Haitian population. A few days ago, my own organization was publicly threatened by gang members. As Haitians put our lives on the line daily to speak out against this government’s dictatorial rule, we are left asking the Biden administration: Why?

The United States urgently needs to change its policy on Haitian elections. Instead of pushing for presidential and legislative elections in September, the U.S. government needs to listen to and align itself with Haitian civil society. Elections cannot be held fairly this year, and we are united in our call for the establishment of a limited-term transitional government made up of members of the judiciary and civil society to ensure a free and fair election and a return to democratic governance based on the rule of law. Complex questions remain to be answered, such as who will select this transitional government and what its term will be. But the transition must be led by Haitians, free of outside influence or partisan politics, and must retain the confidence of the public. Unfortunately, as long as the United States and others continue to back the flawed election process, Haitians are left with little room to work out necessary solutions.

Furthermore, even though Moïse is gone, the gangs he empowered and people he elevated remain. The United States must end its support for his corrupt government, which has made impunity and violence the rule, and has dismantled state institutions while consolidating power.

Finally, the United States needs to match its rhetoric and actions. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti said last week that it was “deeply concerned by the loss of life and general insecurity as a result of gang-related violence.” The administration said it was “shocked” and “saddened” at this week’s events. None of this helps Netty’s family in mourning, nor does it acknowledge the role of Moïse’s government in the violence, nor offer any security to the activists and journalists who continue to push for democracy and a brighter future for our country at great personal risk to themselves.

If the Biden administration continues to stand behind this corrupt government, it will be aligning itself with the gangs that Moïse empowered over the wishes of Haitian citizens and civil society. How many more lives must be unnecessarily lost before the United States gets on the right side of history?

Read more:

The Post’s View: Haiti needs swift and muscular international intervention

The Post’s View: Haiti’s ‘descent into hell’ will only accelerate without proper elections

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse: What Oxfam’s ugly scandal reveals about aid and power in Haiti

The Post’s View: Haitians are fleeing their country. Their president is the source of the problem.