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The crowd surrounds the Petionville Police station where armed men, accused of being involved in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, are being held in Port au Prince on July 8, 2021.VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP/Getty Images

Michaëlle Jean was governor-general of Canada, UNESCO special envoy for Haiti and secretary-general of La Francophonie.

The President of the Republic of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, and his wife seriously wounded, by a heavily armed and well-equipped commando that stormed their bedroom in the middle of the night. There was no sign of resistance from the security detail on the scene – seemingly nothing stood in their way.

The country is appalled, the air filled with anxiety. The streets are empty. Most striking is the heavy silence of the population. People are drained, overwhelmed by misery. They have simply endured too much suffering.

For months, the capital city of Port-au-Prince has been tormented by fire and terror. Insecurity has become the rule. With armed gangs calling the shots, kidnappings, assassinations and targeted attacks proliferated. Neighbourhoods have been torched. Women, young people, toddlers, merchants, journalists, activists and high-ranking figures of the judiciary have been slaughtered. Horror, everywhere.

The carnage has emptied whole sections of the city, its inhabitants fleeing violent rampages and revenge killings between armed groups. The police and the military have clashed recently, sending passersby to scramble in panic under the heavy fire of weapons of war. It’s a painful sight. The forces of law and order now fight it out like rival gangs and militias.

Worse, total impunity remains the prevailing practice in this nightmare. The victims are never being heard, no investigation is conducted; there is no justice – just the absolute opposite.

What we saw instead was a President in strange co-existence (in cahoots, even) with the gangs – seeking their favours, protecting them, giving them free rein. He also placed himself above the law, refusing to obey the Constitution mandating that he leave office by Feb. 7, under the pretext that he was sworn in only after a late decision by the electoral council in 2015.

Ignoring the massive demonstrations demanding his departure, his legitimacy undermined by serious corruption scandals in the PetroCaribe and Agritrans affairs, Mr. Moïse stood in defiance of the Constitution with the tacit support – or silence – of the international community. The strategy of terror and insecurity was a perfect diversion. Surfing the wave of rising dangers, the President opted for a referendum on constitutional changes, a move explicitly prohibited by the Constitution. Once again, the international community gave its assent by remaining deaf to the objections from across Haitian civil society.

Mr. Moïse’s most fundamental and dramatic error was to weaken and dismember all the institutions of the state, by now completely eviscerated. A head of state without a state is one who runs extreme risks. The President, crouched in the den of insecurity that became his refuge, found himself unarmoured and unprotected against the worst forms of abuse. Many Haitians believe he is a victim of murky dealings with insatiable mafias, who have now taken over. A tragic circle of fire has finally closed in on Jovenel Moïse.

Today, the transition itself is compromised, for lack of institutions capable of assuming the responsibilities. The situation is also complicated by the fact that interim prime minister Claude Joseph was dismissed by Mr. Moïse a few days ago, appointing Ariel Henry in his place – the seventh prime minister in less than five years. Mr. Henry was to be sworn in on July 7, the day the head of state was assassinated.

In the meantime, Mr. Joseph jumped to fill the vacuum, believing himself invested with the authority to declare a state of siege – a measure that can be legally considered only in the event of civil war or invasion by a foreign power; and moreover, only with the agreement of the National Assembly, which became inoperative more than a year ago. Any power Mr. Joseph or Mr. Henry holds is illegitimate.

Worse still, the highest authority designated by the Constitution to act as interim president, the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, died last month of COVID-19. The Chamber of Deputies has been non-existent since January, 2020. Only 10 of the 30 seats are currently filled in the Senate, and the President of the Senate was out of the country, in the Dominican Republic, the day Mr. Moïse was assassinated.

What is to be done? What is the way forward? These are the harrowing questions that Haitian opposition parties and civil society organizations are facing at this juncture as they urgently seek to save the nation. There must be dialogue, and a coalition government to organize new elections, based on the rule of law and democracy. For Haiti to have a future, the corruption that is rotting its bowels must be eradicated. Robust policies must restore confidence, dignity, justice, equity and security, along with respect for life – all of which the people have been clamouring for; all of which can no longer be flouted.

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