President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. Opposition leaders are disputing the mandate of President Moise whose term they claim ended on Feb. 7, but the president and his supporters say his five-year term only expires in 2022. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

In what was deemed the largest demonstration since anti-government protests resumed earlier this year, protesters accused Moïse, who has been ruling by presidential decree for over a year, of trying to become a dictator and overstaying his time in the National Palace. Opposition leaders contend that Moïse’s time in office ended Feb. 7. Moïse disagrees, saying he has another year as president.

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People protest to demand the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. The opposition is disputing the mandate of President Moise whose term they claim ended on Feb. 7, but the president and his supporters say his five-year term only expires in 2022. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

The constitutional crisis has plunged Haiti deeper into turmoil, and has triggered a series of protests, some of which have turned violent, on the streets. Moïse’s detractors have gone as far as installing their own interim president — Judge Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis, 72, who was later removed from the Supreme Court by Moïse — and on Sunday, called on the United Nations, United States and Organization of American States to cease their support for him.

As they chanted, “Down with the dictatorship” and denounced Moïse’s rule, they also targeted the head of the U.N.’s Integrated Office in Port-au-Prince, Helen La Lime, saying the protest was also a show of force to her.

On Monday, La Lime told the U.N. Security Council that after months of failed street mobilization efforts by Haiti’s opposition, recent actions by Moïse, including the issuing of decrees and the removal of three Supreme Court judges, had led 3,000 Haitians to peacefully demonstrate against him on Feb. 14 “to denounce what they deem to be a looming risk of return to authoritarian rule.” The figure has been widely disputed by civic and opposition groups, who accused La Lime of not knowing how to count. The U.N. has said it stands by the accounting, which does not contradict other assessments performed by reliable organizations.

“We have to teach her how to count,” said a protesting Sen. Patrice Dumont, one of only 11 elected lawmakers in all of Haiti.

There were no readily available official figures for Sunday’s protest, which was organized by some of the country’s most prominent Protestant pastors and supported by various civic groups, political organizations and unions. Along with Port-au-Prince, marches took place in six other cities.

Moïse’s only comment about the protest was a tweet about an accident at the end of the protest involving a sound truck where two people were injured. He was informed of the accident, he said, and deplored the tragedy.

Largely free from the tear gas and violent clashes that have characterized previous demonstrations, Sunday’s effort was also one of the more diverse: pastors were joined by Catholic priests, as well as poor Haitians, high-profile businessmen and journalists, former lawmakers, human rights activists and political militants.

“Today is a day that Haitian youths have to show they are ready to cut ties with a dictatorship,” said Jonas Dorfeuille, 30, who is studying finance and law. “We want the country to enter into an era where corruption is less; people can eat and people have rights; where the youth of this country don’t have to leave in search of a better life and where our future can be guaranteed. For this to happen, you have to have a government that’s credible and based on the development of the country.”

Haiti is currently embroiled in a worsening political crisis that has led to the United States to demand that Moïse schedule legislative elections as quickly as technically feasible in order to end his one-man rule. Moïse has said elections will take place this year, but only after he holds a referendum for a new constitution, now set for June. Though the referendum has the support of the U.N., which believes the country’s 1987 post-dictatorship constitution is the root of its turmoil, Haitian legal scholars, civic groups and the opposition have denounced the move as illegal because of a prohibition against referendums in the magna carta.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the end of Moïse’s presidential term and the protracted political crisis have been made worse by a wave of kidnappings and increased criminality by armed gangs.

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