Thousands of Haitians took to the streets in the capital and multiple cities again Sunday, this time to defend their country’s constitution and reject Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s proposed referendum to introduce a new magna carta.
With a heavy police presence stationed throughout the protest route in Port-au-Prince, protesters demanded respect for the current constitution and yelled “Down with dictatorship” as militants burned tires and tore down recently mounted billboards promoting the upcoming constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27 ahead of legislative, local and presidential elections scheduled for the fall.
Moïse has unveiled multiple proposed changes in a draft constitution to overhaul the country’s Constitution that, among other things, restructures the government and gives greater powers to the presidency. However the proposal comes amid growing unrest and distrust of Moïse by many Haitians, and calls from the United States for him to end his rule by decree by holding legislative elections to restore parliament.
During Sunday’s protest, marchers continued their calls for Moïse’s departure, insisting that his presidency ended last month — he says he still has a year left — expressed anger over corruption, kidnappings, rising inflation and what many deem as interference by the international community that support him. Holding up hand-written signs decrying the United States and the United Nations, some protesters went as far as calling on Russia for help.
“No to dictatorship, live democracy, live the constitution,” a thinned-out crowd yelled after arriving at the Constitutional Plaza on the Champ de Mars at the conclusion of the four-hour march.
Organized by representatives of Protestant churches, civil society and opposition political parties, Sunday’s demonstration was the first of two back-to-back marches to mark the 34th anniversary of the constitution. Written after the fall of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, the Constitution was overwhelmingly approved a year later on March 29, 1987.
It currently provides for a host of personal liberties like the right to protest and the protection of human rights. But the document is also filled with constraints, like the prohibition against a referendum, to prevent the rise of any future dictatorship. Moïse and others have said those measures have become obstacles to good governance in an impoverished Haiti and make for a very complicated magna carta.
In his speeches, Moïse has repeatedly pointed out the shortcomings of the Constitution and said most Haitians favor a new document. The issue say scholars and legal experts is not whether changes should or should not be made to the Haitian Constitution, but how. They accuse the president of unilaterally and illegally seeking to change the Constitution, which requires any changes to go through parliament.
“When he was sworn-in, he said he would respect the constitution. Now what do we see? You see him going against the constitution, saying he is going to do a referendum, which the 1987 constitution forbids,” said Reynold Georges, a prominent attorney who once served as a legal adviser to the president who joined Sunday’s protest.
Georges, who is also one the original signers of the constitution, said those opposing Moïse’s anti-constitutional efforts to give Haiti a new constitution have no choice but “to take to the streets..and say to Jovenel, ‘We do not agree, and we will never agree.”
While most of the protest occurred peacefully, a clash did erupt between some protesters and police on the Champ de Mars when rocks started being thrown at police. They in turn responded by firing tear gas.