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Haitian Protesters Say Moïse's Term Is Over. He Says He Has 1 More Year

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Political protests have erupted in Haiti after more than 20 people were arrested in an alleged plot to overthrow the government there. President Jovenel Moise says opponents planned a violent coup, but Moise's opponents deny any coup plot. They say they simply want him out of office, claiming that as of Sunday, his five-year term had expired. Moses won the election in 2016 but didn't take office until the following year. He argues he has one more year in power.

Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles has been covering the unrest there, and she joins us on Skype from Miami. Good morning, Jacqueline. Thanks for being here.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So there's this disagreement. The president says he's got a year. The opposition says no. How can there be confusion at this point?

CHARLES: Well, the issue lies with the constitution primarily in terms of when did the clock on President Moise's five-year term actually started. And according to his detractors, it started in 2016, when his predecessor, former President Michel Martelly, stepped down from office without naming a successor because the elections that were held in October 2015 were marred by fraud. And as a result, there was a provisional government, a provisional president, in fact, that occupied that role for 14 months.

Now, what the opposition and a number of civil society groups, including the Catholic Church, Protestant churches and others are saying to Moise - hey, listen, your first year was taken up by this provisional president because the clock started in 2016. But Moise is saying, no, I physically got into office February 7, 2017, and I still have five years. So that is where you have this disagreement on top of the fact of the election and other little technicalities. But we have this huge divide in this dispute between the two of them. And as a result, you're seeing all of these protests that have erupted.

MARTIN: So more than 20 people were arrested over this alleged plot to overthrow him, among them apparently major political players. Can you tell us about them?

CHARLES: No, among them, a sitting judge of the country's Supreme Court - so - and that is the big news right there. But, yes, you do have a surgeon who was a candidate in the last elections. You have civil society groups. But these people were arrested at 2 a.m. in the morning, still in their pajamas, in shorts and slippers. And the judge who was arrested said, you know, the guns that the police are claiming that they seized belong to his security detail, which was, in fact, given to them by two former police chiefs. So there's a lot of confusion there. And both the U.S. and the U.N. are saying that they're waiting for the investigation resulting in the arrest of these 23 people. But they are currently in jail.

But last night, President Moise also issued a decree. He's been ruling without a Parliament and is one of only 11 elected officials since last year and yesterday basically fired the three Supreme Court justices who the opposition pinpointed as possible provisional president. And they've also named their own president, by the way, from the court.

MARTIN: Where's the U.S. on all this - just briefly?

CHARLES: The U.S. is basically saying wait and see, but you guys need to get along and go to elections.

MARTIN: Jacqueline Charles with the Miami Herald. Thank you.

CHARLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.