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Unrest and exhaustion last month in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty.

President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti claims he survived a coup attempt on Sunday. Leading opposition figures say there was no coup attempt — and that Moïse is no longer president.

Why it matters: Haiti’s prolonged political crisis is coming to a head over the question of whether Moïse’s term ended on Sunday or will end on Feb. 7, 2022. This is just the latest flashpoint in a cycle of delayed elections, public frustration and fraying political legitimacy in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Flashback: Moïse’s mentor and predecessor, Michel Martelly, left office in February 2016 without an elected successor after the results of a 2015 election were annulled. Moïse, a businessman with no prior political experience, was elected in November 2016 and took office in February 2017.

  • The opposition argues that, electoral delays aside, the clock on the current five-year presidential term started on Feb. 7, 2016.
  • Moïse says it began when he took office — a position backed by the Organization of American States, the UN and, as of Friday, the U.S. State Department.

Driving the news: Moïse appeared on Facebook Live on Sunday to announce the arrests of 23 people, including a supreme court justice, whom he accused of plotting to overthrow and kill him.

  • The opposition did indeed hope to oust Moïse, but dismisses the idea it intended to do so violently. Whether Moïse’s claims were more than political theater remains unclear, at least from Washington.
  • “The situation remains murky and we await the results of the police investigation,” a State Department spokesperson told Axios.
  • Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), meanwhile, said the arrests simply showed Moïse had “escalated his anti-democratic campaign.”
  • A day earlier, Levin had signed onto a letter urging Secretary of State Tony Blinken to back calls for an immediate political transition in Haiti. The letter, penned by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), revealed a schism between Democrats on the issue.

Between the lines: The State Department spokesperson today reiterated the U.S. position that Moïse’s term would end in 2022 while calling on Moïse to schedule elections and all sides to proceed peacefully.

State of play: Moïse has been ruling by decree since February 2020 after failing to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019.

  • Now he says he’ll hold a constitutional referendum in April followed by legislative and presidential elections later this year — a timeline Georges Fauriol of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls “suspiciously short.”
  • “There are health issues, there are security issues, and the machinery of democracy is for all intents and purposes nonexistent,” Fauriol says, citing incomplete voter rolls and the lack of an independent electoral commission.
  • Even if the elections are held, the legitimacy of the outcomes will likely be immediately challenged, he adds.

The bottom line: Sunday also marked the anniversary of dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier fleeing Port-Au-Prince in 1986, heralding the restoration of democracy.

  • During his Facebook address, Moïse declared, "I am not a dictator." The fact that such a statement needed to be made underscores the fragility of Haitian democracy 35 years later.

Go deeper

Updated 50 mins ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump dogs "dull" DeSantis ahead of potential 2024 matchup

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, according to sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor.

Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker