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PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti emerged from the brutal and dynastic Duvalier dictatorship to democracy 35 years ago. Now, many Haitians fear a return to autocracy as President Jovenel Moise has been steadily amassing power.
The banana exporter-turned-politician has been governing by decree for more than a year since the Caribbean nation failed to hold elections in late 2019 due to political gridlock and violent unrest.
In this time, Moise has passed dozens of decrees, some of which implemented reforms considered long overdue, like an update to the penal code. Others, though, are deeply controversial - including an order designating certain types of street protests as terrorism, and the creation of an intelligence agency accountable only to the president.
"I don't see how there is anyone, after God, who has more power than me in the country," Moise said in a speech last year.
Now Moise hopes a referendum in June will approve a new constitution that would strengthen the power of the executive.
Moise says he wants to end the political instability that has plagued Haiti, hampering development in the poorest country in the Americas. He has vowed not to benefit from the changes, and says he will not stand for a second term at presidential elections set for September.
But the opposition, rights experts and many Haitians say they fear Moise is paving the way for his political camp - the Tet Kale party and its allies - to retain power indefinitely.
Thousands have been taking to the streets nationwide in a new wave of anti-government protests, chanting 'No to dictatorship! and calling for Moise's immediate resignation and a transition government.
The protests have shut down schools and businesses, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in a country where two-thirds of the population make less than $2 per day and gang violence has surged lately.
"This country cannot live any more in dictatorship, murders and repression," said Kelly Bastien, a former opposition senator, taking part in a protest. "Respect for the constitution! Down with dictatorship! Down with decrees!"
Moise's critics say his administration are using gangs to intimidate citizens, pointing to massacres in opposition-dominated neighborhoods.
Moise denies those charges. His supporters emphasize that he was democratically elected and accuse the opposition of deliberately stirring up unrest and using gang violence themselves to create chaos.
Neighboring countries have warned the situation could worsen as the referendum and presidential election approach, threatening the stability of the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti but has a gross domestic product per capita six times greater, said last month it would build a wall to keep out trouble.