Haiti’s acting prime minister is stepping down

By Catherine Porter

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Claude Joseph, the prime minister who immediately took control of Haiti’s government after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse this month, is stepping down, the nation’s minister for elections said in a text message Monday (19).

Ever since the president’s assassination on July 7, Haitian politicians have been at loggerheads, grappling for control of the government.

Joseph had been scheduled to be replaced the week of the killing, but the newly appointed prime minister, Ariel Henry, had yet to be sworn in. Both declared themselves to be the legitimate prime ministers, setting off a power struggle that threatened to further destabilize a country that had already been gripped by months of street protests over Moïse’s rule.

At least one senator had called Joseph’s move to run the country and impose a state of siege after the assassination a form of a coup.

But on Monday, Mathias Pierre, the minister for elections, said in a text message that Joseph would step down in “favour of Ariel Henry”.

And Senate President Joseph Lambert said pressure from US diplomats had been a major factor in the reshuffling of Haiti’s new leadership.

“Haiti has become a baseball,” he said, “being thrown between foreign diplomats.”

On Sunday (18) night, Henry released a pre-recorded speech addressing the Haitian people on social media channels.

He saluted the maturity of the Haitian people in the face of “what could be called a coup d’état,” and he asked the nation’s political actors to walk along the peaceful path that Haiti’s people have followed.

He said he would announce shortly who would be part of his Cabinet while gathering a “sufficient consensus” to lead an interim government until conditions were met for elections, stopping short of calling it a transition.

“I appeal to the altruism of the Haitian patriots to surpass themselves in order to face together the dangers which threaten us all and jeopardize the very existence of the nation,” he said.

The political standoff in the wake of the assassination was made all the more complicated by the fact that many of the nation’s democratic institutions had been hollowed out during Moïse’s time in office.

Only 10 sitting senators remained out of 30 because the terms of the other 20 had expired and elections were not held to replace them. The lower house is entirely vacant — its members’ terms expired last year — leaving Moïse to govern by decree for more than a year before he was killed.

Beyond that, the head of Haiti’s highest court died of COVID-19 in June, depriving the country of yet another means of deciding who should govern next.

In the middle of the dispute, the remaining members of the nation’s Senate also weighed in, saying Lambert should lead Haiti, adding more confusion to the caustic dispute over who should govern.

The so-called Core Group of powerful foreign governments and international organizations that exercise great influence in Haiti — including the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union, the United States, France, Spain, Canada, Germany and Brazil — called Saturday (17) for the formation of a “consensual and inclusive” government.

To this end, the group “strongly encourages the prime minister-designate Ariel Henry to continue the mission entrusted to him to form such a government.”

Shortly after the assassination, the United States said it recognized Joseph as the incumbent and would work with him as such. It was not immediately clear what had caused international actors to switch and throw their weight behind Henry.

Reaction around the country was swift.

“It’s not their say. It’s our say,” Velina Chartier, an activist with the anti-corruption group Nou Pa Dormi that led large protests against the government two years ago, said of the jockeying by the nation’s political leaders. “We are the ones who have to manage and find a way to live together in this country.”

Lambert, one of the 10 remaining elected officials in the country, has been among those aiming to fill the void left by Moïse’s killing. After eight of his fellow senators and several political parties declared that he should become provisional president, he announced a week ago that he was going to be sworn in by the Parliament. Then, he promptly postponed.

While he had explained in a tweet that the decision had been to allow all senators to be present for the nomination, on Sunday he said the real reason was pressure from US diplomats.

The risk of allowing decisions to be guided by foreign powers, he said, was further unrest.

“Ninety-five to ninety-seven percent of political parties will not accept this. And if they don’t accept this unilateral proposal, it’s certain there won’t be an election,” he said. “Even if there are elections, the results will be refuted, and Haiti will continue on this spiral of instability.”

-New York Times


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