Haiti, Urged by Foreign Powers, Announces New Government

Claude Joseph had been the country’s leader in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination. He will hand power to Ariel Henry, the elections minister said.


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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — With foreign powers weighing in, Haitian officials announced a new prime minister on Monday, in an attempt to resolve a caustic leadership struggle in the wake of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination.

Claude Joseph, the prime minister who took control of Haiti’s government immediately after the killing, is stepping down in favor of Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who had been appointed to the position by the president before he was killed, the elections minister said Monday.

Ever since the assassination on July 7, Haitian politicians have been at loggerheads, grappling for control of the government. And the scramble for power is being heavily influenced by foreign countries, including the United States, which has long held enormous sway in the country.

“Haiti has become a baseball being thrown between foreign diplomats,” said Joseph Lambert, the president of Haiti’s Senate, adding that pressure from American diplomats was a major factor in the reshuffling of Haiti’s leadership.

As Senate president, Mr. Lambert said he had sought to lead the nation after the president’s death. But, he said, the United States urged him to stand down.

“I received calls from certain American diplomats in Haiti,” he added. “Also I received calls from diplomats in the U.S. State Department, who asked me to postpone so we had time to build a larger consensus.”

The switch in government announced on Monday follows a period of intense uncertainty in the wake of the president’s assassination. But the political maneuvering by Haitian officials and international power brokers was met with anger by Haitian activists and democracy advocates, who said it did not consider what the people wanted.

“It’s as if they have replaced the Haitian people. It’s revolting,” Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Seeing Eye To Eye, which represents more than one million Haitians across the country, said of the foreign powers. “We need the accompaniment of a lot of countries but we can’t accept they make decisions in our place.”

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

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

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


Mathias Pierre, the elections minister of Haiti, at his home in Port-au-Prince on Sunday.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

On Sunday night, Dr. Henry released a prerecorded 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’etat,” 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 Mr. Moise’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 Mr. Moise 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.

The Assassination of Haiti’s President

An assassination strikes a troubled nation: The killing of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 has rocked Haiti, stoking fear and confusion about the future. While there is much we do know about this event, there’s still much we don’t know.A figure at the center of the plot: Questions are swirling over the arrest of Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, a doctor with ties to Florida described as playing a central role in the death of the president.More suspects: Two Americans are among at least 20 people who have been detained thus far. Several of the people under investigation met in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the country once the president was out of power, Haitian police said.Years of instability: The assassination of Mr. Moise comes after years of instability in the country, which has long suffered lawlessness, violence and natural disasters.

In the middle of the dispute, the remaining members of the nation’s Senate also weighed in, saying the Senate president, Mr. 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 on Saturday 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 that it recognized Mr. 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 Mr. Henry.


A memorial poster to assassinated President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince on Sunday.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

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 lead 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.”

Mr. Lambert, one of the 10 remaining elected officials in the country, has been among those aiming to fill the void left by Mr. Moise’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 American diplomats.

Rather than a consensus, he said, the Core Group of international actors had imposed a “unilateral proposal.”

“They always say the solution has to be Haitian, but this is not a Haitian solution,” said Mr. Lambert, a powerful politician first elected in 1990, who grew up desperately poor in Haiti’s south, one of 11 children of an illiterate fisherman and street vendor mother.

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.”

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