Haiti’s acting prime minister is stepping down

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.

>>Catherine PorterThe New York Times
Published : 19 July 2021, 05:01 PM
Updated : 19 July 2021, 05:01 PM

Ever since the president’s assassination July 7, Haitian politicians have grappled 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.

The remaining members of the nation’s Senate also said the Senate president should lead the nation, igniting a caustic dispute over who should govern. 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.

The political standoff 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 the nation’s highest court died of COVID-19 in June, depriving the country of yet another means of deciding who should govern next.

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

“I can confirm PM Claude is stepping down,” Pierre said.

On Sunday night, 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’état” and asked the nation’s political actors to walk along the peaceful path Haiti’s people have followed.

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

The so-called Core Group of powerful foreign governments and international organisations 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 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 recognised 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 instead.

Reaction around the country was swift.

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

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