Rival Haitian Leaders Battle for Power After President’s Assassination

By Reuters
July 10, 2021Americas
Rival Haitian Leaders Battle for Power After President’s Assassination
People walk past a wall with a mural depicting Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, after he was shot dead by unidentified attackers in his private residence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021. (Robenson Sanon/File Photo/Reuters)

PORT-AU-PRINCE—A power struggle is brewing in Haiti as the man appointed prime minister shortly before the assassination of Haiti’s president this week said he—not the acting premier—should lead the Caribbean nation and was forming a government to that effect.

Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who was named prime minister by President Jovenel Moise on Monday, two days before Moise was killed by a squad of gunmen in his home in the capital, Port-au-Prince, said he was now the highest authority in Haiti, not interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

“After the president’s assassination, I became the highest, legal, and regular authority because there was a decree nominating me,” Henry told Reuters in a phone interview late on Friday.

Henry had not been sworn in to replace Joseph at the time of the assassination, which has created confusion over who is the legitimate leader of the 11 million people in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Joseph, who was named interim prime minister in April after the resignation of Joseph Jouthe, has taken the reins of power so far, spearheading the government’s response to the assassination, appealing to the United States for support, and declaring a 15-day state of emergency.

Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph addresses the audience after suspects in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, who was shot dead early Wednesday at his home, were shown to the media, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 8, 2021. (Estailove St-Val/File Photo/Reuters)

Elections Minister Mathias Pierre said Joseph would keep that role until presidential and legislative elections are held on Sept. 26.

Henry said the new government he was forming, however, would instead create a new electoral council—given the previous one had been considered too partisan—and the council would determine new dates for elections.

“I don’t know what date they will be, all I know is that we cannot take too long to do these elections. We need to do them as soon as possible,” Henry said.

Haiti’s Senate, which currently comprises just a third of its usual 30 senators, nominated its head Joseph Lambert on Friday to be interim president, a document reviewed by Reuters showed.

Henry said he would be “ready to lead the country with all those who wanted to move forward” when asked if he was willing to rule alongside Lambert.

Haiti’s 1987 constitution stipulates the head of the Supreme Court should take over as interim president. But amendments that are not unanimously recognized state that it be the prime minister, or, in the last year of a president’s mandate—as was the case with Moise—that parliament should elect a president.

Further complicating the situation, the head of the Supreme Court died last month after contracting COVID-19 amid a surge in infections in one of the few countries yet to start a vaccination campaign.

Haiti President
Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference to provide information about the measures concerning coronavirus, at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 2, 2020. (Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters)

There also is no sitting parliament as legislative elections scheduled for late 2019 were postponed amid political unrest.

Colombian Connection

Haitian authorities have said that Moise was killed by a group of foreign, trained assassins comprised of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans.

Haiti President Killed
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise are shown to the media at the general direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 8, 2021. (Joseph Odelyn/AP Photo)

Seventeen of the men were captured after a gun battle with Haitian authorities in Petionville, a hillside suburb of Port-au-Prince, while three were killed and eight are still at large, according to Haitian police.

Colombian investigators took a Friday evening flight to Port-au-Prince to help Haitian authorities with the probe into the assassination, General Jorge Luis Vargas, head of Colombia’s national police, said on Twitter.

“Traveling are the head of the National Intelligence Directive, and on behalf of the Police, the director of intelligence brigadier general Norberto Mujica and a most high-level official from INTERPOL Colombia,” Vargas tweeted.

The United States has no plans currently to provide military assistance to Haiti, according to a senior administration official in Washington, after Port-au-Prince made a request for U.S. troops on Friday.

By Andre Paultre and Sarah Marsh