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New Haitian prime minister pledges to hold assassins accountable, schedule elections

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 8/11/2021 Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
a man wearing a suit and tie: Designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry looks on during a ceremony at La Primature in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 20, 2021. © VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP/AFP/TNS Designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry looks on during a ceremony at La Primature in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 20, 2021.

Three weeks after the shocking assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the man he had tapped just days before his death to lead the government’s day-to-day affairs promised to continue to pursue those responsible for the murder and to work toward “a large political consensus” that would enable the country to carry out free and fair elections.

“We will ensure the continuation of the investigation into the harsh and heinous assassination of the President of the Republic. All sponsors, perpetrators of this murder must be brought to justice. It is a matter of state,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Wednesday. “All the people involved in this crime will be tracked down everywhere and brought to justice.”

Before his July 7 killing, Moïse was under pressure to hold long-overdue elections. He had been ruling by decree since January 2020. The first round of balloting for legislative and presidential elections had been targeted for Sept. 26, including a controversial referendum on a new constitution.

Now, the task has fallen to Henry, who becomes the nation’s de facto leader in the absence of a president to replace Moïse. His 17-member Cabinet has come under criticism for not being inclusive enough and not being the result of a political accord. Following Wednesday’s meeting of his Council of Ministers, his Cabinet, Henry sought to assure Haitians that his government is working with all sectors of Haitian life “to remove and eliminate all irritants — everything that could stop us from quickly reaching a good political accord so that we could hold elections without any show of favoritism.”

Wednesday’s meeting took place as about 50 protesters marched through the capital to the U.S. Embassy to demand that the United States stay out of Haiti’s affairs. The protest coincided with the 106th anniversary of the 1915 U.S. occupation of Haiti, which occurred the last time a Haitian president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, was assassinated.

Henry, who did not address the anniversary during his brief press conference, said the mission of his government is to prepare the necessary conditions for “the organization of free, honest, transparent elections, with the broad participation of the population.”

“In this vein, the government will work in transparency, without favoritism, through an inclusive process,” he said.

A respected neurosurgeon, Henry, 71, emerged as the person to lead Haiti amid a three-way power struggle after Moïse’s death. At that time, the international community called on him to continue forming his government.


Video: Haiti appoints new prime minister in wake of president's assassination (Reuters)

Since then, he has faced criticism over the makeup of his Cabinet, which includes key ministerial posts held by Moïse loyalists. Critics have challenged his government’s legitimacy because there is no provision in the Haitian constitution designating a line of succession behind Moïse, who was killed while there was no functioning parliament.

On Wednesday, Henry did not offer a road map ahead other than to state he’s been meeting with civic, economic and political leaders, as well as members of the international community since taking the helm. The meetings will continue, he said.

“The discussions are difficult but constructive,” Henry added.

Henry faces tough challenges and wrenching decisions. Among them, he will soon need to decide whether to keep Sept. 26 as the date for the first round of presidential and legislative voting. His government will also need to decide whether it will keep or replace the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, which the Supreme Court refused to swear in after Moïse handpicked its members.

In a tweet late Wednesday, the Port-au-Prince Bar Association said that the council had asked the Federation of Haiti Bars to submit names of lawyers to form electoral dispute courts. In response, the bar association reminded the council that “it was created in an unconstitutional manner and it lacks legitimacy.”

Then there is the constitutional referendum. Henry will need to decide if the referendum, considered an “irritant” even by some members of the slain president’s party, stays on the ballot or goes.

An example of how tough things will be as he seeks to carve out his own agenda quickly emerged Wednesday ahead of the ministerial meeting. Rénald Lubérice, who served as secretary general of the Council of Ministers, Moïse’s government, issued a note to Henry protesting what he viewed as an attempt by the new prime minister to withdraw a controversial presidential decree creating a secret police unit, the National Intelligence Agency, or ANI.

The intelligence agency, which was not on the agenda Wednesday, was created by Moïse last year. The Nov. 26, 2020, presidential decree was published along with a second one on public security that expanded the definition of terrorism to include common protest strategies such as the burning of tires. Both decrees provoked a rare public rebuke from the United States and others in the international community.

At the time, some key foreign diplomats in Haiti, collectively known as the Core Group, said that ANI gave agents of the police agency “virtual legal immunity, thus opening up the possibility of abuse.” The top U.S. diplomat is a member of the Core Group.

Moïse was killed three weeks ago Wednesday during an armed attack in which his wife, Martine Moïse, was shot in the arm but none of his palace security agents paid to protect him were apparently shot or killed. The attack occurred in the middle of the night, sometime after 1:30 a.m., according to several sources interviewed by the Miami Herald and McClatchy Washington Bureau.

At least 26 people have been arrested, including 18 Colombian commandos, two Haitian Americans and a Haitian doctor with ties to South Florida. This week, Haitian police, who are leading the multinational investigation with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations, arrested Divisional Commissioner Jean Laguel Civil, who was in charge of coordinating the president’s security.

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