He presented himself as a unifying figure who would heal a nation in grief after the assassination of its president. But a few days after signing an agreement to lead a transitional government, Haiti’s acting prime minister was accused of involvement in the killings this week.
The drama escalated on Tuesday when Haiti chief prosecutor asked a judge to indict interim leader Ariel Henry, saying phone records show Henry spoke twice to a suspect in the murder, hours after President Jovenel Moses shot dead by a hit team in a bedroom of his residence in July.
Henry responded by dismissing prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude and the Attorney General, while his office described the accusation as “unfounded insinuation” and added that he had received “countless calls” that evening from people worried about his safety.
Senator Joseph Lambert, a former politician, then took advantage of the chaos trying to swear to himself to the vacant post of president. The attempt failed after a gun battle erupted near the parliament building and diplomats urged him to return.
The heightened political tension comes as the Caribbean nation of 11 million people struggles with the aftermath of a severe earthquake last month, worse poverty, a failed economy and widespread gang violence. Instead of facing these challenges or solving Moses’ assassination, businessmen said the government was being devoured by a brutal power struggle.
“I’m not sure if we’ll ever know who it is,” said a businessman who spoke to the Financial Times in the capital, Port-au-Prince, this week, referring to Moise’s murder. “Every faction is trying to destroy its rivals – it’s a struggle for political survival.”
Most agree that the cause of the accusation against Henry was the agreement between parties he had signed days before to lead an interim administration until new elections could be held at the end of 2022.
“The agreement would be signed and they wanted to try something to break it,” said another local businessman. ‘It was 100% an attempt to break the agreement.
A senior diplomat in Port-au-Prince added: ‘This is clearly politically motivated and made by Jovenel’s people, who fear being excluded from government. ‘
Henry, who was appointed a trained neurosurgeon by Moses as prime minister shortly before his death, won the support of the international community and is considered one of the few viable leadership options left.
Decades of corruption scandals and abuses of power jeopardized Haiti’s political class, and Moise’s failure to hold elections left a group of 10 senators as the only remaining elected national officials.
On one side of the power struggle is the “JovenelistesSupporters of the assassinated president. These include his widow, Martine, who was injured during the attack on her husband and now plans to run for president. This group, which also includes the ousted Justice Minister Rockfeller Vincent, is looking for quick elections to prevent their power from slipping away.
In the other camp are Henry and a coalition that includes a movement by Michel Martelly, the musician who became president who ruled Haiti from 2011-16. They are privileged to postpone an election so that they can have time to build influence.
A third group of traditional politicians, including Lambert, is pursuing positions in the background in hopes of securing lucrative state positions.
International powers have supported Henry so far. Ambassadors to the so-called Core Group, which includes the US and four other countries, plus the UN and the Organization of American States, issued a supportive statement on Wednesday after being accused, supporting his efforts to form a broad interim government. .
But the message hid divisions within the group over Henry’s chances of staying in office and delaying the election. “It is clear that he is maneuvering to extend his time in power, and this has not been discussed,” a diplomat said. “The plan was for elections in three months.”
Although business leaders and diplomats see little alternative for Henry, they are concerned about the lack of results.
Gang violence continued unabated, with powerful crowds abducting and extorting large parts of the shorter towns of Port-au-Prince at will. Many of the gangs are said to be linked to politicians. One of the most powerful gang bosses, former police officer Jimmy Chérizier, retained great power.
According to the IMF, Haiti’s economy will grow by only 1 percent this year, as inflation will exceed 20 percent. With almost two-thirds of the population living in poverty in one of the most unequal societies in the region, social tensions are increasing.
“These are very difficult times,” said Jessica Hsu, an American who has lived in Haiti occasionally for 20 years. ‘You have a state that does not really invest in its people, and what you have had in recent decades is a migration from the countryside to the city looking for work. The guest shortage does not help, the gang uncertainty. . . has an impact, ‘she added.
“Now we have the earthquake, and the countryside has to take care of itself.”
Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, said gangs occupied the nearby Martissant area for months and suffocated from an important junction. “Our Martissant employees cannot come to work,” he said. ‘Our students tried to come back, but we only have a third capacity due to the political situation, kidnapping and people being attacked.
“There is a perception that Jovenel Moïse is still ruling in his absence,” he added. ‘The lack of leadership of the prime minister does not help and now he is not strong due to the suspicion about his part in the murder. The general state of mind is a complete upset. ”