Sunday, July 25, 2021

international

U.S., other nations appear to snub Haitis interim prime minister while supporting rival


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The question of who leads Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse gained a new dimension on Saturday, as a key group of international diplomats released a statement that appeared to show support for one hopeful vying for control of the country.

The statement released by the Core Group, an informal bloc of ambassadors and envoys that includes the United States, did not mention Claude Joseph, interim prime minister and Haiti's effective leader.

Instead, emphasizing the need for a "consensual and inclusive government," it called on "designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry to continue the mission entrusted to him to form such a government."

By apparently snubbing Joseph and backing Henry, the Core Group appeared to be the first major international group to withdraw its support for Joseph - a move that surprised some observers given the tense political situation in Haiti.

In addition to the United States, the Core Group is made up of ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, Germany, the European Union and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Joseph has been serving as Haiti's de facto leader since Moïse was assassinated July 7. A former academic, Joseph had been put in place as interim prime minister on April 14.

However, two days before he was killed, Moïse had selected Henry, a neurosurgeon, to become Haiti's new prime minister. But Joseph says Henry was not sworn in before the slaying and that he would lead Haiti in what he called a "state of siege," similar to martial law.

Aside from the interim prime minister and the designated prime minister, Joseph Lambert, a lawmaker who had led Haiti's dismantled Senate, also claims to be leading Haiti. Lambert says he was named leader in a resolution adopted by a majority of the 10 remaining senators.

The Core Group statement is a departure from previous statements made by some of its members.

A day after Moïse was assassinated, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States would continue to work with Joseph as he was serving as acting prime minister before the slaying. A U.S. delegation that visited Haiti said that it met with Joseph, Henry and Lambert and encouraged them to work together to hold "free and fair elections," White House national security council spokeswoman Emily Horne said on Monday.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Core Group's statement.

The Core Group statement also appeared to contradict remarks made last week by U.N. special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, who said that Joseph will lead the Caribbean nation until an election is held later this year.

Speaking virtually to reporters, La Lime said that Haiti's constitution meant that the serving prime minister assumed control of the country during current events. She said that Joseph had told her that he would go through with current plans to hold the first round of voting in a new election on Sept. 26.

"There certainly are tensions. There are certainly people on all sides of this issue having different interpretations," La Lime said, adding that this was why dialogue was important.

Joseph also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Mathias Pierre, minister of elections and interparty relations, who has backed Joseph as interim leader, said it remained unclear whether Henry could put together a working transitional government.

He said Joseph was "open to negotiations" on the future of the country's leadership, and wanted to ensure the assassination investigation continued and that elections within 120 days remained on track."

He is prepared to do anything, any sacrifice for the good of the future of Haiti," Pierre said.

Patrice Dumont, an influential Haitian senator who had been critical of Moïse's government, said he rejected the idea that Henry could lead the country as he was "inadmissible."

Some independent groups said they were dismayed that international backing had not considered the views of Haitian society.

Jake Johnson, who tracks Haiti for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said that it appeared foreign diplomats were "once again putting their finger on the scale in an attempt to manage the nation's politics."

"While many see this as a snub of [Joseph], it should be seen more so as a snub of Haitian civil society organizations, who are meeting today to come up with a Haitian-led solution to the current impasse," Johnson said.

Before he was gunned down in his home, Moïse, 53, had been ruling Haiti by decree for more than a year. With no elections, the terms of many Haitian politicians had ended.

On Thursday, Haitian Police Director General Léon Charles strongly rejected claims that Joseph had knowledge of the plot to kill Moïse, dubbing a story from Colombian media that alleged the interim prime minister was involved in the assassination "a lie."

Published : July 17, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Widlore Merancourt, Adam Taylor, Anthony Faiola