Haiti swore in a new prime minister on Tuesday, as the troubled Caribbean country tries to emerge from the political chaos created by the murder of President Jovenel Moise two weeks ago.
Ariel Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurgeon and public health expert, took the reins of the nation of 11 million, as interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepped aside and resumed his role as foreign affairs minister.
During the ceremony in Port-au-Prince, Henry said he would continue to pursue the authors of Moise’s murder. He also asked Haitians to have patience as he organises elections later this year.
“We should never go through another tragedy like this,” Henry said, according to local media.
Henry’s elevation comes after a power struggle with Joseph to decide the political fate of the country. He’d been tapped by Moise to be prime minister but hadn’t stepped into the role when the president was assassinated in his home on July 7. Without a functioning legislature since 2020, and with the Supreme Court in disarray, Joseph claimed that he was the nation’s legitimate leader.
On Saturday, the “Core Group” of nations — an influential bloc including ambassadors representing the US, the European Union and the United Nations — urged Henry to form a new government and lead the country through general elections, currently scheduled for September 26. Shortly after, Joseph announced he would step down.
Henry’s rise might be politically necessary but is legally dubious due to the lack of a functioning national assembly or high court, said Boaz Anglade, an independent political analyst from Haiti.
“This transition is not constitutional, not legitimate,” he said in an interview from Washington. “But of course, you cannot apply the constitution here because there’s no parliament.”
Given the circumstances, reaching a broad agreement and holding presidential and legislative elections as soon as is technically feasible — perhaps in tandem with a constitutional referendum — may be the nation’s best chance to hit “the reset” button, he said.
Until those elections, Henry will have to lead the deeply polarised and impoverished nation through one of its toughest periods in decades.
Haiti has been seized by gang violence and kidnappings that officials say pose a threat to organizing elections. It’s also trying to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations just as the contagious delta variant has gripped the region. Haiti only received its first delivery of vaccines last week — making it the last nation in the Americas to begin administering doses.
Finally, Henry will have to oversee the investigation into the murder of Moise. Officials have arrested more than 20 people, including 18 Colombians, many of them former soldiers; members of Moise’s security detail; and a Haitian doctor and pastor from South Florida who they say is a key player. But many people in the country, including Election Minister Mathias Pierre, argue that the true masterminds of the crime are yet to be identified.
Despite the challenges, Henry sounded a note of optimism on Twitter late Tuesday.
“Yes, it is possible, with the contribution and the will of all Haitians but also with the support of our partners and the entire international community, to allow peace and security to return definitively,” Henry said.
Moise will be buried in the northern town of Cap-Haitien on Friday.