Haiti names Ariel Henry as new prime minister after president’s assassination

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Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, took office on Tuesday in the wake of the president’s assassination two weeks ago, pledging to improve the country’s dire security and hold long-delayed elections.

Henry was appointed head of a new government in an effort to stabilize a country that has been on the brink of chaos since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his home on the early morning of July 7.

The swearing in of Henry, who was appointed to the post by Moise days before his death, was seen as an important step towards holding elections, as requested by many Haitians and the international community.

After the president was assassinated by armed commandos, Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared martial law and said he was in charge, launching a power struggle in the violence-ridden, impoverished Caribbean country.

“One of my priority tasks will be to reassure people that we will do everything we can to restore order and security,” Henry told the Haitian population of 10 million people on Tuesday.

“This is one of the most important issues the president wanted me to address because he understood it was a necessary step if we were to succeed in his other concern of organizing credible, fair, transparent and inclusive elections.”

The inauguration ceremony in Port-au-Prince was preceded by a solemn tribute to Moise, including speeches, dance and music on a stage with bouquets of white flowers and a giant portrait of the assassinated president.

Haitian authorities, with the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, are still investigating the shady motives for Moise’s murder.

More than 20 people, many of whom are retired Colombian military personnel, have been arrested in connection with the murder.

Governed by decree

In the new administration, Joseph, agreeing to resign and relinquish the role to Henry, returned to his former position as Secretary of State.

Moise, 53, had ruled Haiti, America’s poorest country, by decree after parliamentary elections scheduled for 2018 were postponed over multiple disputes, including when his own term ended.

In addition to presidential, parliamentary and local elections, Haiti should have held a constitutional referendum in September after being postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the power struggle following Moise’s murder, the balance tipped in Henry’s favor as ambassadors – including from the United States, France and the United Nations – informally expressed their support for the 71-year-old neurosurgeon.

Haiti has no working parliament and no workable succession process, and was already deep in political and security crisis when Moise was assassinated.

Haitian police have accused a Haitian doctor with ties to Florida, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, of being the mastermind behind the plot and of having “political objectives.”

“All culprits, perpetrators and sponsors must be identified and brought before the Haitian justice system,” Henry, who has previously held several ministerial jobs, said in his speech.

“And I hope exemplary and deterrent sentences are handed down. The nation expects no less from its leaders. Never again will we have to relive such a tragedy.”

“The solution to the Haitian crisis must come from the Haitians,” he added.

“Everything is negotiable, except democracy, elections and the rule of law.”

Henry also thanked international partners for the arrival of the country’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, which arrived last week in a country with scarce health resources.

The United States, which exerts significant influence in Haiti, welcomed the new administration, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Washington was “encouraged to see Haitian political and civil actors work to form a unity government that can stabilize the country”.

Moise will be laid to rest on Friday in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. His widow Martine, who was seriously injured in the attack, was treated at a Miami hospital before returning home over the weekend.

(AFP)