Claude Joseph, who has nominally led Haiti as acting prime minister since President Jovenel Mossé’s assassination, said in an exclusive interview on Monday that he had agreed to step down, handing over power to his challenger, who has received international support.
The agreement puts an end to a power struggle between two men who had been courting international and domestic support for their competing claims to be Haiti’s interim leader, and it aims to defuse a raging political crisis that has left the troubled Caribbean nation adrift since the July 7 assassination.
Joseph had previously claimed that Ariel Henry, the 71-year-old neurosurgeon appointed prime minister by Mose two days before the killing, had not yet been sworn in and had no right to act as interim leader because he had not yet been sworn in. Joseph, Mose’s foreign minister, had also been acting prime minister before Mose named Henry, which he claimed made him Haiti’s rightful interim leader following the assassination.
On Monday, he said he and Henry had been meeting privately for the past week in an attempt to resolve the leadership dispute, and that he had finally agreed to step down “for the good of the nation” on Sunday.
Late Sunday, Henry issued a recorded address in which he reiterated his claim to the position of Prime Minister.
Following the assassination, foreign governments and international bodies initially recognized Joseph’s claim to be interim prime minister. On Saturday, however, an informal group of foreign ambassadors and envoys known as the “Core Group,” which includes the United States, appeared to reverse course, emphasizing the need for a “consensual and inclusive government” led by “designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry.”
By endorsing Henry, the Core Group appeared to be abandoning Joseph, putting him in an untenable position.
While the agreement appears to resolve the country’s most significant power struggle between two men appointed to cabinet positions by Mose, it is unlikely to permanently resolve the leadership question.
In recent days, members of Haitian civil society groups have sharply criticized the international community for supporting Henry, and they have insisted on a new interim government separate from Haiti’s fractious political parties. Many had called for Mose to resign before his assassination, claiming he was in cahoots with the violent gangs that had terrorized the country. They stated that they would not recognize anyone named by Mose as interim leader.
“We are unconcerned about this news. Jovenel Mose appointed Ariel Henry as Prime Minister,” said Samuel Madistin, an attorney and chairman of the board of directors of Fondation Je Klere, a human-rights organization based in Port-au-Prince. “We don’t have the sense or conviction that this will change anything about Jovenel Mose’s failed policies, which have led to the country’s failure, which we are all witnessing.”
Furthermore, elected members of Haiti’s non-functioning Senate rejected the two men’s agreement. Members of the Senate, which lacks a legal quorum due to a lapsed election schedule, had previously voted to make the Senate’s president, Joseph Lambert, the country’s acting president. The international community has largely ignored that attempt.
Henry appeared to acknowledge the importance of gaining the support of civil society groups. In a statement issued on Sunday, he said: “During the last days, I met with compatriots and diverse actors of the national life politics of course but also from the civil society and the private sector. I intend to continue and deepen these discussions, because it is the only way to assemble the Haitian family, to bypass or divergences and antagonism and to witness a different future.”
Ariel had suggested that Joseph was planning a “coup” against Henry’s claim to interim leadership, and had threatened to use unspecified “leverage” to seize control of Haiti. He also criticized Joseph’s call for foreign troops, which he made in letters to the US and the UN on the day of the assassination, as premature.
Joseph refused to say whether any pressure had been applied and said it was unclear whether he would remain in Henry’s government.