Haiti's interim prime minister says he will step down
President named new PM days before assassination, but he has yet to be sworn in
Claude Joseph, who has nominally led Haiti as acting prime minister since the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, will hand power to a challenger backed by the international community possibly as soon as Tuesday, a Haitian official said.
The announcement appears to end a power struggle between Joseph and Ariel Henry, the 71-year old neurosurgeon who was appointed prime minister by Moïse two days before the killing but has yet to be sworn in.
Haiti Foreign Affairs Ministry senior official Israel Jacky Cantave said that Joseph took charge following Moïse's assassination to help ensure continuity of state, but he would hand over power to Henry now that there is a consensus on the future of the country and protests have calmed.
Cantave said that Haiti's Council of Ministers would meet on Monday and that if all goes well, Joseph could hand over power to Henry in a ceremony on Tuesday.
In an audio recording, Henry referred to himself as prime minister and called for unity, saying he would soon announce the members of what he called a provisional consensus government to lead the country until elections are held.
"I present my compliments to the Haitian people who have shown political maturity in the face of what can be considered a coup. ... Our Haitian brothers gave peace a chance, while leaving the possibility that the truth could one day be restored," Henry said.
"Now it is up to all the national leaders to walk together in unity, towards the same goal, to show that they are responsible."
Reuters was unable to immediately reach Joseph by phone for comment, but in an interview with the Washington Post published Monday, he said he had agreed to step down.
Moïse was fatally shot when assassins armed with assault rifles stormed his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince on July 7. The assassination has pitched the already troubled nation into chaos, coming amid a surge in gang violence that has displaced thousands of people and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas.
Joseph told the Washington Post that he and Henry had met privately over the past week, adding that he agreed to step down on Sunday "for the good of the nation" and is willing to transfer power "as quickly as possible."
"Everyone who knows me knows that I am not interested in this battle, or in any kind of power grab," Joseph said.
"The president was a friend to me. I am just interested in seeing justice for him."
Ambassador group urged Henry to form government
Haiti, a country of about 11 million people, has struggled to achieve stability since the fall of the Duvalier dynastic dictatorship in 1986, and has grappled with a series of coups and foreign interventions.
On Saturday, the important Core Group of international ambassadors and representatives urged "the formation of a consensual and inclusive government."
"To this end, we strongly encourage the designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry to continue the mission entrusted to him to form such a government," the group said.
WATCH | Canadian diplomats among group snubbing Joseph:
The Core Group is made up of ambassadors from Canada, Germany, Brazil, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union and special representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
The group also called for the organization of "free, fair, transparent and credible legislative and presidential elections as quickly as possible."
'It is up to us'
Monique Clesca, a Haitian writer, activist and former UN official, said she doesn't anticipate any changes under Henry, whom she expects to carry on Moïse's legacy. But she warned Henry might be viewed as tainted because of the international backing that preceded his taking power.
"There is not only a perception, but the reality that he has been put there by the international community, and I think that's his burden to carry," she said.
"What we're calling for is for Haitians to really say this is unacceptable. We do not want the international community stating who ought to be in power and what ought to be done. It is up to us."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Biden administration "welcomes reports that Haitian political actors are working together to determine a path forward in the country."
"We have been encouraging, for several days now, Haitian political actors to work together and find a political way forward," she said.
Henry told Reuters on July 9 that he considered Joseph to be not interim prime minister but a foreign minister who had taken on the office.
"My installation should be done as soon as possible. I'm working on the formation of a government, I am consulting, and I should speed up my consultations," he said in the interview.
A Colombian police chief said on Friday the assassination may have been ordered by a former Haitian justice ministry official, citing a preliminary investigation that has implicated Haitian-Americans and former Colombian soldiers.
Martine Moïse, the assassinated president's widow, returned to Haiti on Saturday for his funeral after she was treated in a Miami hospital for injuries sustained during the attack.
With files from The Associated Press