Havana – Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry replaced the chief public prosecutor on Tuesday seeking charges against him as a suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, plunging the country into a new political crisis.
Moises was shot dead on 7 July, when assassins stormed his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The 53-year-old had been ruling by decree for more than a year after failing to hold Haiti’s legislative and municipal elections amid a political deadlock and facing multiple calls to step down.
His death has plunged Haiti into an even deeper constitutional and political crisis as it has few elected officials across the country.
Henry, a political liberal and neurosurgeon whom Moise named prime minister a few days before his death in an effort to defuse political tensions, has sought to create a new consensus among the various political factions.
But allegations of his possible involvement in Moise’s murder are now weighing heavily on him.
Prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude said last week that phone records show Henry had twice communicated with a man believed to be the mastermind behind Moise’s murder on the night of the crime.
The suspect, a former Justice Ministry official whom Henry has publicly defended, is now on the run.
Henry rejected his request to have a political discussion on the matter and did not respond to the charges.
This prompted Claude to write Tuesday to the judge overseeing the investigation into Moise’s murder and ask him to charge Henry as a suspect.
He also wrote to the Haitian Migration Services not to allow the Prime Minister to leave the country “because of the grave presumption regarding the assassination of the President”.
Later on Tuesday, a September 13 letter from Henry to Claude surfaced in which he said he was firing him for a “serious administrative error”, without going into detail. In a separate letter dated 14 September he named Frantz Louis Juste to the position.
It is unclear whether the order is actually valid, as Haiti’s 1987 constitution states that the prosecutor can only be appointed or removed by the president, a position that remains vacant.
Decades of political instability as well as natural disasters have affected Haiti’s development. Its aid-dependent economy is among the poorest in America, more than a third of Haitians face acute food insecurity, and gangs have turned the capital’s areas into no-go areas.
Claude had invited Henry to meet on Friday to discuss a phone call with the suspect, noting that he could only call the premier at the behest of the president, but the country did not have a president.
Haiti’s civil defense office demanded on Saturday that Henry step down and hand himself over to the justice system.
Henry responded on Twitter that “no distraction, invitation, summons, maneuver, threat or backlash” would distract him from his work.
The prime minister announced on Saturday that Haiti’s main political forces had reached an agreement to establish a transition government until a presidential election and a referendum to adopt a new constitution next year.
The agreement establishes a council of ministers headed by Henry.
A Constituent Assembly made up of 33 members appointed by institutions and civil society organizations would have three months to draft a new constitution.
Moise’s efforts to hold an election and a constitutional referendum were attacked for being too partisan. Critics called him an indirect attempt to establish a dictatorship.
His supporters said he was being punished for following a corrupt ruling elite and demanding an end to unfair privileges.