PORT-au-Prince, Haiti – Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, took office on Tuesday after the assassination of the president two weeks ago, pledging to improve the country’s dire security and holding long-delayed elections.
Henry was installed as head of a new government in an attempt to stabilize a country on the brink of anarchy since the assassination of President Jovenel Mois at his residence in the early hours of 7 July.
The swearing-in of Henry, who had been nominated to the position by Moises a few days before his death, was seen by many Haitians and the international community as an important step towards holding elections as demanded.
Following the assassination of the president by armed commandos, Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a “state of siege” and said he was in charge, starting a power struggle in the violence-hit Caribbean nation.
“One of my priorities will be to reassure people that we will do everything to restore order and security,” Henry told Haiti’s population of 10 million people on Tuesday. “It’s one of the main issues the president wanted me to deal with, because he thought it was a necessary step if we succeed in his other concern of holding credible, honest, transparent and inclusive elections.”
The opening ceremony in Port-au-Prince was preceded by a solemn tribute to Moises, which included speeches, dance and music on a stage with a bouquet of white flowers and a giant portrait of the assassinated president.
Haitian officials, with the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, are still investigating the suspected motives for Moise’s murder.
More than 20 people have been arrested in connection with the murder, many of them retired Colombian military personnel.
In the new government, Joseph, who agreed to step down and hand over the role to Henry, returned to his former position as foreign minister.
Moises, 53, ruled Haiti, America’s poorest country, after the 2018 legislative elections were ruled by decree in the wake of several controversies, including one about the end of his term.
As well as presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti was due to hold a constitutional referendum in September after it was postponed twice because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the power struggle following Moise’s assassination, the balance tilted toward Henry when ambassadors – including some from the United States, France and the United Nations – informally threw their support behind the 71-year-old neurosurgeon.
Haiti has no functioning parliament and no practical succession process and was already mired in a political and security crisis when Moises was killed.
Haitian police have accused Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor from Florida, of masterminding the conspiracy and having “political motives”.
Henry, who has previously held several ministerial posts, said in his speech, “All culprits, criminals and sponsors must be identified and brought before Haitian justice.” “And I hope exemplary and objectionable sentences will be pronounced. The nation expects no less from its leaders. We will never have to live like this tragedy again.”
“The solution to the Haitian crisis must come from Haitians,” he said. “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 in a country with scarce health resources last week.
The United States, which wields widespread influence in Haiti, welcomed the new government, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying that Washington was “encouraging Haitian political and civic actors to work to form a unity government.” Which can stabilize the country.”
Moise’s funeral will take place on Friday in the northern city of Cap-Haitian. His widow, Martine Moise, who was seriously injured in the attack, was treated at a Miami hospital before returning home over the weekend.