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Interim Prime Minister Of Haiti Addresses The Future Of Haiti's Government

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

No clear line of succession has emerged 11 days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The president of the Haitian senate, Joseph Lambert, says he should be in charge. But another man, Dr. Ariel Henry, has a claim. He had just been appointed to the prime ministership by President Moise two days before his death. And he has just received the backing of influential members of the international community. And there's a third man, too, Claude Joseph, who had been serving as prime minister. He's declared himself in charge and remained in his role with the support of the Haitian military and police.

I spoke with Claude Joseph on Friday about Haiti's path forward. He says all three men are in talks over who will take over. I asked him how close the parties are to an agreement.

CLAUDE JOSEPH: I'm very optimistic exclusively about a solution of this problem. Dr. Ariel Henry and Joseph Lambert - by himself, he cannot do anything. So all leaders need to come together to find a consensus because there's a crisis. But there is also, as everyone knows, poverty. There is the situation of the Haitian people on a daily basis. Since there is no legitimate prime minister, we need everyone on board. We cannot ignore the civil society. We cannot ignore all those political parties and groups. We need to do something. And it's urgent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does that look like exactly? I mean, what kind of consensus? How do you get civil society on board?

JOSEPH: We need them to sit in and come with their own vision of what we are supposed to do and seek a medium of either one position - you know, something in the middle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why do you think the president was killed?

JOSEPH: Listen; President Jovenel Moise was a man who is very courageous. He was fighting against corrupt oligarchs. He was fighting against big interests. He was fighting for those who are left behind. He has a very modest origin. He was from countryside. He comes to Port-Au-Prince to change things, but he faced a lot of resistance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he was also very much disliked. I mean, he had dismantled parliament. He had not held elections. I mean...

JOSEPH: I don't think so. I don't think so. He was not disliked. What was projected in the media does not reflect the reality. He speaks highly what so many others say very low. He speaks against corruption squads. He speaks against an oligarch.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Haiti right now is almost ungovernable. There's parts of the country that are completely controlled by gangs. You know, the coronavirus had ravaged the economy. Not a single vaccine has been delivered.

JOSEPH: These are two different things. You ask why he was killed. That's quite another question. But as far as this question that you ask, this is the reason why we need to come together in one (ph). In one - those who dislike the president, those who like him. So we need to find something to actually move forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Biden has said he won't be sending troops to help stabilize Haiti. What's your reaction to that?

JOSEPH: The Haitian national police need some help, logistics and technical help as long. As we can have the support - and we know that the United States has been very supportive, as Canada and other countries. So the national police needs this help, and if we can have them so we will be able to actually fight against the armed gangs in some parts of the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You imagining the return of peacekeeping forces?

JOSEPH: I think we are at a turning point. We need the international community, our friends, to understand that this situation is not what it should be. So some help they can deem necessary with the Haitian counterparts, I think that will be very important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is a lot of discussion, of course, about holding elections, but the last elections cost tens of millions of dollars. They only saw about 20% of the population participate. As we mentioned, there are parts of Haiti now that are completely controlled by gangs. Why make elections the top priority when they haven't even been able to sort of control certain parts of the country? Why are elections so vital?

JOSEPH: Elections are held in many countries where you see more violence. Elections are held because we think that elections are also a means to resolve different conflicts because you do not have all those institutions functioning now. You do not have elected leaders that are legitimate. So elections who will lead actually to a functioning parliament, functioning institutions, the elected leaders that actually will have more legitimacy - so I think it's important, and that's why support to secure the country also is important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But if only 20% of the population participates, is that legitimate?

JOSEPH: Listen; this is a worldwide tendency, lack of participation in elections. It's not only Haiti. Just look at the data throughout the world. You'll see. But I agree to some extent that we need to have more participation in the next election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sir, what is your message to the international community right now? What do you want them to know?

JOSEPH: I want them to support the investigation. We need to know who killed the president. This is a huge, huge plot that leads to the assassination of the president. We need to know who is behind this assassination. And we need the support of our friends, of our brothers and sisters in the international community. It's important to give justice to president's wife, president's sons and president's daughter. So let's work together to have this. This is my message. And what I can tell them - also, I'm very optimistic that all leaders will come together to actually find a solution to end the crisis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Claude Joseph, interim prime minister of Haiti. Thank you very much.

JOSEPH: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.