Haiti’s newly sworn-in interim prime minister has said his government plans to work to allow the Caribbean nation to hold elections “as quickly as possible” after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the country into deeper political uncertainty.
Ariel Henry, who was confirmed as prime minister in a ceremony in Port-au-Prince last week, said on Wednesday that “the mission of this government is to prepare the conditions to hold the elections as quickly as possible.”
Henry did not say when exactly the elections – which Moise had promised to hold later this year – would be held.
His comments come as Haiti continues to reel from political instability worsened by Moise’s killing in the early hours of July 7, when armed gunmen stormed his private residence in the capital and opened fire on him and his wife, who was seriously injured.
The attack sent shockwaves across the country and around the world – and thrust into international spotlight years of mounting gang violence and political instability that worsened during Moise’s presidency.
The United States and the United Nations have urged Haitian leaders to move ahead with elections as a way to get out of the ongoing crisis, but civil society leaders have questioned whether the current conditions in Haiti are conducive to a free and fair vote.
Moise had been governing by decree since last year, while opposition groups, civil society organisations and leading jurists said his presidential term had ended in February, spurring mass protests urging him to step down. Many state institutions are not functioning.
Leading Haitian human rights advocate Pierre Esperance on July 9 described as “shameful” a push for elections while gang violence continues to surge, leading to hundreds of killings, kidnappings and mass displacement.
“In such a violent, lawless environment where no credible state institutions function – a situation which Moise cultivated and which ultimately cost him his life – how could opposition candidates campaign safely? How could people turn up to vote and know they will get home alive? How could people trust in the results?” Esperance wrote in a column for the website Just Security.
Haitians have also described a widespread feeling of fear in Port-au-Prince.
“Anyone can die, but the way President Jovenel Moise [did] shows that no one is exempt,” Emmelio, a 61-year-old mason, told Al Jazeera earlier this month. “If a president is killed in his own home, who is exempt from that same fate? That’s why everyone is so afraid. It makes you feel like you aren’t human.”
Meanwhile, the investigation continues into the assassination of Moise, whose funeral was held in Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti last week.
Haitian officials say the attack was carried out by a group that included 26 Colombian former soldiers, at least six of whom had previously received US military training. More than 20 people have been arrested so far, but many questions remain.
Authorities on Monday announced they had arrested the head of the former president’s security team, Jean Laguel Civil, as part of the ongoing probe.
Civil was placed in solitary confinement at a prison in Delmas, near the capital, officials said, but it was not immediately clear if he had been charged with anything. His lawyer, Reynold Georges, called the arrest politically motivated and said his client was innocent.
“The real culprits are those who gave the authorisation to these Colombians to enter Haiti; police should arrest them,” Georges told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.