Melissa Harris-Perry: Back with you on The Takeaway, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and it's been nearly two weeks since Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated throwing the island deeper into a political crisis. Just this morning, Claude Joseph, who has been acting as prime minister and the country interim leader in the wake of the assassination, has said he will step down and hand power over to his challenger. Ariel Henry will now take up the position.
Henry had been appointed prime minister just two days before Moïse's assassination but had yet to be sworn in when the president was assassinated. Now more than 20 people have been arrested in connection with Moïse's assassination, but there is still many more questions and answers about what happened and what the future holds. The slain precedent is set to be laid to rest this Friday. For more on this, we turn again to Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder and publisher of the Haitian Times. Gary, welcome back to the show.
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Thank you, Melissa, for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Clearly this is a very fluid situation. Situation is changing quite rapidly. What do about what's happening here?
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Claude Joseph was really never the legal or constitutional prime minister. He had been fired. It was clear. Then to make matters worse is that Henry's appointment had been codified into law because it was published in the daily government newspaper, which is called Le Monitor or The Monitor. Basically, under Haitian law, once that step is taken, it's legal, it's official. The only thing that was needed to be done was to just have a swearing ceremony and then Henry would have been prime minister.
When Joseph took over and proclaimed himself still the prime minister, it was not a very smart move. It was rebuffed by everyone, except of course the UN representative in Haiti who for whatever reason, decided that she was going to legitimize Claude Joseph, but he was never legally the prime minister and so everybody realized that. Then the core group, as you mentioned, decided, well, absolutely by law Henry is the prime minister so we have to work with him.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now say a bit more about what about Ariel Henry.
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Henry is a former minister of the interior, and he's a respected neurosurgeon. He led the country's health response through the deadly cholera epidemic that Haiti had several years ago. He's a bureaucrat, a competent one at that. Like I said, a physician. He brings that to the table. Is he a game-changer or not? I think he's going to be a good caretaker until elections are held.
Now, as you know, elections are supposed to be held in September, but no one thinks that will happen. The most likely scenario is about a year of provisional rule. Then stabilize the situation on the ground and bring people to the vote because one of the things that we haven't focused on for obvious reason is that there is a rising case of COVID in Haiti. We have to deal with that situation, as well as the other social, political, economic challenges.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's such a good point. We so frequently hear in American media these days or back during the pandemic as though it is over and not only is it not over in the US but the way that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact global politics and politics and in Haiti that has so little access to the vaccine is absolutely critical.
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Absolutely, because cases have been rising as we speak. The country health infrastructure is as porous, weak as its other institutions. We've taken our eyes off that right now, but it's still problematic because Haiti just received about 250,000 shipments of vaccines. That sounds like a lot, but the country has about 11 million people. It's a small fraction of what's needed. Also, they need test kits because they charge in Haiti, you pay $80 to take a COVID test. The average person does not make that much money in six months, let alone to be able to afford to pay for something like that and it's necessary. Perhaps the Biden administration makers should consider sending test kits to Haiti as well since we have them in abundance right now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: On Sunday, first lady Moïse returned to Haiti after being treated in Miami for wounds that were suffered during the attack. Was that a surprise and is that going to play into this political situation at all?
Garry Pierre-Pierre: It was a huge surprise because, at the time, people thought she was in Miami being treated. Then, all of a sudden, we have a breaking news she's back in. Yes, indeed that was a political statement because she came back, had a different look. She cut her hair and was wearing nothing but black, of course, in a symbol of mourning. There was a video circulating on social media and across the internet where she came, not very gingerly, but when she got to the then prime minister, Joseph, she gave him a really stern handshake where she really shook his hand hard. The implicit messages said, "I'm back and I'm tough," but at the same time, it was just basically when she came back not that she came back because obviously, she wanted to bury her husband.
Her return has made-- many people should be worried because she's an eye witness to what happened. She was there. She knew what happened. The mystery is no longer that much of a mystery because if she's interviewed by the FBI, she will tell them her version of event or the version of event because she knew who came into the room, who did what. A lot of details will be coming out hopefully this week or so.
Melissa Harris-Perry: On exactly that topic, what do we know right now about the suspects accused in the assassination?
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Again, we're not sure. Personally, I'm deeply skeptical of the version, the official version that's been out there. Most of them raise more questions than they answer. Like I said, hopefully, we'll have a better idea of what happened and then those responsible will face justice.
Melissa Harris-Perry: One of those big questions is why no one else was injured. The former head of the president security was placed in detention. What do we know about his potential involvement?
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Obviously, if you're the head of the security and the asset that you protecting is dead, then you have to answer a lot of questions. The thing about this is that no one was shot or injured, or even a scratch. That's not typical of any security details where the person that you're protecting is dead and then nothing is done. Obviously, the first suspect would be someone like that. Then they're looking at it, but exactly what his role is, we don't know right now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last week you wrote a column for the Haitian Times about what you described as a caste system and a color-based caste system in Haiti. Can you talk about that just a bit and explain how it's connected to what is happening in the current crisis?
Garry Pierre-Pierre: The system in Haiti is that the lighter skin, and I would say white European Haitian, own 90% of the wealth in Haiti. They are oligarchs. Most of them don't even live in Haiti anymore, they have businesses in-- The more important thing is that the industry that they control. They have their own private ports. What that means is that things come in and go without little government supervision. The gang violence that has engulfed Haiti for the last two years, you wonder, where are the ammunitions coming from because Haiti is under a strict limit on the number of arms and ammunition that it can export and import rather.
That was just some question into the situation. Beyond that, Moïse had began his battle with them to really call them out and end up monopolies because they have monopolies and no one else can challenge them. Nobody else can challenge them. They have segmented the city, I mean, the country rather, like a mob cartel would divide a territory. That system has been in place for well over 100 years where Black Haitians and I know that sounds like an oxymoron because most Americans think of Haitians as being black, but the majority of the Haitian people have been suffered under that system.
I think now again, Moïse was not any hero and he was corrupted. His presidency was contingent upon making deals with-- but I think at some point he realized that this was too much, these people-- I think he understood the situation. As a dark-skinned person from the peasantry, if you will, who are self-made men and he realized that this was not fair to the overwhelming majority of Haitians. Then he took on a fight that ultimately led to his death.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Garry Pierre-Pierre is the founder and publisher of the Haitian Times. I feel like I'm going to need to have him back to talk more about the response to that last question. Gary, thank you so much for joining us.
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Thanks for having me, Melissa.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.