Political chaos is nothing new for the island nation of Haiti. The political situation on the ground there was growing turbulent even before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse early this week. Now in the wake of his brutal death, a high-stakes power struggle is emerging between two competing prime ministers. Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, filled the power vacuum almost immediately by claiming he was in charge. Joseph moved quickly, assuming control of the army and police and declaring a state of siege nationwide for the next fifteen days. Whether or not he has the legal authority to make these moves is unclear. In fact, Joseph might not even be the legal prime minister at present. Two days before Moïse died, the fallen president appointed a new PM. Ariel Henry was set to assume the duties of prime minister this week. “I am a prime minister with a decree that was passed in my favor,” Henry said in an interview with a domestic newspaper. He criticized Joseph for declaring a state of siege and is calling for talks to ensure a smooth political transition.
For that matter, President Moïse’s status was in question in the weeks leading to his death. He had been ruling by decree for over a year amid growing opposition to his rule. Jurists in Haiti claim his term ended in February, however Moïse soldiered on beyond then. He avoided holding national elections and as the terms of various politicians in the country expired, the president installed his own supporters to these positions. Total control of Haiti’s political apparatus was a goal Moïse was striving to attain. As time went on, protests broke out against his rule, increasing in size and frequency. During that time Haiti also had to deal with a growing wave of gang violence that further undermined the legitimacy of Moïse’s position.
And then there is the physical attack on Moïse and his wife at their private residence, which led to his death. It was undertaken by a large, well-armed group of men, most likely mercenaries of mainly Colombian background. A number were killed in gun battles with Haitian police hours after the assassination of the president, and some have been captured. In the coming days, as the political situation plays out there will be clues made available as to who was responsible for financing and ordering the Scarface-style assault on Moïse’s home, as well as his death.