- Interview by
- Arvind Dilawar
On July 20, longtime Haitian politician Ariel Henry was sworn in as the nation’s prime minister. Henry’s appointment ended a brief power struggle between himself and interim prime minister Claude Joseph, who assumed the post following the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse by foreign mercenaries earlier this month.
Henry enters not only a political crisis, but a potentially revolutionary one. Prior to his assassination, Moïse’s administration had been buffeted by demonstrations against state corruption and repression. Now, supporters of the former president accuse opposition “oligarchs” of being responsible for Moïse’s death. Meanwhile, long-simmering unrest in Haiti’s vast shanty towns threatens to upend the state altogether.
Kim Ives, the English-language editor of Haiti Liberté, believes that Henry was advanced by the United States and its allies for two reasons: first, to fast-track elections, sidelining the opposition; and second, to unleash police violence to quell the would-be revolutionaries in the shanty towns. Jacobin contributor Arvind Dilawar spoke with Ives about Haiti’s new prime minister and his relationship with the previous president, opposition groups, and US imperialism. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Who is the new prime minister of Haiti?
Ariel Henry is a longtime political operator, who has been selected, we believe, by the US Embassy and its allied embassies known as “the Core Group.” He first came to prominence on the political scene as a member of the Council of Sages, which was established by Washington after the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Henry became a clear tool of US foreign policy at that point.
Henry was a member of the Fusion Party, a social-democratic group, and transitioned to the party of former president René Préval, known as Inite. Henry was part of the health ministry under Préval and played a fairly prominent role in the aftermath of the earthquake of January 12, 2010. But after Préval was supplanted by Michel Martelly, he quickly moved into the Martelly government, where he served in several ministries.
Henry checks all the key boxes the US Embassy needs for a good puppet. He has provided valuable service in the past, he has been in parties across the political spectrum, and he has government experience.
Henry was also appointed by Jovenel Moïse to be the prime minister two days before his untimely death. This was the result of negotiations not only with the US Embassy, surely, but with the opposition. However, when he was appointed, the opposition immediately, and maybe reflexively, rejected his appointment.
Then, after the killing of Moïse and the ensuing power struggle between interim prime minister Claude Joseph and Henry, the opposition quickly embraced Henry, hoping that he was going to create a more diverse government with their representation. He did not. The government he proposed mostly leaned in the direction of Moïse’s previous ministers.
The US Embassy accepted Henry’s cabinet and did not complain. This is because their main interest is the organization of elections — not because they truly care about the Haitian people’s democratic yearnings, but because they want to stabilize Haiti and stop the terrible optics of supporting an authoritarian government, as they were with Moïse, and now, a completely unelected, illegitimate government.
They are anxious to hold elections as soon as possible, and they’re hoping that Henry can be the midwife of those elections.
You mentioned selections and appointments. Was there any electoral mechanism that ushered in Henry as the new prime minister?
No, nothing at all. One could say that Moïse had been elected in 2016 and therefore his appointment of Henry on July 5 gives Henry a slight veneer of electoral approbation.
But many legal experts, including the Haitian Bar Association and the Haitian Supreme Court, did not recognize the position of Moïse: that his term was supposed to go until February 7, 2022. They felt, as did the opposition and many in the Haitian population, that his term ended, as the constitution shows, on February 7, 2021. So even that appointment of Henry is compromised by this disagreement over whether Moïse’s presidency was legitimate or not.
What is Henry’s relationship to the potentially revolutionary movement in Haiti?
The Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies were accused of proposing Henry, but when I called their spokesman and leader, Jimmy Cherizier, he said they didn’t even know who Henry was. They completely disavowed any involvement in his selection or appointment, and I have no reason to doubt their position on that. There’s no evidence whatsoever that they had any hand or input into his selection as prime minister. I don’t think he’s sympathetic to their project of revolutionary change in Haiti.
Daniel Foote has been appointed Washington’s special envoy to Haiti, and US advisors are going to be helping the Haitian police combat gangs. We assume that it’s going to be, first and foremost, Cherizier’s alliance of groups. Henry will clearly be expected to support this police offensive against the gangs aspiring to revolution, so I think there will not be any love lost between the Cherizier sector and Henry.
What are your other expectations for Henry’s tenure?
Henry will be tasked by the “international community” — that is, the US and its allies who put him in his post — to carry out elections, which are the principal window-dressing Washington wants to put in place in Haiti to mask their neocolonial direction. This will be his biggest challenge.
Many in the opposition — and that includes not only the traditional bourgeois opposition, but also a sort of insurgent civil society/political party opposition, which is merging under the banner of the Commission for a Haitian-led Solution — do not want fast-track elections. They see a more long-term process, on the order of possibly a year or even three.
I think the US and its allies will be pushing for much quicker and faster elections. So Henry’s principal role will be delivering that and creating some kind of participation from sectors of the opposition who may object to elections being done on a rapid basis.
You recently returned from Haiti. What are the conditions on the ground there?
The population is traumatized by the grisly assassination of Moïse, and it is divided. Moïse did have support from many sectors in the countryside due to his infrastructure projects — the paving of roads, fixing of airports, building of dams, electrification of towns. There have been large demonstrations, including one at the funeral of Moïse last Friday, where people were showing their support and clamoring for the arrest and identification of the people behind the killing — who they see as the sector of the bourgeoisie that Moïse was feuding with.
Politically, the sentiment that you feel in the air of Port-au-Prince — which is where I was primarily — is one of people being dazed and uneasy and very disgusted. There are no Haitians who are cheering Moïse’s grisly murder. It was an affront to people, especially in that it was carried out by foreign mercenaries and that there seems to have been a very large international hand in it.
Economically, the country is also in a real state of collapse. Markets are continuing, there is still commerce. The government of Moïse had very little state authority, so people are continuing to go about their business as they largely have for the past years. But there is definitely a sense that there is a storm coming and a lot more turmoil, struggle, and violence ahead.