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Haiti police arrested at least 20 people, including two U.S. citizens, in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse’s in his home on Wednesday. While the Haitian first lady is recovering in a hospital in Florida, the nation’s interim president asked the U.S. and the United Nations for military help to protect critical infrastructure. Marlene Daut, professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia joins.
As we reported at the top of the program, the crisis in Haiti after the assassination of its president is continuing and officials there are asking for help.
I spoke with Marlene Daut, professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia about Haiti's history, what may come next, and the current political situation there.
Politically, in Haiti right now, there's a lot of confusion, there's confusion about who is running the country. We have two prime ministers sort of in quotation marks claiming that they are running the country. So that would be Claude Joseph and Ariel Henry. We also have the UN special envoy declaring that it's Joseph who is in charge. There's a question about whether or not she actually has the authority to proclaim that. And so there's a lot of people asking that same question without a whole lot of answers that are definitive.
So how does this translate into the functioning of government when there is a question of whose order ultimately to follow? I mean, when you talk about the Supreme Court or you talk about any kind of administrative duty or responsibility that the government has.
There are actually very few elected officials and government officials in place at the moment. And the reason for that is that President Moïse had allowed parliament to lapse. And so the parliament was essentially dissolved and has been in that state for more than a year. So he's been ruling by what is called decree and essentially running the government on his own. The reason for the confusion about the prime minister is that he had declared a new prime minister was to take office, but that person, Henry, had not yet been sworn in. So I think there is actually and with the Supreme Court justice having died of COVID recently, which is sort of another strain in the story of President Moïse's lack of really responding to the COVID-19 crisis and getting vaccinations for the Haitian people especially. So there's really a power vacuum when people say that in this case, it's not just a metaphor. It's actually very true where we see nobody really knows who's in charge and or who have the authority to even say who would be in charge.
But what do you gather from the composition of the group of people who were part of the assassination?
It's very interesting. So the majority of them appear to be Colombian nationals with two Haitian Americans. I think that the composition of that group says a lot about who they are, but doesn't necessarily tell us anything really about who sent them. And that to me, is what is the most interesting part of this puzzle, which really does remain a puzzle at this moment, is that it doesn't appear to be that the Colombian government is involved, although this is these are early days. And I suspect that the interrogations will continue to reveal new information. Whether or not that information given by those arrested is to be also trusted is another story.
You know, how do we change the frame of the perception of Haiti? I mean, this program, we've gone out and done pieces in Haiti that have nothing to do with poverty or crisis. But unfortunately, that is usually what makes headlines in the United States, either in the context of government or a natural disaster. So what do we do to try to just reset that perception?
I think that there have to be more and larger stories told about Haiti in various media outlets. I think that the story of Haiti becoming the first nation to permanently abolish slavery after the Haitian revolution is so important, because I still see people, you know, journalists claiming that that rule for England or for France without any acknowledgment of the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to reinstate slavery, which is exactly what led to the Haitian independence movement and which was struck in January of 1804 and resulted in Haiti becoming after that a couple of years after that, the first, quote, unquote, black republic of the New World.
What do you see happening in this sort of shorter to medium term?
Well, this is really up in the air. I think that in the short term, both an internal investigation, which is being conducted by the police force in Haiti needs to occur. But I think that there does need to be some external investigations in terms of who exactly is funding this. You would need a lot of money to send this convoy with this many people armed this heavily with their vehicles and to figure out who are all the players involved in this and if there is not some larger story, because it seems to me that the easy answer is to say that the Haitian opposition groups must be responsible. But it seems to me that with this knowledge of who the makeup of the assassins, that there is likely a larger story that will need to be uncovered.
All right. University of Virginia Professor Marlene Daut, thanks so much.
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