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Who will replace Jovenel Moïse? Exploring his assassination and Haiti’s future

After Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced a 15 day state of siege. But a new prime minister appointed by Moise — Ariel Henry — says he's the rightful ruler. John Yang discusses the Haiti's power succession and assassination investigation with Pamela White, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, and Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder of The Haitian Times.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we been reporting, Haiti is leading an international investigation into the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

    John Yang has the latest.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the investigation is generating as many questions as answers.

    The 15 Colombian nationals under arrest are former members of that nation's armed forces. Eleven of them were captured after breaking into the Taiwanese Embassy in Haiti. Meanwhile, the political storm is intensifying, with competing prime ministers claiming the right to run the country. After Moise was assassinated, Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced a 15-day state of siege.

    But a new prime minister appointed by Moise, Ariel Henry, was supposed to have taken over that very day, and he says he's the rightful ruler.

    To help us try to sort through this, we are joined by Pamela White, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, and Garry Pierre-Pierre, the founder of The Haitian Times, a newspaper serving the Haitian diaspora.

    Thanks to both of you for joining us.

    Garry, I'd like to start with you.

    Haitian officials have arrested these 17 men. They say that they're responsible. But they say, as is often said in political assassinations, it's not important who pulls the trigger. It's important who pays for the bullet.

    Given President Moise's service in office, does that give you any clues as to who may have paid for this operation?

  • Garry Pierre-Pierre:

    Well, we don't have a clue right now, because there are many people who you can say would be involved in something like that, obviously. It's not just one.

    But one of the things I want to rule out is that this was not political. It is not a political hit. It is a personal hit akin to a mob hit. So this was about business.

    He had encroached on the interests of a lot of powerful forces in Haiti. And, unfortunately, I think that's what got us there.

  • John Yang:

    Ambassador White, there's a new election, a presidential election, constitutional referendum scheduled for September.

    The United States' position appears to be that it should go forward. Do you think that's a good idea?

  • Pamela White:

    No, I really, really, really don't.

    I think, unfortunately, for many years, in many places around the world, the United States government thinks an election is the answer to a very complicated problem. And this is very complicated in Haiti.

    Anyone who is not Haitian who says they understand Haitian politics is probably lying. And even though I have spent five years of my life when I was a junior officer and three years of my life when I was ambassador in Haiti, I don't claim to be an expert either.

    But I am pretty certain that free and fair elections are not going to be able to take place in the current atmosphere in Haiti. It is too violent. It's too chaotic. And there is not any support from it from the players that are integral to making it happen.

    So, I just — I don't see it.

  • John Yang:

    Garry, I mean, talking about chaos, competing prime ministers.

    Are we in for — and if there is no election, are we in for a prolonged period of unsettled political situation in Haiti?

  • Garry Pierre-Pierre:

    I don't think so.

    I think the U.N. has made it clear that they are supporting Claude Joseph as prime minister, as they announced yesterday. And it's up to him now to build a government and try and move forward. The U.N. seems to be willing to work with him.

    And I want to say that I agree 100 percent. And it was refreshing to hear Ambassador White make those comments, because exactly. The U.S. has been forcing this democracy on Haiti. We need to go at it. The institutions that need to be germane to a democratic society are too weak. So, we need to really not push the same game and really talk to the stakeholders in Haiti, people who want to make this place truly a democracy, because that's why we come back here every five to 10 years talking about the same thing.

    We want to force this democracy. Now, I am an American. I'm a Haitian American. I love democracy, but we have to be real. At what point are we in this process to make sure that Haiti, when it becomes truly democratic, can remain a functioning democracy?

  • John Yang:

    Ambassador White, I want to bring — I want to continue on that.

    I mean, the United States seems to only pay attention to Haiti in times of crisis, the Aristide coup, the earthquake, this assassination. You have President Trump deriding Haiti as shall we say, not a pleasant place to live. There are also comments from Senator Biden from 1994 circulating.

    Let's take a listen to that.

  • President Joseph Biden:

    Give Haiti — a god-awful thing to say, if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn't matter a whole lot to our interests.

  • John Yang:

    So, Ambassador White, does the — is this an opportunity for the United States to reassess its policy toward Haiti? And what should that be?

  • Pamela White:

    I absolutely think it is.

    And I think every time we have — we look at Haiti, and we see turmoil, except in terms of huge crisis, but the last three years have been disastrous. Not one of my Haitian friends, not one hasn't had someone in their family or friend, circle of friends be murdered in the last three years. Not one of my Haitian friends hasn't had someone that they know kidnapped.

    I mean, the place has descended into chaos. You can't — so, what are we going to do about that? The elephant in the room in Haiti right now of two security questions, food security. A third of the country is starving. They're hungry. And physical stability, security. You can't have an election when people are being murdered. There's no way to get to people to the polls. There's no way of even identifying who should be going to the polls.

    This is craziness. And then the other one is the COVID.

  • John Yang:

    Well, Garry, on that point about security, the United States says the FBI is going to go down to help investigate this invest — the assassination.

    But there are also reports that Haiti wants U.S. troops for port security and other internal security. Do you think that would be a good idea?

  • Garry Pierre-Pierre:

    I don't think so.

    In fact, I want to a column this morning that asked for the Biden administration to send in the FBI, because I think that's a good thing. But soldiers are another thing. The Haitian police force can provide such protection. We don't need U.S. forces there. It evokes too many bad memories. And people just don't want that. It's not the thing to do.

    I do believe that they need help. I mean, the — Ambassador White knows this. The State Department had a great program with Haitian American police officers working in concert with the Haitian police. That program was working well, until President Trump dismantled that program. That was really unfortunate.

    And so there are mechanisms in place that the State Department has in place to help. It's not necessarily — the Defense Department, it shouldn't be the first default move. I think State is better placed to handle the situation politically. And they can. And we just have to make it a priority.

  • John Yang:

    Garry Pierre-Pierre of The Haitian Times, Ambassador Pamela White, thank you very much.

  • Pamela White:

    Thank you.

  • Garry Pierre-Pierre:

    Thanks for having us.

  • Pamela White:

    Thanks for having us.

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