New justice minister takes over as Haiti’s instability grows
Haiti’s new justice minister on Thursday pledged to find those responsible for high-profile killings as he spoke publicly for the first time since taking over from his predecessor fired by Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who recently dismissed officials seeking to interview him as part of the investigation into the slaying of the country’s president.
Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said he is prioritizing the killings of President Jovenel Moïse, who was fatally shot July 7 at his home, and Monferrier Dorval, head of Port-au-Prince’s Bar Assn. who was killed at his home last August.
Quitel also said he aims to fight gangs and reduce lengthy pretrial detentions, with thousands of people languishing in prison for years without a single hearing.
“There is no more room for distraction or diversion, confusion and petty infighting,” he said. “The task is immense.”
Quitel takes over the position from former Justice Minister Rockfeller Vincent, whom Henry dismissed a day after he fired Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor earlier this week for an undefined “serious administrative fault.” The prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, had requested a meeting with Henry on Tuesday to interview him about two phone conversations he said the prime minister had just hours after Moïse’s killing with a key suspect in the case. Claude then ordered the judge in the case to charge Henry based on the evidence.
Quitel only briefly mentioned Moïse’s killing in his speech as he promised to establish coherence and harmony between Haiti’s judicial and executive powers.
“We are living in difficult times with pressing needs for justice and security,” he said.
Since Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed two months ago, the country has suffered a devastating earthquake and a drenching tropical storm.
Quitel is one of three new officials taking over top government positions in Haiti this week. Claude was replaced by prosecutor Frantz Louis Juste, while Renald Lubérice, who served as secretary-general for Haiti’s Council of Ministers, resigned on Wednesday, saying he could not serve under Henry and accused him of obstructing justice. He was replaced by Josué Pierre Louis.
The abrupt firings and resignation have led some to question the future of the Tèt Kale party in power as the investigation into Moïse’s killing continues while Haiti prepares for legislative and presidential elections scheduled for early November.
“It feels like whatever the outcome of the investigation, this is obviously a break between key figures,” said Laurent Dubois, a Haiti expert and Duke University professor. “It might create cracks for other political actors to move in.”
Dubois said he wonders whether those around Henry will support him or distance themselves from him in the near future, deepening Haiti’s political instability as it not only tries to recover from the assassination but from an Aug. 14 earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.
“If they feel he’s kind of going down, they don’t want to be next to him when it happens,” Dubois said.
Shortly after resigning, Lubérice, the former council of ministers’ secretary-general, helped found a political movement called “Gathering of Jovenelists for Democracy,” which aims to find justice for Moïse. Among those in the group is Claude Joseph, the former prime minister who led the country after the assassination until Henry was installed.
Among those calling for Henry to step down is Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection, which also urged the international community to stop supporting him. However, the Core Group, composed of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the U.S., France, the European Union and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States, issued a statement on Wednesday evening saying it supports efforts by Henry and other political leaders to form an inclusive government.
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