Haiti’s political crisis has worsened after Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Tuesday fired the chief prosecutor who had accused him of having ties to the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.
Henry’s decision to fire prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude has exposed infighting at the highest levels of what remains of the Haitian government, more than two months after Moise left. shot to death by murderers who broke into his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince.
Claude was fired hours after he asked the judge investigating Moise’s murder to accuse the prime minister with participation in the case.
“I am pleased to inform you that it was decided to terminate your position,” Henry told Claude in a publicly circulated letter.
Henry, a neurosurgeon and political moderate whom Moise appointed prime minister just days before his death in an attempt to defuse political tensions, has vowed to improve the country’s dire security situation and organize long-delayed elections. He was formally appointed to rule days after Moise’s murder.
Claude said last week that phone records showed Henry had contacted a man twice believed to be the mastermind behind Moise’s murder on the night of the crime.
That suspect, a former Justice Ministry official whom Henry has publicly defended, is now on the run.
Henry dismissed the prosecutor’s request to discuss the matter as politicking and did not respond to the charges.
That prompted Claude to write to the judge overseeing the investigation into Moise’s murder Tuesday and ask him to charge Henry as a suspect.
He also wrote to immigration telling them not to allow Henry to leave the country “due to a serious presumption regarding the assassination of the president.”
Later on Tuesday, a letter emerged from Henry to Claude dated Sept. 13 saying he was firing the prosecutor for a “serious clerical error,” without going into details. In a separate letter dated September 14, he appointed Frantz Louis Juste to the position.
It is unclear if the order is valid, as Haiti’s 1987 constitution states that the prosecutor can only be appointed or fired by the president, a position that remains vacant.
Some legal experts expressed alarm at Claude’s requests that Henry be questioned and charged, seeing the prosecutor’s move as an impediment to the independence of the judiciary.
Some in government circles had also called in recent days for the prime minister to resign over the allegations.
“These are grotesque and political acts,” Samuel Madistin, a lawyer for a human rights organization, told AFP news agency.
Decades of political instability, as well as natural catastrophes, have plagued Haiti’s development. Its aid-dependent economy is the poorest in the Americas, with more than a third of Haitians facing acute food insecurity, and gangs have turned swaths of the capital into no-go areas.
So far, 44 people, including 18 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent, have been arrested in connection with the murder investigation. None of the president’s security guards were injured in the attack.
“It’s an extremely complicated situation,” Michael Diebert, a journalist and author who has covered Haiti for more than 20 years, told Al Jazeera. “There are many doubts among the people of Haiti about whether this investigation will be allowed to run its course. Most of the people who have been arrested so far, I don’t think anyone seriously thinks they were the money men or the real masterminds of this crime. “
Henry on saturday criticized the previous request for him to be questioned, saying: “These diversionary tactics, designed to create confusion and prevent justice from taking its course in stride, will not be sustained.
“Those who are truly guilty, the intellectual authors of the heinous assassination of President Jovenel Moise and those who ordered it, will be found, brought to justice and punished for their actions.”
On the same day, the prime minister announced that the main political forces in Haiti had reached an agreement to establish a transitional government pending the holding of presidential elections and a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution next year.
The agreement establishes a Council of Ministers under the leadership of Henry.