Haitian officials announced on July 19 that Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister who assumed control of the country following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse earlier this month, will step down.
Taking his place is Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who Moïse appointed to succeed Joseph as prime minister two days before his assassination. At the time of Moïse’s death, Henry had yet to be sworn in.
Both Joseph and Henry staked claim to the role of prime minister following the killing, but it was Joseph who assumed control of Haiti’s fragile government, one left in shambles after Moïse delayed national elections for more than a year.
Now Henry is in as Haiti’s prime minister, with Joseph expected to move back into his previous role as foreign minister of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In an address posted online, Henry told Haitians that he will lead the country until elections can be conducted to select a new president.
Who will better serve the people of Haiti in the wake of Moïse’s assassination is anyone’s guess. Both Joseph and Henry are members of the same political party as Moïse, who had grown increasingly autocratic since being elected the nation’s president in 2017.
But it should be the Haitian people deciding the political direction their country takes, not the United States government.
In a recent New York Times article, the president of Haiti’s Senate, Joseph Lambert, said that “Haiti has become a baseball being thrown between foreign diplomats.” Lambert — who had sought to lead the nation as a provisional president following Moïse’s assassination — reported to The Times that he was told by American officials to “stand down.”
The United States has a long history of intervening in Haiti’s political affairs. U.S. Marines occupied Haiti for nearly two decades from 1915 to 1934. After Jean-Bertrand Aristide — Haiti’s first democratically elected president — was removed from office following a coup, the U.S. intervened militarily to restore him to power in 1994.
Military interventions aside, the United States has in many ways served as a good neighbor to Haiti, the first independent country in the Americas.
When a catastrophic earthquake struck just west of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince in 2010, the United States led the way in providing humanitarian assistance. Six years later, Hurricane Matthew pounded the country and the U.S. was again quick to provide help.
For many years, the U.S. has poured money for economic aid into Haiti, the only nation in the world to emerge following a successful slave rebellion.
The relationship between the two countries is longstanding and complex.
It is certainly not all good, it is not all bad, and it is not one-sided.
If the Haitians had not defeated Napoleon’s army and forced it out of the Americas, the Louisiana Purchase probably doesn’t happen and the U.S. is not the country it is today.
During the American Civil War, Haiti allowed Union warships to use its ports.
Haiti helped the United States become the country it is today — one that celebrates and fiercely defends her freedom from undue foreign influence.
The U.S. government should extend the same courtesy to Haitians and let our southern neighbor chart its own political course.
Of course, staying out of Haiti’s political affairs does not come without consequences. China has been engaging in “vaccine diplomacy” in the region, as has Russia, in attempts by these two countries to curry favor with America’s neighbors.
The United States should support democratic elections in Haiti and assist the nation in a COVID-19 vaccine rollout. U.S officials might even consider sending a limited number of American troops to the region to maintain order during this uncertain period.
But it should not seek to tip the political scales in Haiti one way or another. Freedom is a two-way street, both in North America and on the island of Hispaniola.