Haiti’s president nominates a new prime minister, his fourth in less than three years

After three failed attempts to get his top pick for prime minister through Parliament, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse has chosen a new No. 2 to run his country’s day-to-day operations.

Moïse on Monday nominated Fritz William Michel, an unknown government functionary in the ministry of economy and finance and former chief of cabinet, to lead a government. He announced the decision in a 1 p.m. meeting with the presidents of both the Haitian Senate and Lower Chamber of Deputies.

Also on Monday, Haiti National Police in a special operation arrested the country’s most wanted gang leader, Anel Joseph. For months, Joseph had been terrorizing the population in the capital and in the outskirts of the Artibonite Valley. He was arrested while seeking medical attention at the Bonne Fin Hospital in southern Haiti, the head of Haiti’s judicial police, Joany Canéus, confirmed to the Miami Herald.

These events came on the same day that the U.N. Security Council held closed-door consultations in New York on Haiti’s ongoing political crisis.

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In his latest report to the council on the situation in Haiti, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Haiti’s persistent political crisis, raging food shortages and worsening economic climate, made for a ”‘potentially explosive” situation. Guterres also expressed alarm at the findings of a U.N. human rights investigation into the November 2018 massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline.

Investigators said the killings, allegedly committed in the presence of a representative of the president and two Haiti National Police officers, took place over two days and were “a well-planned operation” carried out by five different gangs.

At least 26 people were killed, including a 10-month-old baby. Haiti-based human rights activists, some of whom are visiting Washington this week to discuss the precarious situation in the country, have put the death toll as high as 71.

In a letter addressed to the president, Senate President Carl Murat Cantave confirmed that Jean-Michel Lapin, who served in a caretaker prime minister role since March, had resigned. The resignation, dated July 3, cleared the way for Michel, who is described as a longtime public servant and entrepreneur.

“I don’t think he’s going to make anyone scared,” said Lower Chamber President Gary Bodeau, adding, “I think he’s a better choice than Lapin.”

Bodeau said Michel was not the president’s first choice. And after Cantave objected to Moïse’s preferred candidate, Michel’s name was put on the table by the two lawmakers as a compromise.

“I hope he will understand the problems the youth are facing and how to manage them. He needs to fix the economy, reduce the deficit and put in place good policies through a fair budget,” Bodeau said about Michel. “He will need a strong cabinet.”

In May, opposition senators vandalized Haiti’s Senate in Port-au-Prince before interim Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin arrived for his ratification. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

Another assurance Bodeau said they received from the president is that Michel’s new government will not include any of the ministers who had previously been censured — a point of contention for opposition senators. They had described an attempt by Lapin to include fired ministers in his new government unconstitutional and trashed the Senate’s chambers in order to prevent his confirmation.

Michel will be Moïse’s fourth prime minister since he assumed the Haitian presidency on Feb. 7, 2017, following a controversial presidential election that had to be rerun.

Moïse’s first prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, a political unknown, was forced to resign in July 2018 after a poorly orchestrated gas hike triggered three days of rioting and the cancellation of international flights. The second, lawyer Jean Henry Céant, was fired after six months by the Lower Chamber of Deputies. His tenure was marked by anti-government protests and calls for Moïse to step down, as well as nine days of a countrywide lock-down.

But the firing of Céant did not come without a price. In addition to forcing the international community to hold on to millions of dollars in desperately needed aid until a legitimate government could be put in place, the firing deepened political uncertainty. The situation and protests only got worse when the country’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes accused the president in a May 31 corruption report of being part of an embezzlement scheme to deprive poor Haitians of billions of dollars in savings from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program that should have been used to develop the country. On the heels of the new corruption allegations, the opposition, grassroots activists and religious leaders have all called for Moïse to resign.

Under Haiti’s constitution, Michel is now technically the prime minister and will now need to form a government. But whether he gets to hold on to the job will depend on both chambers of Parliament approving his political program in separate votes. Also unknown is Michel’s acceptance among the opposition and anti-corruption activists who have refused to engage in dialogue with Moïse and have called for his resignation.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.