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Haiti's Power Struggle Is Over: Ariel Henry Will Become Prime Minister

NOEL KING, HOST:

Haiti could have a new government today. Two men have each claimed to be running the country since President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, but one of them appears to have backed down now. And so the man who could be sworn in as early as today was handpicked by Moise, and the international community is on board. NPR's Carrie Kahn covers Haiti, and she's been following this story from Mexico City. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

KING: What do we know about this man who could be the new leader?

KAHN: His name is Ariel Henry. He's 71 years old, Noel. He's a neurosurgeon. He studied in France and Boston. He's been in the government before. He's held several ministerial-level positions. And on Sunday, he posted a video referring to himself as the prime minister and pledging an inclusive government for all Haitians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARIEL HENRY: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He says, I commit to holding profound discussions with all the stakeholders in Haiti. And he's saying this is the only way to overcome differences, unite the Haitian family and bring about a different future for the country.

KING: Now, for Henry to take power, the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, would have to step down. Is he really going to do that?

KAHN: Claude Joseph says he will. He told NPR in an interview that it was never his intention to remain in power. He just wanted to make sure his friend, President Jovenel Moise, got justice, that his killers are caught and tried. And I spoke with Haiti's election minister, Mathias Pierre, yesterday, and he said that, yes, Joseph is prepared to accept this agreement and return to his role as foreign minister. Pierre also said something interesting. He said there will be no interim president appointed, and it is the goal of all in the government to hold elections as soon as possible. They're throwing out September, and that's what people are talking about.

KING: September is, like, two months from now. Is that realistic?

KAHN: Elections in Haiti are challenging even in the best of times. This is definitely nowhere near that now. Gangs control large portions of Haiti, including major parts of the capital. The economy is just in ruins. The political upheaval of the final years of Moise's administration has pretty much destroyed the economy. It's just created this huge humanitarian crisis. I spoke with human rights advocate and criminal defense lawyer Samuel Madistin about on Henry becoming the new prime minister and calls for these elections as soon as possible. And he just said he doesn't have very high expectations at all that Henry will be able to do much better to solve Haiti's problems. But - and he also said rushing elections could just make things even worse.

SAMUEL MADISTIN: When you have bad elections, people go and protest every day. So you don't stability. We need free and fair elections to make stability and democracy (ph).

KAHN: He says, you know, free and fair elections are the only way to get stability, democracy. He says if people don't believe in elections, they'll just go back out on the streets and protest. And the political unrest and the instability in the country will just keep going on.

KING: Yes. And that is why the assassination made the international community so nervous in the first place. What do they think about this plan?

KAHN: Well, the plan is being endorsed by this group called the Core Group. It's key diplomats from countries including the U.S. and Canada and the EU and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States. And they actually came out endorsing Ariel Henry, and that seemed to just push the scales in his direction. That could be a problem, though, for Henry. If he's perceived not to be legitimate, if Haitians think he was the candidate, you know, of forces outside of Haiti imposed on the country, that will definitely make it tough for him to bring about a national unity. And then there's this big push from the international community and the government to hold elections this year as soon as possible - just a tall order. First of all, who's going to pay for all of this? The last elections cost more than $100 million. And in the current situation, with all the violence and the lack of security and crime, you know, pulling that off, it's just going to be so tough.

KING: Yeah. NPR's correspondent Carrie Kahn. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.