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Haitian civil society leaders have a plan for the country's future. It doesn't affect the US.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse last week left a dangerous power vacuum in the country.

Three men are currently vying for power: incumbent Prime Minister Claude Joseph; Prime Minister-designate Ariel Henry, who was due to take office on the day Moïse was assassinated but has not yet been sworn in; and Senate President Joseph Lambert. And because of the political dysfunction, which is mainly due to Moïse's dismantling of the country's political institutions, it is not clear who actually has the legitimate claim to power.

Joseph has taken power and requested US military intervention to secure the country in preparation for the new elections in September.

The Biden administration sent a delegation of US officials to Haiti on Sunday to help secure critical infrastructure and help investigate the Moïse assassination, but it has so far shown little appetite for US troops to be deployed.

Nevertheless, she supports the holding of elections soon. On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the elections to take place in September as planned. "We call on the country's political leaders to bring the country together for a more inclusive, peaceful and secure vision and to pave the way for free and fair elections this year," Blinken told reporters.

However, some groups in Haitian civil society consider this to be the wrong approach. They argue that with the collapse of the country's institutions, there is no way to hold free and fair elections in Haiti this year. And they kindly want the US and the international community to stay out of this.

"The international community and the US should just let us figure out our problems and solutions," said Rosy Auguste Ducena, lawyer and human rights defender with the Haiti-based National Network for the Defense of Human Rights. "Some governments will call for elections in September, but the situation there today is more complex."

Instead, Auguste Ducena and her colleagues are calling for the country to form a transitional government and to embark on a new course for the future of Haiti. They want to postpone elections – possibly for several years – to give the transitional government time to rebuild the country's political institutions.

I called Auguste Ducena to find out more about what's happening on the ground, why she thinks a transitional government is the right way to go, and what she thinks the US and the international community should do to bring stability after Haiti.

Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Jariel Arvin

What's the latest on site? Who has power now?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

The situation is a bit confusing as there is a power struggle in Haiti. Prior to his assassination, Moïse changed his prime minister to Ariel Henry (but he has not yet been sworn in). So we have two prime ministers because Claude Joseph, who was prime minister at the time Moïse was murdered, believes that he should be in charge. Henry also wants to be prime minister. And there is another group that is demanding that the President of the Haitian Senate become President.

Jariel Arvin

Which of these three do you think has a right to power?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

This is also confusing, because in the years before his murder, Moïse destroyed all state institutions, so we don't know what to do. There has been no parliament since January 2020 because Moïse did not recognize the elections at the time. One constitutional article states that in an emergency, the prime minister can take power for a limited period of two or three months.

It is for this reason that our organization, the National Human Rights Defense Network, has repeatedly urged the executive branch to organize elections. We didn't know the president was going to be assassinated, but we have long felt that the political situation is not working as it should. Unfortunately we have that now. But I would also say that in reality Joseph is the one in charge because he is the one who makes decisions for the state.

Jariel Arvin

What, if anything, can the US and the rest of the international community do to respond to what is happening in Haiti?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

The international community has always been involved in every step of Haiti's history. Today civil society is calling for the opportunity to resolve the Haiti crisis. We shouldn't have foreign military intervention or any other type of intervention because ultimately we haven't had good results from the intervention so far.

In general, the international community and the US should just let us figure out our problems and solutions. Some governments will call for elections in September, but the situation on the ground is more complex today.

It's not just about who runs the country. It's about corruption. It's about fixing key state institutions that aren't working. This is about who we are as a people and as a nation. Therefore we ask for the respect of other countries. We want to be treated like a nation, not like a little sister or brother told what to do.

Jariel Arvin

What did Claude Joseph, the person in charge, say about civil society's demands for a transitional government?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

Nothing. I think Joseph is comfortable as he can promise to hold elections in September, which is impossible. Now that the international community is with him, he feels comfortable.

Jariel Arvin

What about security concerns? There have been reports of gang violence. How can you make sure the gangs will even respect a transitional government?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

There are a few points about the security situation. Firstly, Jovenel Moïse and his staff created the problem we have now because they decided to give guns and ammunition to the gangs in order to stay in power. We want any government responsible for providing arms to the gangs to stop.

So what we also want today is the strengthening of the national police and their institutions in order to solve the security problem. Second, we had the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) from 2005 to 2007, and we had security issues too, and they failed to intervene (to help). At the end of 2007 they finally intervened because we asked for it on site. So you can actually conduct foreign interventions in your country, but you still have security issues.

And third, we know that we are one nation. We know we are part of the world. And we cannot act alone. So we ask for respect and to be treated like a nation with its future in its hands. We may need advice from other countries, but we don't want other nations telling us exactly what to do.

Jariel Arvin

You mentioned that reinforcing the National Police would be helpful. How will that happen? How would a transitional government prevent police corruption? Do you trust them

Rosy Auguste Ducena

On paper we have a well-structured police force. We have special groups for on-site intervention and policing in the community. We also have structures to investigate police officers to see if they are involved in human rights abuses. What we have to do today is compare reality with what we have on paper.

Another critical point is that our police force lacks the necessary equipment to do their job well. We will never know how well the Haitian police can react until they receive the material they need to police them. We must therefore first give the police the opportunity to show us whether they can improve the security situation.

Second, of course, we know that there is a lot of corruption – not only in the police, but also in the judiciary, everywhere in state institutions. So we have to work on that too. That is why I said that this is not just a matter of elections. This moment is a question of what kind of state Haiti will be in the future. Before we even think about the choice, we need to know what kind of institutions we have.

Jariel Arvin

That sounds like a long process. So how would the transitional government be chosen?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

My organization doesn't know exactly how it will be selected, but we recommend that it be a very inclusive government, formed by corrupt-free people. If a plan and a timetable are presented to the people of Haiti, then we can find out what will be good for the country. If the international community says, "Let's have a choice as soon as possible," at the end of the day we will still have the same problems that we had before.

So today it is best to maybe have a (transitional government) for more than two years, but be sure that we are working to solve the corruption problem and the problems with the judicial system because today the judiciary is not working on everyone.

Jariel Arvin

If the international community does not support a transitional government and the elections take place, do you think there is hope for Haiti?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

If we have elections in September, things will get worse. And unfortunately we will again have people who want to leave the country. Second, when we have elections, many political parties will choose not to participate and not to participate. We should have fair and free elections for every political party. I think what the United States is afraid of is that a lot more people are asking for political asylum. But if we have elections in September, we have to fear them.

Jariel Arvin

Do you have any information on the latest investigation into the murder of President Moïse? Do you think it necessary to first find out who was responsible for their murder before a transitional government is possible?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

Perhaps we should get the interim government to power before the investigation is closed because we believe his fellow men murdered him. So if they stay in power, they can hide evidence that implied them in Moïse's murder.

There should be a very intense investigation because this is a very extraordinary crime that has happened. And today we can see that information is coming from all over the place, which is very confusing. And the main problem is that those who were around him are still in power.

Jariel Arvin

I know you can't quite tell, but I wonder why people close to him want him dead.

Rosy Auguste Ducena

We don't really know why. But we believe that those around Moses murdered him because he didn't trust anyone. It was permanently secured. In the palace there were always a lot of cars and people around him. And we also know that his house was very safe too. So it wouldn't be easy for anyone to come in and kill them and escape. That is why we believe that those around him murdered him.

Jariel Arvin

Less than a week since Moïse was murdered, so much information has come to light. It seems like the police are doing a pretty good job so far – finding and arresting people, putting the conspiracy together. How did you succeed in this work? Do you think the US officials who come on Sunday have been helpful?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

Those around him have power. They can manipulate the media and police information. You will get reports before anyone else. So you're still in control, and that's scary.

I think that as soon as Moïse was murdered, those responsible for his safety should be interrogated. Since they were witnesses, they were supposed to provide information about what happened. But they weren't arrested, which means they've had time to potentially manipulate their stories. It's scary because they can arrest people, hold press conferences to harass those responsible for the attacks.

And on the other hand (we) have many different external versions of what happened that also come to the surface. And that's one reason they shouldn't be in power, otherwise we may not have a thorough investigation.

Jariel Arvin

So this transitional government that you envision, which is already responsible for rebuilding and defining the future of Haiti, should also be responsible for investigating his assassination? Isn't that a lot for a transitional government?

Rosy Auguste Ducena

Yes, but maybe we should try. Because in the past few years we have only had voting passes. And that never worked because after elections we always have one crisis after another where people say the process wasn't fair or free. So maybe we should try something different – and something from Haitians.

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