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Science & Medicine

Power In Haiti Remains Unstable, Country Awaits New Leader

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ceremonies honoring the slain president of Haiti began today leading up to his funeral later on this week. Meanwhile, authorities have announced a new round of arrests in the investigation of the assassination of Jovenel Moise. The acting prime minister who assumed power after Moise's death is stepping down. NPR's Carrie Kahn covers Haiti and joins us now from Mexico City.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. OK. So these ceremonies mourning President Moise have begun in Haiti, but there will be an official state funeral for him, right?

KAHN: Yes, it will be Friday, as you said, in Cap-Haitien. That's in the north. And that's where Moise is from. Today, there was a ceremony in Port-au-Prince remembering him. Here's a bit of what that sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONY)

EROL JOSUE: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: What you - who you hear singing is Erol Josue. He's a leading artist in Haiti who promotes voodoo culture, and his ceremonies are always evocative and moving. There will be more ceremonies around the country this week, again, culminating in the funeral on Friday.

CHANG: And as we mentioned, Haiti's police chief announced more arrests today. What did he share about those arrests and about the ongoing investigation?

KAHN: Police Chief Leon Charles told reporters today that three more arrests had happened - two police officers and a civilian. He didn't go into a lot more detail than that. But the arrest of the officers is significant, especially how he described their participation in the assassination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEON CHARLES: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: And you can hear he says that the police was infiltrated and someone had to have paid them off. And that's just interesting and important because it's just unclear what role the president's security detail played in the plot. There was a large contingent guarding the president that night at his residence, but none of the guards were injured. And how did the attackers get past them into the house?

You know, there's already been nearly two dozen arrests in the case, among them, Haitian Americans, more than a dozen Colombians, including retired military officers. There's two U.S.-based security firms involved and a Haitian doctor who was a pastor in South Florida who reportedly had these grand plans to return home to Haiti and become a leader in Haitian politics. So we have all these, you know, incredibly interesting leads and sinister characters...

CHANG: Yeah.

KAHN: ...But no definitive answer as to who financed this complex international plot and, you know, more importantly, why.

CHANG: So fascinating. And as that investigation is unfolding, today, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, hands over power to a new figure. Tell us more about him.

KAHN: He's Ariel Henry. He's 71 years old. He's a neurosurgeon. He has held posts in past governments. And Moise had designated him as prime minister right before he was killed. And Henry claimed since the assassination he was the rightful head of the government. And it just seems that Joseph, who was in the job at the time of the assassination, appears to have agreed to the handoff now under pressure from international diplomats.

And that international endorsement toward Henry already has some in Haiti's just incredibly polarized political atmosphere right now saying that Henry has been imposed by Haiti - on Haiti by foreign powers. As usual, too much foreign interference in the country's politics. So that's going to be tough for Henry to work past that already perceived imposition of his. But Henry insists he will govern for all Haitians and be inclusive to solve Haiti's difficult problems.

CHANG: I suppose it is sort of nice for the new prime minister to have the support of the international community, but what else are they willing to provide Haiti during this transition?

KAHN: It is unclear at this time. You know, last week, the U.S., via the U.N.'s COVAX program, sent 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Haiti. And that was great news. But then - but some circles in Haiti want more help, especially controlling the terrible crime and violence happening now in the country with the proliferation of gangs that have happened in the last year of Moise's administration. But the White House says there's no plan to send U.S. security forces there. So we'll have to see what the international community is going to do more for Haiti at this time (ph).

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn.

Thank you, Carrie.

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