Acting Haitian President Claude Joseph called for national unity and the preservation of democracy on Wednesday, hours after he assumed power following the brazen assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Joseph called for political rivals to put aside their differences to prevent the impoverished Caribbean nation from descending into anarchy.
“We need every single one to move the country forward,” he told the outlet, adding that elections scheduled for later this year should proceed as planned.
Joseph also hailed Moïse as a “man of courage” who stood up to “some oligarchs in the country” in spite of risk to his life.
“We believe those things are not without consequences,” he told the AP.
Moïse, a 53-year-old banana exporter-turned politician, was fatally shot and his wife, Martine Moïse, critically wounded when a squad of heavily armed assassins posing as agents with the US Drug Enforcement Administration raided their home in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials have described the unapprehended killers as well-trained foreign mercenaries, noting that they spoke Spanish and English, as opposed to French and Haitian Creole, the nation’s native tongues.
In the months preceding his murder, Moïse had faced opposition accusations of attempting to establish a dictatorship, including by overstaying his term in office.
His assassination darkens an already murky state of play in Haitian politics, coming about two months ahead of long-delayed elections for a new president and parliament — and just one day after he nominated neurosurgeon Ariel Henry as prime minister to replace Joseph, who had been serving on an interim basis.
Joseph told the AP that he had spoken three times with Henry — who had not been confirmed as prime minister — and that they were in agreement that Joseph is in charge.
“He was actually designated but never took office,” Joseph told the outlet of Henry. “I was the one who was a prime minister, who was in office. This is what the law and the constitution says.”
But in his own comments to the AP, Henry appeared to contradict that accord.
“It’s an exceptional situation. There is a bit of confusion,” he said. “I am the prime minister in office.”