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Haiti’s Prime Minister Resigns Following Months of Unrest

FILE - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, center, accompanied by his wife Martine, and Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe, center right, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
FILE - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, center, accompanied by his wife Martine, and Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe, center right, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti’s President has accepted the resignation of his Prime Minister, Joseph Jouthe, who announced on Twitter early Wednesday he would be stepping down, without saying why.

“I gave my letter of resignation to the President of the Republic, SEM @moisejovenel. It has been an honor to serve my country as prime minister. I thank the members of my government, our technical and financial partners for their collaboration. God Bless Haiti!" he tweeted.

President Jovenel Moise responded an hour later on Twitter that the resignation will help find a solution to the acute insecurity problem that has saddled the government for months. Kidnappings have surged in Haiti as gangs broaden their targets for ransom. Just this month, a group of church officials were kidnapped during a live Easter Sunday broadcast.

"The resignation of the government, which I have accepted will allow me to address the insecurity that is calling out to be handled and pursue discussions that will help us find the consensus that is necessary for political and institutional stability in our country," Moise tweeted.

Foreign Minister Claude Joseph will replace Jouthe as acting prime minister, the president announced. Joseph becomes the 6th prime minister to serve the Moise government.

Jouthe’s role in Moise government

Before being named prime minister in March 2020, Jouthe served as minister of the Environment under then-Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant in September 2018, and then as minister of the Economy and Finance in September 2019.

Jouthe had tried to resign on March 10 after a council meeting, but President Moise refused to accept his resignation. Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported at the time the decision was related to what Jouthe perceived to be a lack of "cohesion" within the government and that the prime minister was ready to step down at any moment, if it helped "enhance government cohesion."

Jouthe has been at odds with other members of the cabinet who have openly opposed and acted against his orders on issues pertaining to security and justice.

Who is Claude Joseph?

Claude Joseph, Haiti's acting prime minister
Claude Joseph, Haiti's acting prime minister

Newly-appointed Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph is Haiti's 164th Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religious Affairs. Before being named foreign minister in March 2020, he held posts as Haitian Ambassador to Argentina, and charge d'affaires at the Haitian embassy in Spain. Prior to working in politics, Joseph was a professor at the University of Connecticut and at Long Island University.

Under normal circumstances, the Parliament would need to approve his nomination, but the legislative body is not functioning due to a failure to organize elections to renew the terms of lawmakers. Those elections are now scheduled for September of this year. The current vacuum gives the president latitude to make unilateral, uncontested cabinet appointments.

Uptick in crime

Cabinet changes Wednesday follow a spike in kidnappings during recent days that saw Protestant pastors and church officials kidnapped at gunpoint during a live broadcast on Easter Sunday, the abduction for ransom of Catholic priests and nuns, and the killing of a prominent businessman in broad daylight during a failed kidnapping attempt.

Jouthe addressed the kidnappings Tuesday, describing the killing of businessman Patrick Thebaud as "an earthquake" that hit the capital.

"The police must increase its presence on the streets to dissuade these thugs from committing despicable crimes. We must take measures to reassure our citizens," Jouthe said during a press conference in Port-au-Prince. He added that the cleanup operation within the national police continues.

"The police is a reflection on society. Just as there are engineers, agronomists, journalists who are defrocked [corrupt]—we find at all levels of societies people who are committing crimes. That doesn't mean the society as a whole is bad. We have a lot of good people in Haiti, too," Jouthe noted.

Acting Prime Minister Joseph has not yet commented on his new appointment.

Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince contributed to this story