Haitian migrants: Ariel Henry says he understands US deportations and says elections will be pushed back

In an exclusive interview with CNN from the prime minister’s residence in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Henry — who took over as leader two weeks after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July — also said elections originally planned for September will be delayed until next year, after a review of the country’s constitution is conducted.
About 4,000 migrants apprehended by US Customs and Border Protection in Del Rio, Texas, in recent weeks have been expelled, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
An investigation was launched by the Department of Homeland Security after video of Border Patrol agents on horse patrol aggressively confronting mostly Haitian migrants surfaced last week. Several top administration officials as well as congressional Democrats have expressed outrage over the images, taken by Al Jazeera and Reuters, which appear to show law enforcement officers on horseback using aggressive tactics, including one officer swinging long reins near migrants crossing the border near Del Rio.

“We saw some of the mistreatment that these Haitians suffered and it struck us a lot,” Henry told CNN. “What we are saying is that as long as there are countries that are better off than others, there will always be an appeal towards those wealthier.”

Henry said, “We are not responsible for their deportation” and Haiti “cannot interfere in the internal affairs of the United States” — however “all Haitians who return to their native soil are entitled to a welcome.”

Haiti elections pushed back to 2022

Henry’s two-month tenure has been troubled by continuing questions about the assassination of Moise, spiraling deadly gang violence in the capital, a catastrophic August earthquake in the country’s south and now a migrant crisis that has driven thousands of people to the US border.
Meanwhile, confusion is mounting over when Haiti’s overdue elections — postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic — will take place.
Migration will continue as long as inequality persists, says Haiti's prime minister as Del Rio bridge crisis ends
Moise had planned to hold elections in September, but that date has come and gone under Henry’s leadership. And on Monday, Haiti’s government issued a decree firing its entire Electoral Council — the group responsible for conducting elections.

“The train has derailed for some time in Haiti,” Henry said. “We want to move as quickly as possible to the restoration of democracy through elections.”

Henry said the Election Council members were fired because they “cannot organize elections,” and the process to replace them was underway.

“We have made the decision today to stop this electoral council and form another one, one that will be more consensual and one that will be accepted by all of society,” he added.

Henry said elections would take place after a review of the country’s constitution: “We will review the constitution in the first months of the coming year and the elections will be held immediately after.”

Moise murder investigation

Henry is facing additional pressure over the official investigation into the murder of Moise — killed during an attack on his private residence on July 7 — and has been accused of hampering the probe.

The ongoing investigation has turned up dozens of suspects, including US and Colombian citizens, but government officials continue to hunt for a mastermind and motive.

Port-au-Prince’s former chief prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, had called on Henry to testify about the case, citing evidence that a key suspect in the assassination spoke with him by phone in the hours after the murder. Henry then fired Claude and justice minister Rockefeller Vincent, raising questions about whether the the executive was meddling in the judiciary.

Speaking to CNN, Henry denied impeding the investigation, saying the pair were dismissed “for breaking the law.”

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“It is important for us that President Jovenel Moise has justice, it is fundamental for us and we are going to give all the means to justice so that justice is done,” he said. “We do not want to interfere in this trial … I’m not even asking to know what’s going on in the case. What I am saying is that the President must have justice and this justice must be accompanied by independent judges.”

Claude was fired while seeking charges against Henry over phone calls made in the hours after the assassination with one of the main suspects, former Haitian Justice Ministry official Joseph Felix Badio.

Henry said he had “no recollection” of the phone call “or if it took place.”

“That means for me, it was not an important call, if I don’t remember,” he said. “I have no interest in being associated with these people and I have never been and I will not be.”

Henry also said he would follow up with the Justice Ministry into allegations dozens of American and Colombian citizens remain in Haitian custody in connection with the assassination, with no charges brought against them and limited access to lawyers — in contravention of Haitian law. The situation has left human rights groups concerned about a lack of due process for the detainees.

“I will ask the Justice Ministry that they follow up and if there are people who are innocent, they should be released. We don’t want to keep people in jail just because they are Colombians or because they are being singled out for being assassins and who are not assassins,” Henry said.

Security fears

The Prime Minster admitted he is concerned about his own security, saying Moise died in his bed “because he was President of Haiti.”

“One of the reasons I think we need to know what happened that night is because I feel that I am also at risk,” he said, adding that Moise is “entitled to an exemplary justice and I will ensure that this justice is exemplary and honest.”

Henry conceded he also needs foreign help to battle gang violence in the country, and is determined to stamp out criminal activity.

“We have asked friendly countries for specific support to support the police, for the capacity to fight these bandits and get out of public life, so that the economy can pick up, so that our children can go about their business on a regular basis,” he said.

“Everyone who is involved with the gangs, whether politicians, businessmen or other citizens, are bandits themselves and must have the same fate as the bandits.”

CNN’s Melissa Bell, Pierre Bairin and Mark Esplin reported from in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Helen Regan wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Caitlin Hu, Etant Dupain, Sharif Paget and Jennifer Deaton contributed.

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