As Haiti hurtled toward a full-blown constitutional crisis on Sunday, with the interim prime minister and the Senate president both jockeying for control, each day since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse seemed to bring more questions than answers.
What role did the 18 Colombians taken into custody in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, after the assassination play in the president’s death? The Haitian authorities have said that the men were part of the plot to kill Mr. Moïse, but the sister of one of the Colombians said her brother had told her that they were hired by security companies, possibly to protect the president.
Who will emerge as the leader of Haiti: the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, who has spent days trying to parlay words of support from the United States into the appearance of a mandate to govern, or the Senate president, Joseph Lambert, who is backed by lawmakers in the dismantled Senate, a group of opposition parties and civil society leaders?
Will elections scheduled for September be held?
Biden administration officials have so far shown no sign that they’re eager to send even a limited American force into the midst of civil strife and disorder. Haiti has also asked the United Nations for troops and security assistance. Both requests are politically fraught in a country with a long history of foreign interventions.
On Saturday, dozens of men, women and children seeking to flee the country packed into a courtyard of the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Violence driven by gangs, already a problem before Mr. Moïse’s assassination, has worsened since his death, with many residents afraid to leave their homes.
Many in Haiti had argued that Mr. Moïse was no longer legitimately in office at the time of his killing last week. Mr. Joseph, who said after the assassination that he was in charge, has also faced widespread criticism since taking over the country.
Mr. Joseph’s legitimacy has been directly challenged by Haiti’s last remaining elected officials, who are trying to form a new transitional government to replace him.
The Senate is at one-third its usual size, and Parliament’s lower house is vacant because members’ terms expired last year. Eight of the 10 remaining senators signed a resolution calling for a new government to oust Mr. Joseph. As “the only functioning elected officials of the republic,” they wrote, they were the only ones who could “exercise national sovereignty.”
They declared that Mr. Lambert should become the provisional president and that Mr. Joseph should be replaced as prime minister by Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician who was appointed to the position by Mr. Moïse but had not been sworn in when the assassination occurred.
On Saturday, Mr. Lambert said a swearing-in ceremony had been postponed so that all senators could participate. “There is an urgent need to rebuild hope in our country,” he said on Twitter.
Elections have been planned for September, but many civil society groups worry that holding them would only sharpen the political crisis. They question whether it would even be feasible to hold legitimate elections, given how weak the nation’s institutions have become.
The sense of chaos has been exacerbated by questions swirling over who was behind the attack on Mr. Moïse’s residence. The authorities have arrested at least 20 people, most of them Colombian former soldiers, but have not shed much light on the plot. Investigators have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning in the coming days.
The mystery grew even murkier on Saturday, as a sister of one of the Colombians accused in the assassination said he had told her that he had not gone to Haiti to kill anyone. Rather, he said, he had traveled there after receiving a job offer to protect a “very important person,” she told The New York Times.
His message came shortly before he died himself in the bloody aftermath of the assassination, one of three people killed in confrontations with the authorities.
The interim prime minister in Haiti has sent a letter to the United Nations requesting troops and security assistance, in addition to the request to the United States for troops to help stabilize the country.
The letter to the United Nations, which was dated July 7 but acknowledged by the international organization on Saturday, said that Haiti needed troops to support the national police in re-establishing security across the country. It highlighted the need to protect crucial infrastructure such as ports, the airport and petroleum terminals.
“We definitely need assistance, and we’ve asked our international partners for help,” the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Friday. “We believe our partners can assist the national police in resolving the situation.”
The call for American help has been met with little enthusiasm from the Biden administration, and there were no immediate signs that the United States intended to step in. The request was quickly criticized by intellectuals and members of Haiti’s civil society, who argued that Haitians needed to find a solution to the country’s instability on their own.
Operations by outside powers like the United States, and by international organizations like the United Nations, have often added to Haiti’s instability, they say.
“The solution to the crisis must be Haitian,” said André Michel, a rights lawyer and opposition leader, calling for a broader institutional debate that would gather politicians, Haiti’s civil society and its diaspora.
Many have also argued that a foreign intervention would simply not work.
Some criticism has focused on the contested legacy of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that intervened in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, which brought cholera to the country. Numerous instances of sexual exploitation and abuse, including of girls as young as 11, were also documented.
“This is outrageous,” Marlene Daut, a professor of American and African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia, said this week in response to a Washington Post editorial that called for a new international peacekeeping force in Haiti. The editorial described the previous U.N. peacekeeping mission as having brought “a modicum of stability.”
For others, opposition has been rooted in the way that last week’s assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has echoed events of the past.
“The last U.S. occupation was preceded by the assassination of another Haitian president, under the guise of wanting to restore order, similar to what is happening now,” Woy Magazine wrote in a newsletter this week, alluding to the 1915 assassination of Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The United States then occupied Haiti until 1934.
“What followed,” Valérie Jean-Charles of Woy Magazine wrote, “was years of weakening of Haitian institutions and the senseless killings of many Haitians.”