Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe resigned Wednesday in the wake of a surge in crime that has left the country on edge amid a deepening political crisis.
His resignation after only a year in the job comes shortly before a controversial constitutional referendum, and as the international community grows increasingly impatient with President Jovenel Moïse’s inability to contain Haiti’s growing violence.
In a tweet, Moïse said Jouthe’s resignation will “make it possible to address the glaring problem of insecurity and continue discussions with a view toward achieving the consensus necessary for the political and institutional stability of our country.”
The outgoing prime minister provided no explanation for his abrupt departure, saying only in a post on Twitter early Wednesday that it had been an honor to serve the country. The president’s office, however, suggested that Moïse considered Jouthe an obstacle in resolving Haiti’s mounting insecurity, saying recent kidnappings were “tangible proof” that a council of top police brass working with the ex-minister has been “ineffective” in quelling the violence.
The shakeup comes on the heels of a spate of crimes that have startled the nation. Bandits attacked an orphanage, sexually assaulting two children and killing a guard, over the weekend, the manager of the facility said. On the same day, five Roman Catholic priests and two nuns were kidnapped Sunday, along with three relatives of a priest. The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince recently described the crime wave as a “descent into hell.”
The prime minister’s resignation could provide an opportunity for the nation’s embattled president to reconfigure the government and move closer to stabilizing Haiti’s political crisis. It remains to be seen whether the United States and others in the international community will pressure Moïse, who has been reluctant to share power, to establish a dialogue and build a consensus government, one not controlled by him or his own party.
Opposition leaders who have been calling on Moïse to step down say he will need to take more decisive action than simply naming a new prime minister. The president appointed Foreign Minister Claude Joseph, who has been increasingly speaking out in support of the government in the international media, as interim prime minister. Joseph’s nomination makes him Moïse’s sixth prime minister since coming into office in 2017.
“If Jovenel Moïse thinks that he can exit the crisis by appointing a prime minister of his own choosing, it is wishful thinking,” said Jerry Tardieu, a former lawmaker and member of the opposition. “He can’t continue to [bluff] his way through.”
The president is under mounting international pressure to crack down on the armed gangs believed responsible for much of the violence and hold legislative and presidential elections. Haiti’s opposition contends Moïse’s term expired in February; he disagrees, arguing that he is the country’s designated leader until 2022, a claim backed by the U.S. Moïse has been ruling by decree for over a year, since Haiti failed to hold legislative elections in October 2019.
On Monday, both the United Nations and Organization of American States released statements expressing concern following the killing of more than a dozen Haitians in an April gang attack in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood, as well as the recent clergy kidnappings.