Change In The Caribbean: A New PM In Haiti — And A New Protest Paradigm In Cuba?
Haiti's prime minister says he'll step down to make way for a new post-assassination government — and Cuban dissidents insist anti-regime protests are far from over.
Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph said he’ll step down Tuesday to make way for a new interim leader there after President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination this month.
In Cuba, meanwhile, human rights advocates say the communist regime has arrested hundreds of people who took part in last week’s stunning, nationwide anti-government protests.
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WLRN Sundial host Luis Hernandez spoke with Americas Editor Tim Padgett for an update on the Caribbean upheaval and its effects here in South Florida.
Here are excerpts from their conversation, edited for clarity.
HERNANDEZ: Tim, was Joseph's move to step down expected?
PADGETT: It was because, over the weekend, a very important group of diplomats in Haiti from developed countries around the world, known as the Core Group, put out a statement saying they preferred that the other prime minister designate, a Haitian neurosurgeon and government minister named Ariel Henry, form an interim government in the wake of President Moïse’s assassination to lead the country to new presidential and parliamentary elections amid the country's public security collapse.
Because of that, Claude Joseph decided, well, for the good of Haiti, he should step down and let Ariel Henry then become the new prime minister in Haiti.
You have to remember, this is the part that has thrown Haiti into even more political chaos after the assassination. Ariel Henry was selected to be the new prime minister by President Moïse on July 5 — two days before Moïse was assassinated — which means Henry didn't get a chance to be sworn in before the assassination. So, since the assassination, we've had this wrangling going on in Haiti between the factions who want to just keep Claude Joseph as prime minister or bring in the guy that Moïse really wanted to be, the new prime minister, Ariel Henry.
What's the latest on the investigation of the assassination of President Moïse?
The most important thing at this moment is that the head of Moïse’s security detail has now been arrested — something that we all expected, because how does the president have mercenaries come into his home like this and shoot him as brutally as he was without some resistance on the part of a security detail, of which there seems to have been none? That raises all kinds of questions about what was their involvement, if any, in this.
Let's look at Christian Emmanuel Sanon — accused of being one of the ringleaders of the assassination. What do we know about him right now?
He’s a Haitian-American who's lived in both South Florida and on the Gulf Coast; he claims to be a doctor, though there's some question as to whether he really has physician credentials. He's an evangelical. And during Haiti's political crisis over the past few years, he's gotten this sort of delusional idea, apparently, that he's the man to save Haiti.
But somehow he was able to convince a lot of wealthy Haitian-Americans and other expats, particularly in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, that he is the man to save Haiti. And he got them to get him loans to hire these Colombian mercenary soldiers, and the two Haitian-American mercenaries, who are allegedly involved in this — through this Doral security firm, CTU, owned by a Venezuelan expat named Antonio Intriago.
It appears the ringleaders were actually trying to get U.S. and international approval for this strange, bizarre Haiti plot, including from Florida Senators and the head of the OAS.
We have found in our reporting that when they were creating this whole plot with Sanon back in May, Intriago was reaching out to a lot of his political contacts here in Miami trying to find out how he could reach very high level political contacts in Washington — including Florida’s senators and Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States — trying to get some kind of approval for this strange, bizarre plot from high level politicians in the U.S. and internationally.
And, of course, the other big story in the Caribbean is Cuba. It's been a week now since the protests in Cuba began. How have they evolved?
I think there is a lot more encouragement within the Cuban exile community here than perhaps you've seen in the past, because there's this feeling that whereas in the past, Cubans on the island may have been fearful of confronting the Cuban government, that fear is dissolving.
And I think that is emboldening to an even larger degree the Cuban diaspora here, which is why they are now taking trips up to Washington, for example, to pressure more vocally the Biden administration to do something. They feel like now there's more leverage and they can actually help the Cuban people bring down this regime eventually.
How is the Biden administration responding?
Until now, not much. But it's now announcing it wants the State Department to look into increasing staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and, just as if not more important, loosening U.S. restrictions on remittances to families in Cuba that the Trump Administration had put in place.
Do we get a sense then that maybe there's something different that might come out of this?
I think so. Look, already we've seen these most recent protests come under control by the regime. The big factor now that we're dealing with is that hundreds of people who took part in them have been detained or jailed. I was on the phone with a new dissident umbrella group in Cuba called the Council for Democratic Transition, and what's new here is this feeling now that, "OK, they may have put down last week's protests, but wheels are in motion to make sure that more protests will be coming."
And that is a new ingredient, I think — especially given how savvy Cubans on the island have been with social media. They’ve found ways to circumvent the regime’s shutdown of the internet and social network platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, by creating VPN “tunnels,” using more encrypted messaging apps like Telegram and open-web access tools like Psiphon, developed in Canada with U.S. support. So social media continues to be a potent protest weapon the Cuban government’s having trouble controlling.
So how is the Cuban government responding?
Well, that may be one reason President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government last week said it would try to ease Cubans’ economic suffering — which is a big reason for the unrest along with the communist regime’s repression — by letting food and medicine and other goods into the island now without being taxed. It’s unusual to see the Cuban government make a concession like that in response to protests.