Ariel Henry spoke out to The Associated Press in an interview at his official residence. He denied that he wanted to remain in power, and stated that mistrust is the greatest challenge he faces.
Henry stated that the referendum is an urgent matter because most political leaders and civil society leaders have rejected the current constitution. After dissolving the previous provisional council, he said that an electoral council will set dates but was yet to be identified.
He said, "The elections should be held as soon possible", as he lamented lack of trust among Haitians. "People don’t believe what is being told."
Within hours of Henry's speech, Henry's provisional council members released a statement stating that they would contest the actions of the prime minister. They also accused him of violating Haitian law since only a president can dismiss them. The council stated that it will continue its work to organize the next elections.
After being delayed several times this year the presidential and legislative elections were set to take place on Nov. 7 along with the constitutional referendum. These plans were thwarted by the July 7 assassination at President Jovenel Moise's private residence.
A proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit a president serving more than two terms. However, it doesn't specify whether they would be consecutive as the constitution currently states. Other changes include mandatory military service for 18-year-olds, the creation of a vice presidency position to replace that of prime Minister and the establishment of an unicameral legislature which will replace the existing Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Many protestors marched down the streets against the first referendum proposal. Many accused Moise, a power grab.
Henry continues to face opposition to the referendum and criticism from those who don't consider him a legitimate leader.
In a political deal with his opponents, Moise chose Henry, a neurosurgeon, as Haiti's next prime Minister shortly before his assassination. Henry was able to be sworn into office, but the president was already dead. After foreign diplomats from the Core Group endorsed his rule and he was ushered in to power, the 71-year old was able to take over from Claude Joseph, the former prime minister. This led to criticism of him as a pawn of America's government, which has a long history of interfering with Haiti's affairs.
Monique Clesca, a Haitian activist, writer and former U.N. official, said, "He's puppet." "Bottom line: he lacks legitimacy or credibility."
Clesca and other leaders of Haiti's civil Society are calling for a 2-year transitional government, with a president elected by civil society and a prime minister. This will stabilize the country and prevent it from holding elections.
She said, "We wanted a Haitian solution." "It's time for the international community to say to us, We are listening' instead of pushing down on our throats somebody they have put there."
Henry stated that he was always a legitimate prime Minister, despite not having been elected. Henry sees his role as a mission to oversee the renaissance in Haitian society.
Henry also criticised the U.S. government's treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico frontier, where it expelled over 2,300. Henry said that such an action was not appropriate.
He said, "We don’t understand how our compatriots were treated."
Henry's comments came hours before the arrival at Port-au-Prince by Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols. Nichols is the top U.S. diplomatic to Latin America and is trying to limit the fallout from last week's abrupt resignation of the U.S. special representative to Haiti.
Daniel Foote, a career diplomat quit the high-profile position over the deportations on the border. He claimed it was inhumane for migrants to be returned to a country plagued by gang violence and economic collapse.
Foote also criticised the U.S. in his resignation letter. He said that the U.S. has remained loyal to a corrupt government with gang alliances, instead of supporting a broad coalition of civil society groups who have created their own plan for stabilizing the country.
Henry refused to comment on Foote's resignation saying that it was a foreign matter. However, he stated that he doesn't think the situation will impact the relationship between the U.S.A and Haiti which he promised would continue to deepen.
Henry said that Henry is currently working on a draft program to assist the thousands of expelled migrants. Henry suggested that the government could give credit to migrants to help them start their own small businesses.
He said, "We're trying that immediately."
He acknowledged that Haiti is in deep economic distress and faced many other challenges such as gang violence, kidnappings, and a housing crisis following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. More than 2,200 people were killed in the Aug. 14 earthquake, which also damaged or destroyed thousands of homes.
The next priority is to identify the masterminds responsible for Moise's murder. Henry claimed that he doesn't know the reason why the president was killed. Henry also denied claims made by the chief prosecutor, whom he dismissed, that he had two calls with a key suspect within hours of the assassination.
Henry claimed he doesn't remember speaking with Joseph Badio. He was fired in May from the anti-corruption unit of the government and is still wanted by police on murder charges.
He said, "If that conversation occurred, I don't remember it." "For me, that conversation never took place."
Henry claimed he fired Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude and former Justice Minister Rockfeller Vincent because they didn't respect the law and attempted to politicize it.
He said, "They don’t have any ethics and they’re not credible."