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DOJ And Other U.S. Departments Assist In Haiti's Presidential Assassination Probe

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A saying from ancient Roman times says, speak nothing but good of the dead. This next conversation is not going to follow that rule. It is a discussion of Jovenel Moise, the assassinated president of Haiti. Amy Wilentz, who writes about Haiti for The Nation, argues that he was a terrible president, the latest in a string of them in Haiti, and that that reality should underlie how we examine what happened.

Amy Wilentz joins us by Skype from California. Welcome.

AMY WILENTZ: Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why was the assassinated president so bad, in your view?

WILENTZ: Well, for almost five years, he had been irresponsible, negligent, violently inclined and self-involved. He was moving toward dictatorship. He had shut down all other sort of checks - what we call checks and balances on the presidency. He had allowed the legislature to die. He had fired judges from the Supreme Court. And he had also allowed the municipal governments around the country to be decimated and then appointed new mayors.

INSKEEP: I had not realized that the president had interfered with the scheduling of new elections, allowing people's terms to expire, and they weren't replaced in the legislature and at the mayoral level.

WILENTZ: That's right. There were 10 senators left in the Senate when he died and no more people in the rest of the Assembly - 10 legislators at all.

INSKEEP: Was President Moise symbolic of Haiti's political culture then?

WILENTZ: Well, he was symbolic of one kind of its political culture. In the past, there has been certainly a tendency toward allowing power to accrue to the president. There's a sort of belief in the big man. But on the other side of that, there's also an aspiring Haitian public who would like to be included in the governance of their country.

INSKEEP: Well, now, how does that view of the ex-president, the assassinated president - how should that inform our view of the assassination? I assume you're not saying that killing the president of a country is a good thing.

WILENTZ: No. And I'm very sad for Moise's family. And it was a hideous hit against him. So of course not. What I think is that we have to say that probably this kind of governance is not good for Haiti. And we don't want to continue under the kind of rule Moise was offering, nor do we want Haiti to be the prize that is won by the assassins, the intellectual authors of the assassins, as the Haitians say.

INSKEEP: You know, as I read your article in The Nation, I was interested. You're critical of the kind of general media stereotype or general American stereotype of Haiti as this terrible, ungovernable place. And you point out that that can be a very racist stereotype. I guess you're - you're not saying that that Moise was a good president by any means, but I think you're arguing - well, what are you arguing? - that there is a better way within the reach of Haitians to govern themselves?

WILENTZ: Oh, absolutely. It's hard to be a Haitian president. There's no question about it. There are a lot of prizes at stake in the presidency. There are lucrative government contracts. And one of the things that happened to Moise was he tried to break with some of the biggest powerhouse families of Haiti, what's called the business mafia - for his own reasons, not because he's a patriot who loved the Haitian people. And that was probably one of the things that brought him down.

But this assassination - I hate to look on the bright side of an assassination, but I'm going to - opens up a space for a new kind of government. It opens up a way to say this is - this was unacceptable. Moise was unacceptable with the gangsterism rising in the streets under his rule. But the people who offed him are also obviously unacceptable. And what we want is, say, a third way, a way that - like an interim consensus government supported by the United States. And I have hopes from the United States after today because yesterday a group of Americans went down to Haiti - officials from Homeland Security, the NSC and the State Department - and when they came back, they didn't say, we're supporting one of Moise's sort of tapped successors for this role. Now, they may in the end, but they didn't say it right off the bat. And that's a welcoming sign from the American government.

INSKEEP: Well, having made that sign, what can the United States properly do to encourage what you would see as a better outcome?

WILENTZ: Oh, well, there are so many people who've been working really hard in organizations and groups of organizations - popular organizations, grassroots groups - that have been working for a long time in Haiti, organizing people to better their lives and gain certain rights. And they've been working since before Moise was assassinated to offer up this kind of consensus interim government that could help lead Haiti out of the morass of gangs that are ruling the streets and also toward sanitation, health care, literacy and food security in the future years.

INSKEEP: I feel like you're telling me that the United States should not go for what seems like the easiest, quickest step toward some kind of stability, but rather should go for deeper reforms if possible.

WILENTZ: Yes, that's absolutely right. There has to be a way to move toward real democracy instead of Band-Aid democracy. And I think in the long run, that would be more stable. But there has to be support for that. Obviously, there has to be support for disarming the gangs that are now striking fear into the hearts of all Haitians.

INSKEEP: Amy Wilentz of The Nation, thanks for your insights.

WILENTZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's on Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.