Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Assassination in Haiti: What We Know, and Don’t Know

During a nighttime attack on July 7, a group of assassins fatally shot President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti and wounded his wife, Martine Moïse, in their private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The assassination rocked the nation, stoking fear and confusion among residents and the Haitian diaspora about what is to come.

Some details of the attack are coming into focus, but there are many that we don’t know.

What we know about the attack.

According to the Haitian authorities, a team of perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from overseas drove up to the president’s heavily guarded home sometime after 1 a.m., gained entry after little resistance and opened fire.

Mr. Moïse had counted on a high level of protection, usually traveling with more than a dozen armored cars and police guards. There are often 100 officers from the presidential guard around the president’s home, former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said.

Yet there had been no specific warning of Wednesday’s attack, said Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond.

Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian justice of the peace, said that the president’s home had been peppered with holes and littered with bullet casings and that he had found the body of the president lying on the floor at the foot of his bed, “bathed in blood.”

The president’s house had also been ransacked, Mr. Destin noted. “Drawers were pulled out, papers were all over the ground, bags were open,” he said. Two servants had been tied up, he added.

Ms. Moïse was wounded in the attack and was flown to the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. She was in stable condition, according to the ambassador, Mr. Edmond.

The attackers’ precise motive is not yet clear.

What we know about the suspects.

Two Americans are among at least 20 people who have been detained thus far, Haitian officials said. The ambassador, Mr. Edmond, described the assailants as “well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”

At a news conference at National Police Headquarters, the American men were identified as Joseph Vincent, 55, and James J. Solages, 35, Florida residents of Haitian descent.

A Florida-based doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, was also detained. Officials described him as a central figure in the case who had ambitions to become president and hired a private Venezuelan security firm, CTU, based in the United States. A university professor who met with Dr. Sanon recently said he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over Haiti’s presidency.

During a raid on his home, the authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who attacked the president falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets, and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.

The Haitian authorities have also implicated at least 20 Colombians, most of them former soldiers, in the plot. It is unclear what part the Colombians played in the operation, and two of the Colombian men are dead.

Clément Noël, a judge who is involved with the investigation, said on Friday that Mr. Vincent and Mr. Solages claimed that they had not been in the room when Mr. Moïse was killed and that they had worked only as translators for the attackers.

The judge said that the two had met with other members of the hit squad at a hotel in a suburb of Port-au-Prince to plan the attack, which they said was plotted out over a month. The men, according to the judge, said that the goal had not been to kill the president but to bring him to the national palace.

Mr. Solages had previously worked as a security guard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti.

Who is in charge? A power struggle stirs further uncertainty.

In the aftermath of the assassination, three prominent political figures staked claims to lead Haiti, a turbulent Caribbean nation of 11 million people and one of the poorest countries in the world.

In the hours after the killing, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said that he was in charge, taking command of the police and army. He declared a “state of siege” for 15 days, essentially putting the country under martial law. It was not clear whether he has the legal authority to do so.

A U.S. delegation met with Mr. Joseph and with Ariel Henry, the man the president named to succeed Mr. Joseph as prime minister only days before the assassination. A third aspirant to power, the Senate president Joseph Lambert, was also at the meeting.

Only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled, but eight of the senators have called for a new government to oust Mr. Joseph.

The lawmakers have said that Mr. Lambert should become the provisional president and that Mr. Joseph should be replaced as prime minister by Ariel Henry, who had not been sworn in when the assassination occurred.

The head of the nation’s highest court, who might have helped bring order, died of Covid-19 last month.

Haiti has requested help from the U.S. and the U.N.

Haitian government officials said that they had asked the United States to provide troops to help protect the country’s key infrastructure as the nation faces unrest from the assassination.

The Biden administration sent a delegation that included representatives from the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the National Security Council.

The White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said on July 12 that the Biden administration was still reviewing Haiti’s request that it send troops to help stabilize the county. “But as of right now,” she said, “the U.S. has not committed to having any sort of presence on the ground.”

The interim prime minister has also sent a letter to the United Nations requesting troops and security assistance. The letter said that troops would support the national police in re-establishing security across the country and again highlighted the need to protect crucial infrastructure.

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