So many enemies that when a squad of mercenaries posing as US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents stormed the president’s private villa in the early hours of Wednesday, he was not quite clear which side his bodyguards were on. Haitian authorities have since ordered the interrogation of his security guard.
A video shot by witnesses circulating on the internet appears to show the killers approaching the house under cover of darkness in a slow convoy of vehicles. Some of the attackers walk between the cars brandishing machine guns and shouting in English “DEA operation” and “do not shoot”.
Once inside, the assassins shot at Moses and his wife Martine several times. The president was beaten 12 times and his left eye was put out, examining magistrate Carl Henry Destin told Nouvelliste, a Haitian newspaper. Martine survived the attack with serious injuries and was airlifted to Florida for treatment.
The attack drew international condemnation and in Haiti, dismay despite the endemic violence in the country. “People are in limbo right now,” said a resident of Port-au-Prince. “Whether you love Moses or hate him, it’s the same reaction: a state of deep shock.
Among the many unanswered questions are: who ordered the murder, why the bodyguards apparently offered no resistance, and what will happen next in Haiti, already in deep crisis even before the assassination.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that US FBI and homeland security officials would be dispatched to Port-au-Prince “as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we could help” the request of the Haitian government.
Although murders are common in the Caribbean nation and coups d’etat punctuate Haitian history, no president has been assassinated in office since a mob dismembered Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915.
This murder caused a 19-year occupation of Haiti by US troops, but Washington’s reaction this time was different. Psaki said on Thursday that presidential elections scheduled for this year are expected to take place.
In Haiti, the authorities were quick to highlight the foreign identities of the president’s assassins. Police chief Leon Charles said Thursday that 26 of the squadron’s 28 men were Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent. Seventeen were arrested and at least three killed. Others are on the run. It is not clear why the supposedly professional squad failed to organize a getaway.
Speculation is rife as to who ordered the assassination. Moïse, a former banana exporter, had shown an increasingly authoritarian streak in his last period in power, imprisoning opponents, ruling by decree, allowing the terms of parliamentarians and mayors to expire without new elections and seeking constitutional changes that reportedly abolished the Senate, granted it immunity from prosecution and paved the way for a second term.
Violent street protests erupted in 2018 over accusations that Moses and his officials pocketed millions from a subsidized Venezuelan oil program, which he has consistently denied.
“Moses had a large number of enemies,” said Laurent Dubois, an expert on Haiti at the University of Virginia. “We could speculate in many different directions. I imagine this will go back to an internal source, but it’s hard to say if we will ever really find out.
Equally grim is what comes next in a country ravaged by political instability, heightened gang violence and acute poverty. Claude Joseph, Moïse’s sixth prime minister, intervened quickly to regain control after the murder, imposing a state of emergency, holding a press conference and ordering the reopening of the airport and local businesses after two days at the during which the streets had remained quiet. However, Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon appointed by Moses two days before his death to become prime minister, claimed he was the rightful leader.
Constitutional experts have been put off: Haiti has two possible legal formulas in the event of presidential death, there is currently no parliament in place to endorse a candidate and the head of the Supreme Court – a possible successor – has died of the coronavirus last month.
For now, the United States and the United Nations are dealing with Joseph; Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to him on Wednesday and state spokesman Ned Price has repeatedly described Joseph as “the acting prime minister”.
Whoever takes over faces a major challenge. In April, the Catholic Church warned that Haiti “descended into hell” after the kidnapping of seven of its clergy and observers said there had been a marked deterioration in security from early June. as gang violence increased.
“We need this government which has no legitimacy to accept a process of dialogue with all those who could constitute a government of national unity”, declared Didier Le Bret, who was French Ambassador to Haiti from 2009 to 2013 and now works for a consulting firm, ESL & Réseau. “No electoral process is possible in Haiti for months because none of the conditions can be met. ”
Even before the murder, Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in the country, said Haiti was facing its worst humanitarian crisis in years due to violence from armed groups, severe fuel shortages and food and an upsurge in Covid cases. “The number of people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance is 1.1 million,” he said. “We can’t use the main road south to reach people because armed gangs control it, so we have to use helicopters. “
International powers seem reluctant to intervene. A 13-year UN mission in Haiti ended in 2017 without bringing lasting stability, and critics said a Security Council statement this week was little more than a twist. With the United States, the traditional arbiter, on the sidelines, some fear that Haiti is sinking into violent anarchy.
“Haiti’s poor have suffered enough,” said a local businessman. “People are dying, people are hungry. People can’t take it anymore. Life is too painful.