Jovenel Moïse, shot in front of his family this week, has made several enemies and few friends in four years scandalized as president of Haiti.
So many enemies that when a team of mercenaries who became agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stormed the president’s private villa in the early hours of Wednesday, it was not entirely clear from which side they were guarding the U.S. body. Haitian authorities have since ordered the interrogation of his security guard.
The video shot by witnesses circulating on the internet seems to show the murderers huddled around the house under the cover of darkness in a convoy of slow-moving vehicles. Some of the attackers walked between the cars brandishing machine guns and shouting in English “Operation DEA” and “Don’t shoot.”
Arriving inside, the assassins repeatedly fired at Moses and his wife Martine. The president has been beaten 12 times and his left eye has been gouged out, investigating magistrate Carl Henry Destin told the Haitian newspaper. Martine survived the attack with serious injuries and was airlifted to Florida for treatment.
The attack provoked international condemnation and in Haiti, dismay despite the country’s endemic violence. “People are in limbo right now,” said a Port-au-Prince resident. “Whether it’s loved Moses or hated, it’s the same reaction: a deep state of shock.”
Among the many unanswered questions are: who ordered the killing, why the bodyguards apparently offered no resistance and what will happen next in Haiti, already in deep crisis even before the assassination.
Although assassinations are common in the Caribbean nation and coups punctuate Haiti’s history, no president has been assassinated in office since a mob dismembered Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915.
This killing provoked a 19-year occupation of Haiti by American troops, but Washington’s reaction this time was different. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that presidential elections scheduled for this year should proceed.
In Haiti, authorities are quick to highlight the foreign identities of the president’s assassins. Police Chief Leon Charles said Thursday that 26 of the 28-person army were Colombians and two were Americans of Haitian descent. Seventeen have so far been arrested and at least three killed. Others are on the run. It’s unclear why the supposedly professional success team was unable to organize an escape.
Speculations are rife about who ordered the assassination. Moïse, a former banana exporter, had demonstrated an increasingly authoritarian streak in his last term in office, imprisoning opponents, deciding by decree, allowing the terms of parliamentarians and mayors to expire without fresh elections and seeking change. constitutionalists who would have abolished the senate, granted him immunity from prosecution and cleared the way for a second term.
Violent street protests erupted in 2018 over allegations that Moïse and his officials had pocketed millions of Venezuelan-subsidized oil schemes, something he has always denied.
“Moses had a large number of enemies,” said Laurent Dubois, a Haitian expert at the University of Virginia. “You could speculate in many different directions. I imagine this will be traced to an internal source, but it’s hard to say if we ever really know. ”
Equally turbulent is what comes next in a country ruined by political instability, exacerbating gang violence and acute poverty. Claude Joseph, Moïse’s sixth prime minister, immediately moved to assert control after the assassination, imposing a state of emergency, holding a press conference and ordering the airport and local businesses to reopen after two days. where the streets had been quiet. However, Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon appointed by Moses two days before his death to replace the prime minister, said he was the legitimate head.
Constitutional experts have been blamed: Haiti has two possible legal formulas in case of presidential death, there is currently no parliament in position to approve a candidate and the head of the supreme court – a possible successor – has died of coronavirus this month last.
For now, the United States and the United Nations are dealing with Joseph; Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to him Wednesday and State spokesman Ned Price has repeatedly described him to Joseph as “the incumbent prime minister.”
Whoever picks it up faces a steep challenge. In April, the Catholic Church warned that Haiti was “descended into hell” after seven of its clergy were abducted and observers said there had been a marked deterioration in security since early June. gang violence grows.
“We need this government that has no legitimacy to accept a process of dialogue with all those who could form a government of national unity,” said Didier Le Bret, who has been France’s ambassador to Haiti since 2009-13 and works now for a consultant, ESL and Network. “No electoral process has been possible in Haiti for months because none of the conditions can be met.”
Even before the killing, Bruno Maes, a UNICEF country representative, said that Haiti had experienced its worst humanitarian crisis in recent years due to violence by armed groups, of acute shortage of fuel is food and a revolt in Covid cases. “The number of people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance is 1.1m,” he said. “We can’t use the main road to the south to reach people because the armed gangs control it, so we have to use helicopters.”
International powers seem willing to intervene. A 13-year UN mission in Haiti ended in 2017 without bringing lasting stability and critics have said a Security Council statement this week was little more than hand-in-hand. With the United States, the traditional arbiter, by its side, some fear that Haiti risks going into violent anarchy.
“Haiti’s poor have suffered enough,” said a local businessman. “People die, people are hungry.” People can no longer take it. Life is too painful. ”