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Haiti: What’s happening now?

The Haitian president was assassinated last week. The investigation has only become more confusing. Here’s what we know right now

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People pressure police in retaliation for the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

People pressure police to hand over the bodies of two men who were brought in by police after they were killed by police in a shootout, in order to burn them in retaliation for the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, at a police station of Petion Ville in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021.

Joseph Odelyn, Associated Press

Last week, Haiti plunged into chaos overnight. The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and the “state of siege” announced by acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph left the already-struggling country in a state of panic, reported NPR. The confusion has continued this week as the fragmented Haitian government continues to unravel the assassination plot, said The New York Times.

  • Security forces have undergone a “wild” search for the assassins and have now arrested the man they claim played a central role in the plot, reported CNN.
  • Still, many questions remain and the situation in Haiti is complicated and rapidly unfolding.

What happened to the Haitian president?

On July 7, President Moïse was assassinated in his home during a pre-dawn raid, reported the Deseret News. The New York Times described the assassination, saying that “a team of perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from abroad who rolled up to the president’s heavily guarded home in multiple vehicles, gained entry after little resistance and opened fire.”

  • Moïse’s body was found riddled with 12 bullet wounds, reported Open Democracy, an independent news outlet based in the U.K.
  • Prior to his death, Moïse had spent one year ruling by degree and faced deteriorating support with protests calling for his removal becoming increasingly common, said the AP.

Haitian security forces immediately launched a search for the assassins, per The Associated Press. One week after the assassination, the search has become a multinational investigation that involves a group of Colombian veteran soldiers, a retired Haitian-American doctor living in Florida, and continued confusion, reported Open Democracy.

Following the assassination, acting Prime Minister Joseph announced a 16-day “state of siege,” implemented martial law and closed borders, said NPR. Last week, Joseph said via the AP, “everything is under control.”

This has not seemed to be the case.

Who was involved in the assassination of Haiti’s president?

According to the current official narrative, the assassination plot was led by Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 63-year-old Haitian retired doctor and pastor who splits his time between Florida and Haiti, reported The New York Times.

  • According to Haiti’s chief of police, Léon Charles, Sanon has been arrested and detained by Haitian security forces.
  • “Officers who raided Sanon’s house in Haiti found a hat with a DEA logo, 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence,” reported The Guardian.

The accusations against Sanon have been met with confusion and bafflement because very few people had heard of Sanon until now, reported Open Democracy. Sanon was not a prominent or emerging political figure in Haiti.

  • However, investigators have identified that Sanon had initial political aspirations, giving him the potential motive for the assassination, per The New York Times.
  • Investigations can’t explain how Sanon could have paid for the operation. Sanon had filed for bankruptcy in Florida in 2013, and it’s unclear how he could have paid to hire the former Columbian soldiers, reported Open Democracy.
  • An anonymous associate of Sanon’s said he thought Sanon had been duped and was “completely gullible” in the plot, per The Guardian.

Haitian police have also arrested 18 other men in connection with the assassination plot, reported The New York Times. Those arrested include a number of Colombian military veterans, a few Haitian nationals and two U.S. citizens.

  • According to the AP, officials have arrested and detained 23 of the 26 former Colombian soldiers suspected of participating in the assassination.
  • The investigation is still underway and the latest suspects include “a former Haitian senator, a fired government official and an informant for the U.S. government,” per the AP.

Who is leading Haiti now?

Haiti is currently in a massive political power struggle with three prominent politicians who have claimed to lead the country, per Open Democracy. Haiti has no clear head of state and no functioning legislature.

Immediately after the assassination, Joseph assumed leadership with the support of the police and military, reported NPR. However, the official line of succession is unclear.

  • Normally, the president of the Supreme Court would be next in line for the presidency, said CNN. However, this office is currently empty since René Sylvestre, the former officeholder, recently died of COVID-19. His funeral was scheduled to take place on July 7.

To further complicate the situation, Joseph may not be the actual prime minister, according to the AP. The day before the assassination, Moïse named Ariel Henry as prime minister.

  • Henry told the AP that he does not have any dispute with Joseph but sees the situation as “exceptional and confusing.”
  • “I only disagree with the fact that people have taken hasty decisions ... when the moment demands a little more serenity and maturity,” Henry said, per the AP.

Now, Senate President Joseph Lambert has also claimed the right to lead Haiti, reported The New York Times.

What happens next?

Robert Fatton, an expert on Haitian politics at the University of Virginia, said that, “whether Claude Joseph manages to stay in power is a huge question. It will be very difficult to do so if he doesn’t create a government of national unity,” the AP reported.

  • “It’s a really explosive situation,” Fatton said. He thinks that foreign intervention, such as U.N.-type military presence, could be possible.
  • “You name it, in terms of instability and institutional decay, you have it at the moment in Haiti,” Fatton said to NPR.

The Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, told CNN that Haiti has formally appealed to the U.S. and the U.N. for assistance.

  • “We did request formally assistance from the United States, one with the investigation, and secondly with the security situation,” Edmond said.
  • “Hopefully, the U.N. will take more bold actions to strengthen our security. Because it’s really a problem for us now,” Edmond told CNN.