Assassination of Jovenel Moïse

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Assassination of Jovenel Moïse
LocationPèlerin 5, Pétion-Ville, Haiti
Coordinates18°29′55″N 72°17′51″W / 18.49861°N 72.29750°W / 18.49861; -72.29750Coordinates: 18°29′55″N 72°17′51″W / 18.49861°N 72.29750°W / 18.49861; -72.29750
Date7 July 2021
1:00 a.m. (EDT (UTC−04:00))
TargetJovenel Moïse
Attack type
Assassination
DeathsJovenel Moïse
InjuredMartine Moïse
PerpetratorsUnknown
Assailants28[1]
Motivecoup d'état attempt[citation needed]

Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, was assassinated on 7 July 2021 at 1 a.m. EDT (UTC−04:00) at his residence. A group of 28 foreign mercenaries are alleged to be responsible for the killing.[2] First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot multiple times in the attack, and was airlifted to the United States for emergency treatment. Later in the day, police killed three of the suspected assassins and arrested 20 more. A manhunt is ongoing for five other gunmen as well as the masterminds of the attack, one of whom was arrested on 11 July. An attempted coup d'état was said to be the motive for the attack.[3][4] Haitian chief prosecutor Bedford Claude confirmed plans to question Moïse's top bodyguards; none of the president's security guards were killed or injured in the attack.[citation needed]

Background[edit]

Election[edit]

Jovenel Moïse was the chosen successor to President Michel Martelly,[5] who was constitutionally barred from seeking reelection in the 2015 presidential election. According to official results, Moïse received 33% of ballots cast in the first round, more than any other candidate but short of the majority required to avoid a second run-off election. These results were disputed by second-place finisher Jude Célestin and others, whose supporters protested.[6] The mandated run-off was repeatedly delayed, prompting further violent protests.[7] The 2015 election results were eventually annulled.[5] When incumbent Martelly's term expired, the legislature appointed Jocelerme Privert as interim President before fresh elections in November 2016.[8] In these elections, Moïse received 56% of the official tally, enough to avoid a run-off.[5] Moïse assumed office on 7 February 2017.[9]

Political turmoil[edit]

During Moïse's time in office, political unrest and violence were common, including violent anti-government protests. The span of Moïse's term in office was disputed, sparking a constitutional crisis. Presidential terms in Haiti are five years, and Moïse claimed a mandate to govern until February 2022, five years after his taking office. However, opposition figures claimed Moïse's mandate ended in February 2021, five years after the victor of the 2015 presidential election would have been sworn in under normal circumstances. Widespread protests demanded Moïse's resignation, and the opposition named Judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis as a proposed interim president in February 2021.[10][11][12] Moïse received support from the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS) to remain in office until 2022.[2] Scheduled legislative elections in October 2019, as well as a referendum for a new constitution, were delayed until September 2021, which resulted in Moïse ruling by decree.[13][14][2]

Moïse said he foiled a coup attempt to kill him and overthrow the government in February 2021; at least 23 people were arrested.[15] Moïse appointed seven different prime ministers during his time in office, the last of whom was Ariel Henry, who was appointed on 5 July 2021, but had not been sworn in by the time of the attack.[13][16][9]

Planning[edit]

According to the head of the National Police of Colombia, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, the Colombian attackers were recruited by four companies.[17] He stated that monetary motivation seems to be the only reason behind the attackers agreeing to do the job.[18] The Florida-based company Worldwide Investment Development Group, was identified as being the company that raised money for the assassination.[19] Its owner had met with a 63-year-old Haitian American and self-described pastor and physician, in May 2021 at a meeting that discussed the likelihood of political upheaval in Haiti, who apparently saw himself as a potential future leader for the country. He agreed to extend loans to him, purportedly for his security during the envisioned Haitian revolution. A large portion of the funds went to a Miami-based security company called CTU Security for the hiring of Colombian mercenaries.[20] President of Colombia Iván Duque Márquez said that most of the Colombians went to Haiti under the impression that they were to work as bodyguards, but a few others were aware of the actual plan.[21]

Parnell Duverger, a retired adjunct professor who taught economics at the Broward College, has stated that he had attended around 10 meetings with the accused to plan Haiti's future after Moïse's resignation. These meetings were conducted in Florida and the Dominican Republic months before the assassination. At no point, however, a coup or murder was planned according to Duverger. It was assumed that the doctor was eventually going to become the Prime Minister of Haiti. Another participant, Frantz Gilot, who is a consultant for the United Nations, has also denied that there was a plan to kill the President.[22]

According to an investigation carried out by the Wall Street Journal, CTU hired a Colombian veteran to recruit other former soldiers, which he accomplished through WhatsApp, promising them a monthly salary of $3000 to protect Haiti's elite politicians. He claimed that CTU had the support of the United States State Department, while they would take part in urban combat and live in "threadbare accommodations". However, there was no mention of a plan to kill or overthrow Moïse.[23]

CTU used its company credit card to buy 19 plane tickets for the suspected assailants, for flights from Colombia's capital Bógota to the Dominican Republic's capital Santo Domingo.[24] According to Valencia, two of the Colombian suspects flew to the Dominican Republic's capital Santo Domingo from Colombia's capital Bogotá, via Panama, on 6 May 2021. They arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 10 May by taking another flight.[18] A further 11 Colombian suspects took a flight to the resort town of Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, from Bogotá, on 4 June 2021. They crossed into Haiti on 7 June through the Carrizal border crossing.[25][18]

The mercenaries were later told they would be guarding Moïse himself. On June 22, the men met with CTU's head and were told that they would help alleviate Haiti out of poverty, by increasing security in the country which would attract investors.[23] A judge who interviewed the two Haitian-American suspects, one of whom said he had been in Haiti for one month prior to the attack and the other of whom said he had been in Haiti for six months, said that the plot had been planned intensively for a month at a high-end hotel in Pétion-Ville.[26] According to the Haitian police, the suspects had apparently planned to kidnap Moïse on 20 June, but were forced to postpone their operation till 7 July, due to a change in his traveling schedule.[27]

Haitian National Police Chief Léon Charles said that the doctor had arrived in Haiti in June via a plane and had contacted two other people behind the plot. The attackers were initially contracted to guard him, but later tasked with executing an arrest warrant against President Moïse, so he could replace him as president.[28] Charles added that he had recruited some of the attackers through CTU Security, and 22 more were recruited later.[29]

According to Charles, one of the suspects, who is a former employee of the Haitian government, had assisted the attackers by renting a home to them near President Moïse's home. Another, who is the owner of the Haitian security company "Corvington Courier & Security Service", had provided them with lodgings and sirens for their cars with the help of one of the assailants.[30] Former Haitian Senator John Joël Joseph was also stated by Charles to be a mastermind of the plot, furnishing the attackers with weapons and organizing meetings.[19]

Per leaked audio confessions obtained by Noticias Caracol, the suspected assailants admitted their involvement to the Haitian police, that they had been ordered by one of the masterminds to kill Moïse and everyone in his home shortly before the operation, and had also been told to loot the money stashed there. They were also told to flee to the Presidential Palace, where the new President of Haiti would be sworn-in and they thought the police would protect them.[31]

Assassination[edit]

Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said there are often 100 officers from the presidential guard around the president's home.[32] Neighbors and acquaintances have however stated that Moïse only had a few guards around his home on most days.[33] According to Haitian National Police chief Léon Charles, 24 police officers were guarding the residence during the time of the assassination.[34]

On 7 July 2021, at around 1:00 a.m. local time, a group of gunmen stormed Moïse's home in Pèlerin 5, a district of the upmarket Pétion-Ville quarter of Port-au-Prince.[35] Seven of the assailants were involved in killing the President, but the rest stayed outside according to General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, chief of the National Police of Colombia.[36] They started shooting in his office and bedroom, and then ransacked the two rooms. The group shot Moïse multiple times, killing him at the scene.[13][37][38] He was shot with 12 bullets in his chest, arms, right leg, and left hip, and had a shattered left eye.[32][38][39][40] The house was riddled with 9mm and 5.56mm bullets.[39]

First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot multiple times in the attack, suffering gunshot wounds in her arms and thighs, in addition to severe injuries to her hands and abdomen.[41] Martine stated that the attackers also ransacked his room, searching his files, before attacking her, and left after thinking she was dead.[27] According to the Haitian police, the suspects also robbed the money stored in Moïse's home.[42] The couple's daughter was in the house during the attack.[39] She hid in the bathroom of her younger brother's bedroom and escaped unharmed, while two maids and a guard were tied up by the attackers but were not shot.[39][43][44][45]

A video taken by residents living near the site of the attack contains the voice of one man, speaking in English, who claimed over a megaphone during the attack to be a member of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; however, the assailants did not belong to the agency.[46] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said later that the attackers carried military rifles, and spoke both English and Spanish.[47] According to those who filmed the attack, the assailants disarmed Moïse's security.[48]

Neighbors of Moïse said they heard heavy machine gun fire shortly after the attack.[49] Residents reported hearing weapons fire, and "seeing men dressed like commandos in black running through the neighborhoods". The sounds of drones flying, and an explosion, possibly a grenade, were also reported.[50]

A press release issued later that day from the office of interim Prime Minister Joseph blamed the attack on "a group of unidentified individuals".[51] A high-ranking Haitian government official described the attackers as "mercenaries".[52]

Manhunt[edit]

Manhunt, gun battle, and arrests[edit]

The Haitian National Police engaged the alleged assassins after they left Moïse's residence.[47] Helen La Lime, the United Nations Special Representative in Haiti, said that some of the gunmen holed up in two buildings in Port-au-Prince.[1][3][53]

Police chief Léon Charles said later in the day that the police were still engaged in battle with the gunmen. Three policemen were taken as hostages after police surrounded a house where some of the suspects were hiding but were rescued.[54] A shootout between the gunmen and police erupted. Three Colombian men were killed during the gunfight with the police.[55] 18 more Colombians and two Haitian-Americans were arrested.[28]

Angry civilians joined the search for the assailants, and helped police track down some of them who were hiding in bushes. Other civilians set fire to three of the suspects' cars, resulting in the destruction of evidence, with the police chief calling for calm.[1][56]

Eleven of the suspects broke into Taiwan's embassy courtyard in Pétion-Ville, not far from the president's residence, on 8 July 2021,[57] and Haitian police (who were allowed access to the building after Taiwan waived extraterritoriality) arrested them without encountering any resistance.[58][59][45][60]

The remaining five attackers are still on the run.[4] A manhunt is also ongoing to arrest the people who orchestrated the attack.[1][61] As of 30 July, 44 suspects have been arrested, including 18 Colombians, three Haitian-Americans, 12 Haitian police officers, and six other Haitian civilians.[62]

Suspects[edit]

Those who orchestrated the assassination and their motives are unknown.[63] The gunmen accused of being those who killed Moïse were identified as 28 foreigners, of whom 26 were Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent.[45][64] Three of the Colombians were killed by the police in a shootout.[65] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph described the suspects as highly trained and heavily armed foreign mercenaries, a description that was corroborated by the Haitian Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond. The group members spoke in both Spanish and English.[66][53]

At least 21 suspected assailants are known to be former servicemen of the National Army of Colombia. Three of them were killed by police during the shoot-out.[67] Most of the soldiers had retired before the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia.[68] According to the United States Department of Defense, some of them had taken part in military training and education programs organized by the United States in the past.[69]

The two arrested Haitian-Americans[70] were identified as being from South Florida. While they were in custody, they reported to authorities that they found Moïse already dead when the group arrived at his home.[71] Both of them said that they were only acting as translators, and that originally the action was planned to "arrest", not kill, the president.[72] One of them was later confirmed to be an occasional informant for the DEA by the agency on 13 July.[73]

Haitian police said on 11 July that they had arrested one of the suspected masterminds, a Haitian, who was based in Florida as a doctor. The authorities accused him of hiring mercenaries to oust and replace Moïse.[28][29]

On 14 July, the Haitian National Police announced the arrest of Gilbert Dragon, a leader of the former National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation and Reconstruction of Haiti rebel group which had taken part in the 2004 Haitian coup d'état. A Haitian man who owns the private security company called "Corvington Courier & Security Service" was also detained. The police are meanwhile seeking former senator John Joël Joseph, an opponent of Moïse, and the Venezuelan owner of the Florida-based CTU Security as suspects. Another of the suspects being sought is a former employee of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the government's anti-corruption department, who was fired in May 2013 for breaking its ethics rules.[30]

Another of the suspects being sought is businessman and drug trafficker Rodolphe Jaar, who was a former DEA informant and was jailed in 2013 by the United States for stealing drugs which were meant to be seized by the DEA. He had attended a meeting with other suspects and the head of Corvington Courier & Security Service regarding the mission on June 8.[74]

An arrest warrant was issued against Wendelle Coq Thélot, a former judge of the Court of Cassation, on 23 July, on charges of murder and armed robbery in relation to the assassination.[75] She had been fired by Moïse in February 2021. The Haitian National Police spokesperson, General Marie Michelle Verrier, stated on 30 July that the Colombian and Haitian-American suspects had told the police that they had been to Thélot's home twice and also gave details of agreements that were signed there.[76]

Investigation[edit]

Haiti's chief prosecutor Bedford Claude confirmed plans to bring Moïse's top bodyguards in for questioning, including Jean Laguel Civil, the head of the presidential guard, and Dimitri Hérard, the presidential palace's head of security.[77]

The independent Haitian Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights questioned how the attackers gained entry to the president's bedroom and carried out their attack without killing or injuring any member of the presidential guard.[78] NPR reporter John Otis said, "none of the president's security guards were killed or injured in the attack, and that's a little suspicious... whatever the Colombians were up to, Haitian officials are saying that they definitely were not the masterminds of this assassination."[79] Opposition Senator and 2015 presidential candidate Steven Benoît blamed the president's security detail for the attack, saying the president "was assassinated by his security agents. It wasn’t the Colombians."[78]

The Haitian National Police on 14 July identified one of the suspects as the owner of the CTU Security company in Florida, adding that he had signed a contract in Haiti but gave no further details, stating that the investigation was in advanced stages. Homes of two suspects, one of them being former rebel leader Gilbert Dragon, were also searched, leading to the discovery of many weapons. Three other suspects are also being sought, including one who allegedly provided houses and sirens, to the assassins, and former senator John Joël Joseph.[30] One of the suspects, who is a former government employee, was blamed by the Colombian National Police chief General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia for having ordered two of the suspected assailants to kill Moïse several days before the operation.[80]

Meanwhile, police have also arrested five officials who were part of the president's security in connection to the assassination.[81] One of those arrested includes Dimitri Hérard, the chief of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, which is responsible for guarding the President's residence.[82][83] 24 police officers who protected Moïse were also being questioned.[81]

Colombian media said Hérard allegedly visited Colombia a few weeks before the assassination, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported he is being investigated by US law enforcement for links to arms trafficking.[84] Between January and May 2021, Dimitri Hérard made 7 trips from and to Colombia, Dominican Republic and Ecuador.[85] Hérard had allegedly used an Ecuadorian identification document to travel from and to Haiti.[86] On 22 July 2021, the Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso confirmed Hérard had access to an Ecuadorian identity card due to his scholarship at the Eloy Alfaro Higher School of Military [es].[87]

The Haitian police also arrested Jean Laguel Civil on 26 July.[88] On 3 August, Haiti's government requested help from the United Nations to conduct an international investigation into the assassination.[89] Haitian officials investigating the cases meanwhile reported that they were receiving death threats and were forced to go into hiding, after the authorities ignored their requests for protection. They also accused the police of procedural violations.[90]

Claude invited Prime Minister Ariel Henry for an interview on 10 September, stating that shortly after the assassination, he had spoken with a mastermind twice.[91] The calls were made at 4:07 a.m. and 4:20 a.m.[92] Henry however rejected granting permission for the interview.[93] As a result, Claude requested the judge investigating the case that charges be filed against him and ordered that he be barred from leaving Haiti.[94][95]

The Prime Minister fired Claude and replaced him with Frantz Louis Juste,[96] but he remained in his position while a source told BBC that Henry did not have the authority to fire the prosecutor.[97] On 16 September, Henry's office stated that many people had called him to inquire about his safety after the assassination and they could not identify every caller, while rejecting the suspicions raised against him.[98]

Aftermath[edit]

Following Moïse's assassination, Claude Joseph began serving as the head of the government.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport was closed on 7 July, with planes sent back to their origins.[99]

The former First Lady Martine Moïse was airlifted from Haiti to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in Florida, where she arrived at approximately 3:30 pm.[41] The interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph described her condition as stable.[47] She was admitted to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital for treatment.[41] The ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said that her condition was stable but still critical.[100]

Dozens of Haitians started gathering at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on 8 July, hoping to seek asylum in the United States because of the insecurity created by President Moïse's assassination, after rumours circulated stating that the United States was going to give out visas to Haitians on humanitarian grounds.[101] Gang violence meanwhile increased in the country following the assassination.[102]

The White House stated that the American government will send senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security to help Haiti with the case. Colombia dispatched the head of its National Intelligence Directorate and the intelligence director of the National Police of Colombia to assist Haiti alongside Interpol.[103]

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph meanwhile requested the United Nations on 7 July to deploy peacekeeping troops to his country until the situation was stabilised. The country also requested deployment of troops from the United States. A senior American government official however told Reuters news agency that there were currently no plans to deploy American troops to Haiti.[103] White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki however stated on 12 July that the request was still under review.[104] President of the United States Joe Biden stated on 15 July that there were no plans to deploy American troops in Haiti.[105]

Jimmy Chérizier, one of the most powerful gang bosses in Haiti and the leader of the G9 gang federation, on 10 July called the assassination of the president a "national and international conspiracy" against Haiti, while blaming the police, opposition politicians and the business class of being behind the killing. He called on his men to protest against the assassination and also warned that his followers would commit violence, while adding that it was time for black people of Haiti to take back control of the business sector from those of Syrian and Lebanese descent.[106]

Also on 10 July, Martine Moïse posted an audio message to her Twitter account, calling on Haiti to "not lose its way" and accusing unnamed people of assassinating her husband to stall a democratic transition of power.[107] She posted photos of herself recovering in the hospital bed to Twitter on 14 July and thanked the medical team that saved her.[108] On 17 July, she returned to Haiti following her release from the hospital.[109]

The funeral for the late President was held on 23 July at his family compound near Cap-Haïtien, amidst a tense atmosphere. Some of the mourners heckled the Haitian officials and politicians, leading to firing of tear gas and gunshots by the police, while foreign diplomats left the funeral earlier. A day before the funeral, protesters had also tried to stop mourners from being able to attend it.[110]

Succession[edit]

A 2012 amendment to the Constitution states that the Council of Ministers, under the Presidency of the Prime Minister, exercises the Executive Power until the election of another President.[111] The constitution also stipulates that the National Assembly will elect a provisional president.[112] Complicating matters further, the delay in legislative elections has made the Assembly essentially defunct.[2] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph condemned the attack[9][113] and declared a two-week nationwide state of siege later that day.[114][115]

Shortly before his death, Moïse had selected Ariel Henry to replace Joseph as the prime minister, but Henry did not assume the role before the assassination. Henry declared himself to be the rightful prime minister after Moïse's death.[116] After the United States chose to support Joseph, Henry stated that it had made a mistake.[117] He however has stated that he is avoiding a conflict over the issue, so as to not worsen the situation in the country.[118]

Joseph announced on 8 July 2021 that legislative elections would still be held in September despite the assassination, stating that, "The Head of Government promises to hold talks with opposition leaders and other actors in national life to calm the socio-political climate and facilitate inclusive and credible elections according to the timetable set by the Provisional Electoral Council."[119] Joseph has said that he is in control of the country until the election of a new president,[14][113][2] which will take place as scheduled on 26 September.[119]

United Nations' special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, confirmed that interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph will lead Haiti until the election is held later this year, urging all parties to set aside differences following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.[120]

Eight out of ten sitting members of Haiti's Senate chose the Senate speaker Joseph Lambert as the interim President on 9 July. They also selected Ariel Henry to become the prime minister.[103] A dozen political parties also signed an accord calling for Lambert to be installed as the President by 11 July.[121] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph however rejected the Senate's decision, stating he did not want a power struggle and the new president should be chosen in the elections.[122]

A group of prominent diplomats called the "Core Group", which is made up of ambassadors to Haiti from Brazil, the European Union, France, Germany, Spain and the United States, in addition to representatives to Haiti from the Organization of American States and the United Nations, urged for creation of "a consensual and inclusive government." It also encouraged Ariel Henry to form a government, a task which had been entrusted to him by the late President, and called on individuals involved in the political, economic and civil society sectors to support the authorities in restoring security.[123]

Joseph told the Washington Post on 19 July that he would be relinquishing his powers as the leader of Haiti and handing the charge to Henry, after having met him privately over the past week.[124] Henry was sworn in on 20 July.[125]

International reactions[edit]

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader closed the border with Haiti and convened an urgent meeting of military commanders in response to the assassination.[126] The country also banned air travel to Haiti. The diplomatic staff of the Dominican Republic stationed in Haiti was meanwhile evacuated by the Dominican Air Force from Toussaint Louverture International Airport.[127]

International condemnation of the attack included statements from the governments of Argentina,[128] The Bahamas, Chile, Colombia, France,[129] India,[130] Mexico, Taiwan,[131] Russia,[132] the United Kingdom,[133] the United States,[9][134] and the Holy See through Pope Francis himself,[135] as well as the Organization of American States[136] and the United Nations Security Council.[137]

On 15 July, President of the United States Joe Biden announced that the United States government would be deploying the United States Marine Corps in order to protect the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.[105] The Department of State appointed Daniel Lewis Foote as a special envoy to Haiti, tasking him to work with local and international officials in order to stabilise Haiti, while also trying to support holding of free and fair elections.[138]

Marta Lucía Ramírez, the Vice President and Foreign Minister of Colombia, called on Haiti in late July to ensure the legal rights of the Colombian suspects were respected and they were given proper medical care. She further stated that a consular mission had found irregularities in their detention, in addition to them not being provided lawyers. She also added that some had been wounded during their arrest and did not receive medical care.[139]

References[edit]

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