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Assassination of Jovenel Moïse

2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Mo\u00efse in Port-au-Prince

Assassination of Jovenel Moïse
Moïse's body being transported in a van
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]

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 were blamed 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 twenty more. A manhunt is still ongoing for five other gunmen as well as the masterminds of the attack, one of whom was said to have been arrested on 11 July; the motive for Moïse's assassination has yet to be established.[3][4] Haitian chief prosecutor Bedford Claude confirmed plans to bring Moïse's top bodyguards in for questioning; none of the president's security guards were killed or injured in the attack.

Background

Election

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

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 on constitutional amendments, 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

According to the head of the National Police of Colombia, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, the attackers were recruited by four companies, though none have yet been identified publicly.[17] He stated that monetary motivation seems to be the only reason behind the attackers agreeing to do the job.[18]

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.[19][18]

According to 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, the suspects said that the plot had been planned intensively for a month at a high-end hotel in Pétion-Ville.[20]

Assassination

Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said there are often 100 officers from the presidential guard around the president's home.[21]

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.[22] 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][23][24] He was shot with at least 12 bullets, and had a gouged eye.[21][24][25]

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.[26] Their daughter was in the building during the attack. She hid in one of her brothers' bedrooms and escaped unharmed, while two domestic staff members were tied up by the attackers but were not shot.[27][28][29]

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.[30] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said later that the attackers carried military rifles, and spoke both English and Spanish.[31] According to those who filmed the attack, the assailants disarmed Moïse's security.[32]

Neighbors of Moïse said they heard heavy machine gun fire shortly after the attack.[33] 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.[34]

A press release issued later that day from the office of interim Prime Minister Joseph blamed the attack on "a group of unidentified individuals".[35] A high-ranking Haitian government official described the attackers as "mercenaries".[36]

Manhunt and investigation

Manhunt, gun battle, and arrests

The Haitian National Police engaged the alleged assassins after they left Moïse's residence.[31] 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][37]

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.[38] A shootout between the gunmen and police erupted. Three Colombian men were killed during the gunfight with the police.[39] 18 more Colombians and three Haitian-Americans were arrested.[40]

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][41]

Eleven of the suspects broke into Taiwan's embassy courtyard in Pétion-Ville, not far from the president's residence, on 8 July 2021,[42] and Haitian police (who were allowed access to the building after Taiwan waived extraterritoriality) arrested them without encountering any resistance.[43][44][29][45]

The remaining five attackers are still on the run.[4] A manhunt is also ongoing to arrest the people who orchestrated the attack.[1][46]

Identities of suspects

Those who orchestrated the assassination and their motives are unknown.[47] 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.[29][48] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph described the suspects as highly trained and heavily armed foreign mercenaries, a description that was corroborated by Haitian Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond. The group members spoke in both Spanish and English.[49][37] A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration source told the Reuters news agency that one of the Haitian American suspects was an informant for the agency.[50]

Twenty of the Colombian suspects were also identified:[51][52]

  • Duberney Capador Giraldo (killed)
  • Mauricio Javier Romero Medina (killed)
  • John Jairo Suares Alegría
  • John Jader Andela
  • Edwin Blaunicet
  • Víctor Albeiro Pineda Cardona
  • Nacer Franco Castañeda
  • Juan Carlos Yepes Clabijo
  • Neil Cáceres Durán
  • Jheyner Alberto Carmona Flórez
  • Germán Alejandro Ribera García
  • Alejandro Zapata Girardo
  • Alex Miyer Pena
  • Carlos Giovani Guerrero Torres
  • Ángel Mario Yacce Sierra
  • Francisco Eladio Uribe Ochoa
  • Enalder Vargas Gómez
  • John Jairo Gómez Ramírez
  • Manuel Antonio Grosso Guarín
  • Mendivelso Gersaín Jaimes

The General Commander of the Military Forces of Colombia, General Luis Fernando Navarro Jiménez, identified 17 of the suspected assailants as former servicemen of the National Army of Colombia ranging in rank from lieutenant colonel to private, who had retired between 2018 to 2020. Two of them were killed by police during the shoot-out.[53][54]

One of the arrested Colombian suspects, Francisco Eladio Uribe, was under investigation for homicide in relation to the extra-judicial execution of a civilian in 2008, which was allegedly done to inflate the success of the Colombian security forces against the rebels, called the "false positives" scandal in Colombia. A woman claiming to be his wife told W Radio that he had been cleared of the charges, however. In regard to him traveling to Haiti, she said that a company named CTU Security had contracted him under pretext of safeguarding influential families in the country, in return for monthly pay of US$2,700.[55][54] The Miami Herald reported that some of the detained Colombians also identified CTU as their employer. CTU is based in Miami and run by Venezuelan emigre Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera.[56]

The sister of Duberney Capador, a 40-year-old retired member of Colombia’s special forces[57][58] who was killed by police, meanwhile claimed he had served in the army for 21 years and was trained in counterterrorism. She said that he had gone to Haiti after being offered a job as a security guard.[59]

The two arrested Haitian-Americans[60] 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.[61]

One was James J. Solages, a resident of Fort Lauderdale born in Jacmel in southern Haiti.[48] Solages on his LinkedIn profile claimed he was a diplomatic agent, a former head of the bodyguards for the Embassy of Canada in Haiti, and that he completed a protection course. Global Affairs Canada said that he was briefly a reserve bodyguard of a security company hired by it in 2010.[62] He had also established a charity named "Fwa Sa A Jacmel Avan" (which means "This Time Jacmel First" in Haitian Creole), that was involved in providing aid to residents of Jacmel. On his charity's website, Solages also claimed to be a building engineer, a consultant, an advocate for underprivileged children, and a politician promoting Haiti.[62][63] Solages was also the CEO of "EJS Maintenance & Repair", a Florida company involved in business engineering.[62] The final job of Solages before the assassination was as the plant operations director for two years for The Carlisle Palm Beach, a high-end assisted living center in Lantana, Florida, and he had no criminal record according to its executive director.[64] He abruptly quit on 12 April 2021. After he was arrested, he claimed that he had been in Haiti for a month and had found the job on the internet. His uncle said that Solages called Moïse "crazy", but never showed any intention to kill him.[65][4]

The other Haitian-American[60] suspect was Joseph Vincent, a 55-year-old man from Miami who was a naturalized citizen from Haiti, who said he had been in Haiti for six months, staying with a cousin.[48][46][66] Both the Haitian-Americans said that they were only acting as translators, and that originally the action was planned to "arrest", not kill, the president.[67]

Haitian police said on 11 July that they had arrested one of the suspected masterminds, a Haitian 63-year-old man named Christian Emmanuel Sanon, whom authorities accused of hiring mercenaries to oust and replace Moïse.[40] Sanon, a doctor born in Marigot, Haiti, who split his time between his homes in Florida and Haiti, had filed for bankruptcy in 2013. He had flown to Haiti in early June.[40][68] National Police Chief Léon Charles said that he had wanted to grab power as President of Haiti and had contacted two other people who masterminded the assassination. The attackers were initially contracted to guard him, but later tasked with executing an arrest warrant against President Moïse.[40]

Investigation

Haiti 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.[69] 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.[70]

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.[71] 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."[72] 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."[71]

Aftermath

Following Moïse's assassination, Claude Joseph began serving as acting president.

Toussaint Louverture International Airport was closed on 7 July, with planes sent back to their origins.[73]

The former First Lady Martine Moïse was airlifted from Haiti to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in the U.S. state of Florida, where she arrived at approximately 3:30 pm.[26] Claude Joseph described her condition as stable.[31] She was admitted to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital for treatment.[26] The ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said that her condition was stable but still critical.[74]

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 Colombia National Police to assist Haiti alongside Interpol. 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.[53]

On 11 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.[75]

Succession

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.[76] The constitution also stipulates that the National Assembly will elect a provisional president.[77] Complicating matters further, the delay in legislative elections has made the Assembly essentially defunct.[2] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph condemned the attack[9][78] and declared a two-week nationwide state of siege later that day.[79][80] White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki however stated on 12 July that the request was still under review.[81]

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.[82] As the United States chose to recognise Joseph as the interim President, Henry stated that it had made a mistake.[83] He however has stated that he is avoiding a conflict over the issue, so as to not worsen the situation in the country.[84]

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."[85] Joseph has said that he is in control of the country until the election of a new president,[14][78][2] which will take place as scheduled on 26 September.[85]

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.[53] Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph however rejected the decision, stating he did not want a power struggle and the new president should be chosen in the elections.[86]

International reactions

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader closed the border with Haiti and convened an urgent meeting of military commanders in response to the assassination.[87] 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.[88]

International condemnation of the attack included statements from the governments of Argentina,[89] The Bahamas, Chile, Colombia, France,[90] India,[91] Mexico, Taiwan,[92] the United Kingdom,[93] the United States,[9][94] and the Holy See through Pope Francis himself,[95] as well as the Organization of American States[96] and the United Nations Security Council.[97]

Conspiracy theories

Some right-wing conspiracy theorists have suggested that former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton were involved in Moïse's death, tying their claims in with the pre-existing conspiracy theory known as the Clinton Body Count, which purports that the Clintons arranged the deaths of many people they considered inconvenient. Many of them pointed to political controversies regarding aid given to the nation of Haiti by the Clinton Foundation, such as "hurricane-proof" classroom trailers that were found to be structurally unsafe and laced with formaldehyde. Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who claim that Donald Trump is secretly waging war against a cabal of child traffickers that includes the Clintons, heavily discussed the idea that they had a hand in the assassination. Discussion of the unfounded claim caused the term "Clintons" to become a top trend on Twitter.[98]

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