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Turmoil in Haiti

The president’s assassination plunges Haiti into further chaos


Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Turmoil in Haiti
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Armed Haitian police and soldiers milled around the upscale neighborhood of Pétionville, a Port-au-Prince suburb, after gunmen murdered President Jovenel Moïse in his home there at about 1 a.m. on July 7. In the Thomazeau commune about 20 miles east of the capital, markets closed after the assassination. Dr. David Vanderpool from LiveBeyond, a U.S.-based mission group that works out of the commune, said, “Many people are coming to our base seeking food.”

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a two-week state of emergency, ordered the reopening of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, and urged people to return to their businesses, saying authorities are in control. But the attack added another layer of uncertainty to a nation already overwhelmed by gang violence, economic instability, and political unrest even as the Haitian Senate challenged Joseph’s authority days later.

Authorities said gunmen killed Moïse and wounded his wife, Martine, who received treatment at a Miami hospital. Within a week of the assassination, Haitian National Police Chief Léon Charles said authorities had detained 26 suspects, including two U.S.-Haiti dual citizens and 23 Colombians. Police were searching for more suspects.

Authorities blamed “a highly trained and heavily armed group” posing as U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents for the murder but announced few other details. Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said six Colombians, including two who died, were retired army members.

One suspect is Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 62-year-old Haitian doctor living in Florida who was in contact with a security firm that hired the gunmen. He flew into Haiti on a private jet with several of them. Police Chief Charles said the gunmen’s initial mission was likely to protect Sanon, who has expressed an interest in politics in the past.

The murder came one day after Moïse named Ariel Henry the country’s new prime minister and tasked him with resolving insecurity and preparing the nation for presidential elections in September. But Henry had not yet been sworn into office when Moïse was killed.

Henry was the seventh prime minister Moïse selected during his tumultuous tenure that began in 2017. The president of the Supreme Court, who should have taken over for Moïse according to the constitution, died of COVID-19 in June. Moïse had been serving by decree since he dissolved the majority of the Parliament in January 2020 over a delay in legislative elections.

The president also faced protests from opposition groups who said his five-year term actually began in 2016 and ended in February. Moïse claimed his term ends next year since an interim government led the country during his first year in office.

Earlier in February, Moïse ordered the arrest of 23 people, including a judge and a police officer, over what he described as a foiled coup attempt.

The murder came one day after Moïse named Ariel Henry as the country’s new prime minister.

Meanwhile, inflation and gang violence in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere have worsened as food, fuel, and other basic amenities become increasingly scarce. In April, a criminal gang kidnapped seven Catholic priests and nuns, including French citizens, and demanded a $1 million ransom. About 13,600 people fled their homes in Port-au-Prince in June to escape clashes between rival gangs, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency.

Dr. Vanderpool’s organization has experienced violence first-hand over the past three years. Criminals murdered one manager outside the gates of the ministry and assaulted an American team member. Kidnappers also seized two other staff members and held them captive for three days.

Amber and Verdier Cherfils, a missionary couple with ties to New York who run a Haitian guest house for missionaries, said Moïse’s death left many families on edge. “People are in shock,” Amber told the New York–based News 12. “People are afraid. They’re afraid about their own security.”

Joseph supports an international investigation into the killing and promised to ensure the September election moves forward. U.S. officials were helping in the investigation.

Vanderpool said LiveBeyond’s clinics and child nutrition programs would continue to serve despite the uncertainty. Performing that work” has been much more difficult” in recent years, he said. “At the same time, the need for our work is increasing as well.”

—For more details, see the July 9 World Tour Roundup

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