Haiti Live News Updates: Call for U.S. Forces Follows Assassination of President
Intellectuals and members of Haiti’s civil society quickly criticized a call by Haitian officials for the United States to send in troops, citing earlier interventions by foreign powers and international organizations that further destabilized Haiti and left a trail of abuses.
“We do not want any U.S. troops on Haiti’s soil,” Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official, said in a post Friday on Twitter. “The de facto prime minister Claude Joseph does not have any legitimacy to make such a request in our name. No, No & No.”
Many in Haiti had argued that President Jovenel Moïse was no longer legitimately in office at the time of his assassination this week. Mr. Joseph, who said that he was in charge after the killing of Mr. Moïse, has also faced widespread criticism after taking over the country on Tuesday.
Yet, despite the sudden uncertainty brought by Mr. Moïse’s assassination, some residents and intellectuals argue the many questions raised by his killing give them a long-awaited opportunity to reform Haiti’s institutions.
“We never have a chance to figure out the rules of the game ourselves,” said Melodie Cerin, a resident of Port-au-Prince and the co-editor of Woy Magazine, an online publication. “That’s what’s most frustrating to Haitians. We’re put aside each time we’re trying step up.”
A senior Biden administration official said on Friday that there were no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at the moment — and regardless, Haitians have argued that they need to find a solution to the country’s instability on their own.
Operations by outside powers like the United States, and by international organizations like the United Nations, have often added to the instability, they say.
“The solution to the crisis must be Haitian,” said André Michel, a human rights lawyer and opposition leader, calling for a broader institutional debate that would gather politicians, Haiti’s civil society and its diaspora.
Many have also argued that a foreign intervention would simply not work.
“It’s like coming back with a toolbox, but the box has the wrong tools in it,” Ms. Clesca said in a telephone interview. “What needs to be in the toolbox are voices from Haiti.”
Some criticism has focused on the contested legacy of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that intervened in Haiti from 2004 to 2017. Peacekeepers brought cholera to the country, and numerous instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of girls as young as 11, have been documented.
“This is outrageous,” Marlene Daut, a professor of American and African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia, said this week in response to a Washington Post editorial that called for a new international peacekeeping force in Haiti. The editorial described the previous U.N. peacekeeping mission as having brought “a modicum of stability.”
Ms. Clesca said the United Nations now had a disastrous reputation in Haiti. “One needs to be coherent, the United Nations’s nickname is ‘cholera’ or ‘Minustah babies,’” Ms. Clesca said, a reference to the French acronym for the peacekeeping operation in Haiti.
For others, their opposition has been rooted in the way in which the killing of Mr. Moïse has echoed events of the past. “The last U.S. occupation was preceded by the assassination of another Haitian president, under the guise of wanting to restore order, similar to what is happening now,” Woy Magazine wrote in a newsletter this week, alluding to the 1915 assassination of Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The United States then occupied Haiti until 1934.
“What followed,” Woy Magazine’s Valérie Jean-Charles wrote, “was years of weakening of Haitian institutions and the senseless killings of many Haitians.”
The political fault lines in Haiti had been drawn long before President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated this week. For more than a year, the president had been attacking his political rivals, dismantling the nation’s democratic institutions and making enemies of church and gang leaders alike.
Now, days after the killing, a power struggle has burst into the open, with the interim prime minister claiming to run the country despite open challenges by other politicians.
As the fight over who inherits the reins of government plays out in public, analysts say a much more complex — and far less visible — battle for power is picking up speed. It is a fight waged by some of Haiti’s richest and most well-connected kingmakers, eager for the approval of the United States.
How it will all play out is unclear.
Elections have been planned for September, but many civil society groups in Haiti worry that holding them would only sharpen the political crisis. They question whether it would even be feasible to hold legitimate elections given how weak the nation’s institutions have become, and some civil society leaders were expected to meet Saturday to try to devise a new path forward.
Many fear that Haitians themselves may not have much of a say in the matter.
“This whole system is founded on the idea that legitimacy is determined by outside factors,” said Jake Johnston, a senior research associate at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. “So while politicians in Port-au-Prince fight for power, the rest of the country will continue to be ignored.”
The first to assert the right to lead the nation was the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, who called a state of siege immediately after the attack and has spent the past several days trying to parlay words of support from the United States into the appearance of a mandate to govern. But his legitimacy has been directly challenged by the country’s last remaining elected officials, who are trying to form a new transitional government to replace him.
Eight of the 10 remaining senators in Haiti signed a resolution calling for a new government to oust Mr. Joseph. As “the only functioning elected officials of the republic,” they wrote, they were the only ones who could “exercise national sovereignty.”
The lawmakers declared that Senate President Joseph Lambert should become provisional president and that Mr. Joseph should be replaced as prime minister by Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician who was named by President Jovenel Moïse to take the position but not sworn in before the assassination. The lawmakers’ proposal was backed by a group of opposition parties and civil society leaders, signaling a broader upswell against the sitting government.
On Saturday, Mr. Lambert tweeted that a swearing-in ceremony had been postponed so that all senators could participate. “There is an urgent need to rebuild hope in our country,” he said on Twitter.
The others jockeying for control, behind the scenes, include Michel Martelly, the former Haitian president, and Reginald Boulos, a prominent businessman. Both have been testing the waters in Washington recently as they explore potential bids for the presidency.
In May, Mr. Boulos, one of Haiti’s richest men and a former ally of Mr. Moïse, hired two U.S. lobbying firms to represent him. And this month, according to a federal filing, Mr. Boulos retained another firm run by Arthur Estopinan, a lobbyist who served as the chief of staff for U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The sister of the one of the Colombians accused in the plot to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti said he told her that he had not gone to Haiti to kill anyone — but rather had traveled to the Caribbean nation after receiving a job offer to protect a “very important person.”
His message came shortly before he died himself in the bloody aftermath of the assassination, one of three people killed in confrontations with the authorities.
In an interview, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, said that her brother, Duberney Capador, 40, was a 20-year veteran of the Colombian military who spent years fighting Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas. He had retired in 2019 and was living on a family farm with his mother. He had two children.
“What I am 100 percent sure of is that my brother was not doing what they are saying, that he was hurting someone,” Ms. Capador said. “I know that my brother went to take care of someone. Because my brother was a very loyal man, a man with many values. I know it.”
Mr. Capador arrived in Haiti in May, his sister said, after receiving a job offer from a security company. Ms. Capador did not know the name of the company, but her brother soon sent her a picture from Haiti in which he wore a dark uniform embroidered with the letters “CTU.” His dream was to save money to improve the family farm, and to fund his children’s education, she said.
The siblings spoke often, and Mr. Capador said that he was spending his days training with others at a country house. On Monday, he sent her pictures of a group barbecue.
Then, early Wednesday, a deadly attack on the Haitian president was launched.
A few hours later, around 6 a.m., Ms. Capador began receiving calls and texts from her brother, she said. He told her that he was in danger, holed up in a home with bullets flying around him. At times, Ms. Capador could hear the gunfire in the background.
Ms. Capador said her brother told her nothing about an assassination, and instead told her that he had arrived “too late” to save the “important person” he claimed he was hired to protect.
According to Mr. Capador, she said, “they arrived half an hour after the man had died.”
The siblings exchanged messages all day long, and he begged her not to tell their mother that he was in danger.
“God bless you,” Ms. Capador wrote in a text message on Wednesday evening.
“Amen,” he wrote back at 5:51 p.m.
She never heard from him again.
Harold Isaac is a freelance Haitian-Canadian journalist based in Pétionville, Haiti. His account of life after the assassination was told to Dan Bilefsky, Canada correspondent for The New York Times.
Pétionville, a leafy and affluent suburb of the Haitian capital, has been a refuge of relative stability since my country descended into its latest spasm of chaos.
It is a place of handsome gated homes and boutique hotels, where I felt I could order sushi at my favorite restaurant or take my kids to school without needing to worry about the violence that plagues other parts of Haiti.
But the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse brutally changed all that.
I had a beer with friends on Tuesday evening at an Italian restaurant near my home in Pétionville before heading home. Hours later, at around 1:30 a.m., the fragile veneer of normalcy in Haiti’s most rarefied suburb shattered. The area was shaken by the sound of explosions and heavy gunfire.
We soon heard that dozens of men had marched toward the president’s mansion, about a mile from my home. By 5 a.m., people across my neighborhood had their radios blaring. I received a frantic call from my wife, asking if I had heard the news. She was on a trip to Miami at the time.
Founded in 1831, Pétionville was named after Alexandre Sabès Pétion, a general and a founding father of Haiti who was one of the first Haitian officers to revolt against France’s repressive rule in its slave colony, helping to clear the way for Haiti’s independence in 1804. A hilly suburb of roughly 400,000 people, Pétionville has long felt to me like Haiti’s version of the Green Zone in Iraq, minus the checkpoints and American military presence.
Since I moved back to Haiti from Montreal in 2015 at the age of 33, it has been the place where I feel most at home. Here, I could buy cherries at my favorite market or order my daily caramel frappé at Marie Beliard, a famous pâtisserie on rue Faubert, without needing to worry that armed gangs could attack me or that I could be kidnapped. Those threats have become woefully commonplace in other neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.
The location of the president’s residence in Pétionville also helped create a sense of security, however precarious, because there were often 100 officers from the presidential guard stationed around the president’s home.
At the same time, his house was also a mystery to many Haitians, including me.
The National Palace that served as the residence of Haitian presidents for nearly half a century was severely damaged in the 2010 earthquake that claimed about 250,000 Haitian lives, and subsequent Haitian presidents have since lived in their own private homes, often away from prying eyes.
Mr. Moïse, whose contested presidency had spawned massive protests against corruption and lawlessness, was discreet about his home’s location, making the organized choreography of the assassination in Pétionville hard for me and other residents to fathom. Such was the mystery of his house that, in the past, many protesters couldn’t find his residence and were turned away by police as they searched.
Since the president was killed, our sense of security in “PV,” as my friends and I refer to it, has felt more ephemeral than ever. For the first few days after the killing, many residents stayed home, afraid to go out for fear of violence.
On Saturday afternoon, however, things had returned to normal, or so it seemed. Shops were open and streets were clogged with weekend traffic and vendors selling clothes, electronic appliances and vegetables. People were out shopping in the 90-degree heat.
While somewhat jittery, I am gearing up to go back to my favorite fruit market on rue Pinchinat for cherries, though I’ll remain ensconced in my car. As in other areas of Haiti, it can be too dangerous to walk the streets, and middle class residents often use their cars as protective cocoons.
Since the events of the past week, my beloved Pétionville doesn’t quite feel the same. It is a suburb still in shock. But we Haitians always bounce back because death here is unfortunately part of life. And Pétionville will bounce back, too.
Rony Célestin is one of the few lawmakers left in Haiti, a close ally of the assassinated president who has kept his seat while the country’s democratic institutions have been whittled away.
As one of only 10 remaining members in all of Haiti’s Parliament, Mr. Célestin, a swaggering figure who styles himself as a self-made multimillionaire, belongs to a tiny circle of leaders with the legal authority to steer the nation out of crisis now that the president is dead.
But to many Haitians, Mr. Célestin is also a symbol of one of their biggest grievances: a governing class that enriches itself while so many go hungry.
In recent months, Mr. Célestin has been parrying accusations of corruption from Haitian activists over his purchase of a mansion almost 2,000 miles away in Canada.
The $3.4 million villa, with its 10-car garage, home cinema and swimming pool overlooking a lake, was among the most expensive homes ever sold in one of Quebec’s most affluent neighborhoods, and the purchase set off a corruption investigation into Mr. Célestin by officials in Haiti.
Mr. Célestin vehemently denies any wrongdoing, describing himself as a savvy entrepreneur whose success and donations to the election campaign of the assassinated president, Jovenel Moïse, have afforded him a variety of privileges, including the ability to pay for the villa and get his wife a job at the Haitian consulate in Montreal.
But The New York Times found little or no indication in Haiti of the thriving businesses that Mr. Célestin cites as the source of his great wealth. Some appear to operate on a much smaller scale than he claimed, if at all in some cases.
Even before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse this past week, Haiti was already in the grips of a political crisis, divided over the legitimacy of Mr. Moïse’s continuing term and over efforts to hold a presidential election this year.
Some other countries and international organizations including the United States, the Organization of American States and the United Nations had supported Mr. Moïse’s bid to remain in office until new elections could be held.
This past week, they reaffirmed their backing for elections scheduled for September. But much of Haiti’s civil society believes that the country is not ready to take that step, even though many argue that Mr. Moïse’s term had expired and that he should have left his office.
Mr. Moïse was elected president for a five-year term in 2016, and opposition parties and many members of civil society say that his term should have come to an end early this year. He had argued that his term should end in 2022, because he was sworn in February 2017.
Yet many contend that the country’s present institutions are too weak and that the election of a new president would perpetuate the systemic challenges it faces. Haiti currently has no functioning Parliament, and only 10 of its Senate’s 30 seats are filled.
One group of civil society members planned to meet on Saturday to try to figure out a way forward, with a focus on overhauling the Constitution while a large coalition would temporarily run the country. Another group has called for Joseph Lambert, the head of the Senate, to take over as president.
Jacky Lumarque, the rector of Quisqueya University, a large private university in Port-au-Prince, offered several reasons for putting the election on hold: Campaigning in the city would be unfeasible because of gang violence; many voters have yet to receive the identification cards required for casting a ballot; and Haiti’s highest court has not recognized a committee that Mr. Moïse appointed to organize elections.
“If we are not careful, the country will be plunged into political chaos with the help of the international community,” Mr. Lumarque said.
Melodie Cerin, a resident of Port-au-Prince who is a co-editor of Woy Magazine, an online publication, said Haitians needed time to figure out what should come next.
“We’ve spent the past four years contesting the legitimacy of P.H.T.K.,” she said of Mr. Moïse’s party. “The answer would be new elections, which would reinforce this very same party: What for?”
Ms. Cerin added that a broader debate about the country’s future should gather the religious community, the private sector, the government and other members of the public. “It isn’t clear who is supposed to be leading the country,” she said, “but it’s time to discuss between ourselves.”
Some outside observers have echoed the concerns of Haitian civil society. Peter Mulrean, a former U.S. ambassador to the Caribbean nation, supported calls within the country to revise the Constitution and the electoral process before any elections are organized.
“This is one of the most severe crises we have faced,” Mr. Lumarque said. “We have never been in such a serious case of institutional dismantling.”
United States and Colombian officials say they will work with Haiti to understand the origins of a complicated plot that left Haiti’s president dead and the country in chaos even as Haitian investigators confront questions emerging closer to home.
Of the at least 20 people detained so far in the investigation into the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse this past week, 18 have been identified as Colombians and two as Haitian Americans. Five suspects are still being sought.
At least 13 men said to be involved in the plot had served in the Colombian military, Colombian officials confirmed on Friday. They said two of the men had been killed in the aftermath of the assassination.
Haitian officials have emphasized foreign involvement in the plot, but U.S. officials and many observers within Haiti are increasingly questioning whether the attack was planned with the cooperation of the nation’s own security apparatus.
The Haitian authorities have summoned four of the president’s chief bodyguards for questioning next week as investigators try to unravel how armed assassins could have breached the heavy security presence outside Mr. Moise’s residence without encountering much resistance. Prosecutors have also directed five top businessmen and politicians — all perceived rivals of Mr. Moïse — to report for questioning.
In Washington, administration officials said that F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security officials would go to Port-au-Prince, the capital, to assess how to help. Haiti has also requested U.S. military assistance, but a senior administration official said there were no plans to provide that.
Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, the head of Colombia’s national police force, said that officials there were investigating four businesses that they believe recruited Colombians for the operation. Investigators, he said, were using the businesses’ Colombian tax numbers to learn more.
In an interview with a local radio station, a woman who identified herself as the wife of one of the detained Colombians said he had left home one day after telling her that he had “a very good job opportunity.”
Colombian officials said that some of the accused people had left Bogotá as early as May and flown to Panama before traveling to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti. Others arrived in the Dominican Republican in early June and then traveled to Haiti.
The two detained Haitian Americans said in an interview with a Haitian judge that they had worked only as interpreters for the hit squad, the judge said in an interview.
The judge, Clément Noël, who is involved in the investigation, said the two men had maintained that the plot was planned intensively for a month. He said that they had met with other members of the squad at an upscale hotel in the Pétionville suburb of Port-au-Prince to plan the attack. The goal was not to kill the president, they said, but to bring him to the national palace.
As the investigation has broadened, the crisis over the country’s political succession has deepened. An opposition senator on Friday accused the country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, of having instigated a coup by claiming national authority after Mr. Moïse’s assassination.
The political chaos has caused large crowds to gather at the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, with many responding to rumors on social media that the United States would be giving out humanitarian and asylum visas.
Caribbean nations say they are willing to help Haiti in its electoral crisis after the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse.
In a statement this week, the heads of government of the Caribbean organization known as Caricom said they were willing to “play a lead role in facilitating a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people and their institutions to craft an indigenous solution to the crisis.”
Caricom leaders urged Haitians to stay calm during the power struggle set off by Mr. Moïse’s assassination and “to overcome their differences and unite at this moment of national peril.”
In a statement to the Jamaican Senate on Friday, Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, who is the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, said that Caricom has been trying to help Haiti amid its electoral crisis, the seeds of which were planted more than a year ago.
“The assassination of the president has precipitated another level to the crisis and heads of government have expressed that calm and security are paramount at this time,” Ms. Johnson-Smith said. “We continue to monitor the developments and remain willing to render assistance as we are able.”
In a statement this week, the Organization of American States, which is working with Caricom and the United Nations to offer assistance, said the assassination of Mr. Moïse was “an affront to the entire community of democratic nations.”
“We call for an end to a form of politics that threatens to derail democratic advances and the future of the country,” the organization said.
Caricom member states flew their flags at half-staff for three days after the death of Mr. Moïse, and they will do so on the day of his funeral, which has yet to be determined.
The Haitian government’s extraordinary request for U.S. forces to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of the assassination of its president this past week carries haunting vestiges from American military interventions that happened more than a century ago.
Back then, the United States dispatched forces without an invitation from Haiti. The American government was motivated by Haiti’s internal turmoil and a willingness to meddle in the affairs of neighbors to protect its own interests under the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, calling the invasion a justifiable response to avert anarchy after a mob assassinated Haiti’s president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The American military stayed for nearly two decades.
But even before that, Mr. Wilson saw fit to take military action in Haiti, worried about what his administration saw as the growing influence of Germany there, according to a historical page about the U.S. interventions on the State Department archive website.
In 1914, his administration sent in Marines who removed $500,000 from the Haitian National Bank for what the administration called “safekeeping” in New York, giving the United States control of the bank, the website said.
Eighty years later, President Bill Clinton ordered more than 23,000 U.S. troops sent to Haiti in what was termed “Operation Restore Democracy,” aimed at ensuring a transition that would return the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
In 2004, President George W. Bush sent in the Marines as part of an “interim international force” after Mr. Aristide resigned under intense U.S. pressure.
Orlando Barria/EPA, via Shutterstock
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Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press
Haitians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on Friday, hoping to be granted visas to leave the country as the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse this week heightened an uncertain and volatile situation in the country.