Haiti asks UN, US to send troops after president’s assassination

The US is sending FBI and Homeland Security agents to help but says there are no plans to provide military assistance ‘at this time’.

Haitian National Police guard the entrance to the US embassy in Port-au-Prince on Friday as people gather to ask for asylum following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise [Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters]

Haiti’s interim government says it has requested that the United Nations and the United States send troops to help secure key infrastructure after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the country into turmoil.

A letter from the prime minister’s office to the UN offices dated July 7 – the day Moise was shot dead at his home – said the aim was “to support the efforts of the national police aiming to reestablish security and public order in the whole territory”. The 15-member UN Security Council would need to authorise a deployment of UN peacekeepers or police to Haiti.

“We definitely need assistance and we’ve asked our international partners for help,” interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told The Associated Press news agency in a phone interview late on Friday. “We believe our partners can assist the national police in resolving the situation.”

The request comes as the interim government tries to stabilise the country and prepare the way for elections in the aftermath of Moise’s assassination.

“We thought that the mercenaries could destroy some infrastructure to create chaos in the country,” Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s elections minister, told the AFP news agency.

But Washington has so far given no indication it will provide military assistance. For now, it only plans to send FBI officials to assist with the ongoing investigation into a crime that has pitched Haiti, a country already racked by gaping poverty and gang violence, into a destabilising battle for power and constitutional standoff.

On Friday, a group of lawmakers declared loyalty and recognised Joseph Lambert, the head of Haiti’s dismantled senate, as provisional president in a direct challenge to the interim government’s authority. They also recognised Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whom Moise had selected to replace Joseph a day before he was killed but who had not yet taken office or formed a government.

Joseph, the interim prime minister, expressed dismay that others would try to take advantage of Moise’s murder for political gain. “I’m not interested in a power struggle,” said Joseph, who assumed leadership with the backing of police and the military. “There’s only one way people can become president in Haiti. And that’s through elections.”

Police in Haiti said the assassination was carried out by a commando unit of 26 Colombian and two Haitian-American mercenaries. The two Haitian Americans were identified as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55, both from Florida.

Seventeen of the men were captured – including Solages and Vincent – after a gun battle with Haitian authorities in Petionville, a hillside suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where Moise resided.

Three others were killed and eight remain at large, according to Haitian police. Authorities are hunting for the masterminds of the operation, they said.

A judge investigating the case told Reuters news agency that Moise was found lying on his back on the floor of his bedroom, with 12 bullet wounds and his left eye pushed in. The front door of the residence was covered in bullet holes and had been forced open, while other rooms were ransacked.

“His body was riddled with bullets,” Petionville Tribunal Judge Carl Henry Destin said. “There was a lot of blood around the corpse and on the staircase.”

A judge investigating the case told Reuters that Moise was found lying on his back on the floor of his bedroom, with 12 bullet wounds and his left eye pushed in [File: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Photo]

Two US law enforcement sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an active investigation, told Reuters that agencies were looking into US connections to the killing.

A State Department spokesperson said, “We are aware of the arrest of two US citizens in Haiti and are monitoring the situation closely. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”

The head of Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and the intelligence director for the National Police will travel to Haiti with Interpol to help with investigations, Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Friday.

“We offer all possible help to find out the truth about the material and intellectual perpetrators of the assassination,” Duque wrote on Twitter, saying he had just spoken on the phone with Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

Investigators in Colombia discovered that 17 of the suspects had retired from Colombia’s army between 2018 and 2020, armed forces commander General Luis Fernando Navarro told journalists on Friday.

Jorge Luis Vargas, director of Colombia’s National Police, said initial investigations had shown that 11 Colombian suspects had travelled to Haiti through the resort city of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Two others travelled via air to Panama, before flying to Dominican capital Santo Domingo and then to Port-au-Prince, Vargas said.

Who’s behind the attack?

Days following the attack, questions continued to swirl in the country over who killed the president and why.

“Foreigners came to the country to perpetrate this crime. We, Haitians, are appalled,” a resident of the capital told the AFP news agency.

“We need to know who is behind this, their names, their backgrounds so that justice can be served,” he added.

Senior police officers, directly responsible for the security of the Haitian president, are in the hot seat and have been summoned to appear before the courts, said Port-au-Prince government commissioner, Bed-Ford Claude.

“If you are responsible for the security of the president, where were you? What did you do to avoid this fate for the president?” Claude said.

Others have speculated on the possible involvement of security agents in the killing, adding to the confusion.

“The president of the republic, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated by his security agents,” former Haitian Senator Steven Benoit said on Magik9 radio on Friday.

“It is not Colombians who killed him. They were contracted by the Haitian state.”

Moise had faced mass protests against his rule since taking office in 2017 – first over corruption allegations and his management of the economy, then against his increasing grip on power.

Moise had himself talked of dark forces at play behind the unrest: fellow politicians and corrupt oligarchs who felt his attempts to clean up government contracts and to reform Haitian politics were against their interests.

The Haitian government declared a 15-day state of emergency on Wednesday to help authorities apprehend the killers but has since urged businesses to open up again.

Moise’s killing sparked confusion about who is now the legitimate leader of the country of 11 million people, the poorest in the Americas.

“The assassination … has provoked a political and institutional vacuum at the highest level of state,” said Haitian opposition politician Andre Michel. “There is no constitutional provision for this exceptional situation.”

The 1987 constitution stipulates the head of the Supreme Court should take over. But there is no one currently in that role. Nor is there a sitting parliament, following the postponement of elections in 2019.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera, Reuters