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6 Things You Need to Know About The Assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse

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Haitian President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference in Port-au-Prince. March 2, 2020. Credit: AP

On Wednesday, around 01:00 local time (12:00 AM CST), heavily armed assassins stormed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s home in the hills above Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The president’s office and bedroom were ransacked, according to the magistrate, his body bound, his eyes removed, his frame riddled with bullet wounds. First Lady Martine Moïse, 47, was also injured in the attack. She was later flown to Florida where she remains in critical but stable condition. She has since then released a statement. President Moïse, 53, died at the scene.

Port-au-Prince Police Chief Leon Charles described a dramatic confrontation between police forces and the alleged assassins shortly after the attack. “We blocked [the suspects] en route as they left the scene of the crime, since then, we have been battling with them.” Haitian ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, later confirmed that more than 20 mercenaries had been arrested, telling an NTN24 channel reporter, “They were paid for this job of coming to assassinate the president and we hope that they will reveal for whom it was they were working.”

Suspects in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who was shot dead early Wednesday at his home, are shown to the media, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 8, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Estailove St-Val

Of the arrests, which almost exclusively included Columbian nationals and retired military members, two American citizens were also identified. 35-year-old James Solages and 55-year-old Joseph Vincent were arrested in connection with the assassination following a tense stand-off that took place inside the Taiwanese Embassy, where several suspects took a guard hostage and attempted to seek shelter. Both insist that they were not in the room at the time Moïse was killed, but admit to working as translators for the hit squad. Solages reportedly told a judge that he found the gig in an online ad, but was promised that President Moïse would be arrested, not harmed in the heist.

Video surveillance released after the shooting shows heavily armed men dressed in black outside the Port-au-Prince home shouting in English: “DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] operations, everybody stay down!” Haitian activists insist that the assassination was brought about by western interests and ongoing interference in Haiti’s political processes, but Moïse’s remaining cabinet members refute the claim and have called upon the US government to offer interventions.

President Moïse’s time in office was marked by unending civil uprisings, dating back to his initial appointment in November 2016. Citizens and political opposition expressed suspicions of a rigged election and questioned Moïse’s rise to power, arguing that a win of 500,000 votes in a country of 11 million hardly constituted the will of the people. Shortly after Moïse took office in February 2017, the country would fall into a frenzy as protests citing Moïse’s perceived misuse of power began to spread. Despite running on an anti-corruption campaign, many say Moïse’s leadership made matters worse. Homicides increased significantly. Hunger concerns across the country grew. Kidnappings surged upwards of 200%, forcing schools to close their doors. Gang violence not only increased, but an even more vicious gang known as G9 surfaced, terrorizing innocent civilians on Moïse’s watch, and many would argue on his dime.

Ex-cop and G9 leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier. Credit: Haitian Times

Believed to be a coalition of the most dominant Haitian street gangs militarized under one local leader and former police officer named Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, G9 quickly gained a reputation for violence so severe, so widespread, it’s rare to find anyone who hasn’t personally suffered it to some extent. In November of 2018, G9 stormed the opposition held neighborhood of La Saline after residents held week-long protests against Moïse, killing more than 71 people during a 4-day rampage, a rampage local police never reported to. Over 400 homes were burned and mass rape was carried out on the women and girls residing in the township. Men, women, and children were tortured and killed, their bodies dragged into streets, burned, dismembered, and fed to pigs and dogs. Elderly residents were tortured and tossed from the top of homes and buildings, many bodies remain unrecovered. Among the dead was a 4-year-old girl shot in the head in her mother’s arms, according to authorities.

The United States government sanctioned Cherizier, along with two members of Moïse’s administration for planning the massacre and supplying G9 with the weapons to carry out the attack; Fednel Monchery and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan. Other officials named in the report as being involved in the La Saline massacre; Haiti’s First Lady Martine Moïse, Roudolphe Saint Albin, then minister of the interior, Dr. Greta Marie Greta Roy Clement, then minister of public health and population, and William Cheng-hao Hu, then Taiwan Ambassador to Haiti. However, Moïse and the accused denied any wrongdoing, and arrests were never made. There would be more massacres carried out by G9 during Moïse’s presidency, local activists say more than 10 total, to date the number of lives lost is unknown.

Fednel Monchery, Haiti’s ex-general director of the ministry of the interior and local authorities, was one of the three men sanctioned by the United States for orchestrating the 2018 La Saline massacre. Credit: Haiti’s Ministry of Communication

Not only were citizens concerned that President Moïse had been funding local gangs, but it was also believed that police and state security forces had become militarized against civilians as well. While Moïse’s presidency officially ended on February 7th, 2021, the sitting president would announce that he would govern an additional twelve months, whether the people supported the plan or not. Moïse believed that because he took office in 2017 as opposed to at the time of his win in 2016, that this gave him the right to rule another year. Not so. Not only did this violate Haiti’s original constitution written in 1987, but it also violated Haiti’s amended constitution written in 2012. Moïse saw a simple solution to this little legal problem; write a third constitution.

In anticipation of this new constitution, Moïse began forcefully ending terms for members of parliament before finally dissolving the entire legislative body altogether. He began removing judges and announcing new appointees in anticipation of his additional 12-months in office; he even proposed an end to four-year presidential terms. Unsurprisingly, under the new constitution, Moisë wouldn’t be at the end of his tenure at all. Even more alarming, Moïse’s new constitution would provide political immunity for both the president and his appointees in the event of any criminal prosecution. Citizens grew more and more alarmed at the idea that Moïse, with the backing of the US government, might never relinquish the office of the president back to the democratic process of the Haitian people. In other words, Moïse had all the makings of a dictator.

Josue Ronald Dufresne: Facebook

On February 14th, 2021, demonstrations around the country counted over 100,000 Haitian citizens pouring through the streets of Port-au-Prince to denounce Moïse’s refusal to hold elections or leave office, and the US-UN occupation in support of both his decisions. Police and military forces met protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, arrests, and assaults, escalating the encounter between citizens and police to the point of guerrilla war. During the protest, 30-year-old Joseu Ronald Dufresne, a moto-taxi driver and the leader of the taxi driver union, was shot as he slowly made his way on motor-taxi through the protest to pick up a passenger.

Police forces then proceeded to light Dufrene’s body and motor bike on fire, which was captured and televised by local media. They later took Dufresne’s remains and placed them in a shallow grave, refusing to assist the family of the deceased in recovering the body for proper burial rights. It would take Dufresne’s bereaved mother a week to recover her son’s remains; he is survived by five children.

Later that same day, Vice investigative reporters caught up with Moïse on the other side of the country in the city of Port-de-Paix as he celebrated Carnival. When asked about the death of Josue Dufresne, Moïse responded, “As the President, I’m the first person to protect lives, families — to protect everybody. We’ve seen thousands of these protests over the last four years. Change isn’t easy. The protests you’re talking about are normal.” He continued. “This is a democracy.”

David Oxygène, Haitian Political Activist

“Jovenel Moïse is in power, under the control of American imperialism. They’ve attacked our culture, voodoo, the spirit of our ancestors, and they spit on the memory of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. I have no message for Joe Biden. Joe Biden’s policy so far is an American policy. Joe Biden is a Democrat. Donald Trump is a Republican. But how are their policies different? They have the same policy towards Haiti. They both support Jovenel.”

David Oxygène, Haitian Political Activist

It shouldn’t shock anyone that the Western world has its hands in Haiti and has for quite some time now, and yes, that includes the United States government. After announcing his intention to remain in power and launching a campaign to crackdown against any opposition, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price released a statement signaling Biden’s backing for Moïse. Despite civil unrest, cries of corruption and violence, and a continual decline in the quality of life for the Haitian people documented in countless investigative reports, millions of US dollars continued to go towards funding and fueling Moïse’s reign.

Well known perpetrators like Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, mass murderer and leader of the G9, were permitted to peruse the country with impunity despite the issuance of multiple arrest warrants; keeping tabs on townships previously terrorized by G9 forces, retraumatizing the survivors, and establishing a system of silence and submission. Yet, on October 5th, 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres credited the G9 headed by Cherizier with reducing homicides across the country, literally while the G9 was carrying out another massacre, murdering residents of a town called Bele and ransacking and burning their homes.

Jimmy Cherizier walks as residents chant, ‘Barbecue for life,’ in his neighborhood in Lower Delmas, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti in May 2019 Credit: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Photo

Citizens say this is nothing new. Haitian political activists like David Oxygène say citizens have long been at the mercy of the self-serving interests of men in power and their willingness to cave to the calls of the West. During the 2018 Brazil-Belgium World Cup Game, the Haitian government silently raised fuel prices by estimates of 40%, terminating fuel subsidies which had previously kept prices palatable for the average Haitian, who earns on average $2 a day. Moïse and his administration made the decision as early as February, but suspicions that the announcement would not be well-received led them to keep quiet.

Instead of announcing this decision ahead of the soccer match, or even exploring other avenues available for the purposes of satisfying the loan requirements, which there were others, they adjusted prices ten minutes into playtime while Haiti’s citizens remained distracted by the big dance. Moïse believed that Brazil, a team near and dear to the hearts of many Haitians, would come out of the World Cup victorious, leaving citizens so overjoyed that they’d simply overlook the increase. Unfortunately for Moïse, Brazil lost.

Protesters barricade a street in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville on Saturday, July 7, 2018, to protest the increase in fuel prices. Hector Retamal Credit: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Less than 5-minutes after the game ended, many took to the streets in protest, shocked to find a 38% increase on gas, a 47% increase on diesel, and a 51% increase on kerosene, which many of Haiti’s impoverished citizens use to light their homes. When asked to explain the increase, Moïse offered that the International Monetary Fund or IMF had agreed to make a $96 million low-interest loan to Haiti, but that the loan came with quite a few stipulations. In exchange for the funding, Haiti agreed to institute several reforms, including raising fuel prices, which the IMF argued almost exclusively benefitted Haiti’s wealthy and was costing the country about $160M in annual uncollected revenues. Even after the violence ensued, the IMF remained adamant that the price hike was still a stipulation for the funding, stating that they stood by Moise’s recalculation of the fuel prices, but not his swift implementation.

Now, a change this drastic would be devastating in any developing country, let alone one where over 60% of the population lives in poverty. Activists say this agreement is a prime example of how Haitians continue to fall victim to the will of the West and its political appointees in the country. Under former Haitian President René Préval, another politician favored by Western governments, the United Nations occupied Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010. During the 13 year occupation by UN peacekeepers, the country cried out about the gross mistreatment many received at the hands of the UN soldiers, but Préval turned a blind eye.

UN soldiers control Haitians queuing for aid at a distribution point outside of the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince two weeks after the earthquake, on Jan. 25, 2010. Credit: Thony Bélizaire/AFP

Accounts of rape, molestation, sexual exploitation, and sexual assault soared, along with a cholera outbreak that claimed 100,000 lives. UN peacekeepers fathered and abandoned hundreds of children, leaving girls as young as 11 to battle single parenthood, poverty, and intense social ostracism. To date, none have been brought to justice for these crimes. More recently, President Moïse stood before the UN and thanked them for their response to the 2010 earthquake, hardly mentioning the unpaid compensation that many argue the victims of these UN violations are due.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2010 Credit: AP

Billions in relief funds were raised by The Clinton Foundation, who promised the Haitian people that in collaboration with the Haitian government, devastated communities would be restored. To date, the Clinton Foundation has built a whopping three homes with the billions they raised. When asked in an interview with Al Jazeera to speak to the seemingly repetitive disregard with which the Haitian people are treated, and to give an account as to whom would hold these entities accountable, Moïse replied by saying that these things took time, which was exactly why he needed another year in office, to right the many wrongs against the people of Haiti and peacefully move the country forward; something many other Haitian politicians have promised. There are countless examples of Western officials, political and philanthropic organizations, and government entities exercising an immense amount of control and power over the lives of the Haitian people, all while profiting from the pillage that remains in the wake.

It is currently unclear who will succeed Moïse. According to the existing Haitian constitution(s), the president of the Supreme Court would typically be called upon in the President’s place. Unfortunately, Supreme Court President Rene Sylvestre died last week of an unrelated illness. An alternative would be for interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph to take control, but according to the constitutions, this ruling could only be approved by Haiti’s parliament, which Moïse disbanded in January 2020, before announcing his intent to rule by decree. There are also talks that Moïse’s most recent appointee for Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, is who should be in control of the country. Unfortunately, Avery was never sworn into office and the constitution says only parliament can confirm political appointments.

Another less popular option would be more of a political power move made by the remaining 10 members of Haiti’s 30-member Senate and would call on the Senate leader Joseph Lambert to step in as interim President. While some political party leaders support this vote, many say that a vote by so few senators carries little to no weight. As it stands, the US government and UN have both recognized Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who on Friday called upon the US to deploy troops to assist in stabilizing the country. A senior Biden administration official told reporters there were “no plans to provide US military assistance at this time.” This serves as a surprise to many who see the situation in Haiti as a humanitarian crisis, being that the US government has made restoring democracy around the world the unofficial motto for the US military. In a press conference, Joseph claimed control of the country, declaring a two-week state of siege, which puts the army in charge of restoring peace, limits freedom and access to information, and denies citizen’s the right to gather.

Haitian citizens outside the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Saturday.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse Credit: Getty Images

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, hundreds of men, women, and children have packed outside of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and proceeded to sleep in the courtyard. Crows began gathering on Thursday after rumors swirled on social media that the United States government was giving out visas to Haitians in need. The U.S. Embassy remained closed as of Friday, July 9, 2021, and there was no indication that the U.S. intended to distribute humanitarian visas to Haitians seeking asylum. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti and the State Department have yet to release statements. The future of Haiti remains unknown.

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