Haiti Live Updates: News on the Political Crisis After President’s Assassination

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A Haitian-born doctor based in Florida has been arrested as a “central” suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the national police chief suggested at a Sunday news conference that he believes the suspect was plotting to become president.

The doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, is now the third Haitian-born suspect with U.S. ties to be arrested. Other suspects include 18 Colombian men, most of them former soldiers.

The Haitian national police chief, Léon Charles, painted Mr. Sanon as a key figure behind the president’s assassination.

“He arrived by private plane in June with political objectives and contacted a private security firm to recruit the people who committed this act,” the police chief said. The firm, he said, was a Venezuelan security company based in the United States called CTU.

“The initial mission that was given to these assailants was to protect the individual named Emmanuel Sanon but afterwards the mission changed,” Mr. Charles said, implying that Mr. Sanon had meant to install himself as president.

As evidence, Mr. Charles said that Mr. Sanon was the person one of the Colombians contacted after being arrested. During a raid of his home, the authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap, a box of cartridges, two vehicles, six pistol holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets, and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.

The night of the president’s assassination, people who appeared to be arriving to assassinate the president shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation, according to videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the The New York Times.

The D.E.A. has said it was not involved.

The next task in the investigation, Mr. Charles said, is to determine who financed the operation.

Two Americans arrested last week have said that they were not in the room when the president was killed and that they had worked only as translators for the hit squad, according to a Haitian judge who interviewed them. They met with other participants at an upscale hotel in the Pétionville suburb of Port-au-Prince to plan the attack.

The goal was not to kill the president, the two Americans told the judge, but to bring him to the national palace. On Sunday, Mr. Charles said one of the assailants had been given a warrant to arrest the president.

One of the Americans was identified as James J. Solages, 35, who lived in South Florida and previously worked as a security guard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. The other was identified as Joseph Vincent, 55.

Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

A team of American government investigators is ready to begin assisting the investigation into the assassination of Haiti’s president, a senior Pentagon official said Sunday.

While the White House and Pentagon are reviewing the Haitian government’s request for troops to help secure the country, there has been little enthusiasm for sending American soldiers or Marines to the country.

But a team of F.B.I. agents and Department of Homeland Security officials will assist the investigation into last Wednesday’s killing of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary told Fox News.

“I think that’s really where our energies are best applied right now, helping them get their arms around investigating this incident and figuring out who’s culpable, who’s responsible, and how best to hold them accountable going forward,” Mr. Kirby said Sunday.

A senior administration official said: “We are engaged with the Haitian government to learn more about their needs, and we are sending a technical team today to that end. The president will receive a briefing from that team when they return and then make decisions about the way forward.”

In the wake of the assassination, there has been a sense of chaos in some parts of Haiti, with some people gathering at the U.S. Embassy there hoping to leave, and competing political factions vying for control of the government.

Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed Mr. Kirby on whether conditions in Haiti were a matter of national security. While the United States is watching the situation closely, Mr. Kirby said, the American investigative team will be “the best way forward.”

“I don’t know that we’re at a point now where we can say definitively that our national security is being put at risk by what’s happening there,” Mr. Kirby said. “But clearly we value our Haitian partners. We value stability and security in that country.”

The Pentagon was caught off guard by the Haitian request for troops on Friday, but Mr. Kirby’s comments on Sunday showed that a few days later the thinking had not shifted, and if anything had hardened against any new deployment.

The Biden administration has been reviewing troop deployments around the world, and has been intent on continuing the drawdown of American forces from Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Haitian police officers on Saturday entering an area in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where suspects in the assassination are being held.
Credit…Orlando Barria/EPA, via Shutterstock

Haiti was hurtling toward a full-blown constitutional crisis on Sunday, with the interim prime minister and the Senate president both jockeying for control after last week’s assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, has spent days trying to parlay words of support from the United States into the appearance of a mandate to govern. But Mr. Joseph’s legitimacy has been directly challenged by Haiti’s last remaining elected officials, who are trying to form a new transitional government to replace him.

Only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are filled, but eight of the remaining senators have 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 have said that Joseph Lambert, the Senate president, should become the provisional president and that Mr. Joseph’s tenure as prime minister has been automatically ended through the nomination of Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician who was appointed to the position by Mr. Moïse but had not yet been sworn in when the assassination occurred.

On Saturday, Mr. Lambert said 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.

Mr. Joseph has asked the United States to send troops to help stabilize the country, but Biden administration officials have so far shown no sign that they’re eager to send even a limited American force into the midst of civil strife and disorder. The interim prime minister has also asked the United Nations for troops and security assistance.

Both requests are politically fraught in a country with a long history of foreign interventions.

On Saturday, dozens of men, women and children seeking to flee Haiti packed into a courtyard of the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Violence driven by gangs, already a problem before Mr. Moïse’s assassination, has worsened since his death, with many residents afraid to leave their homes.

Elections have been planned for September, but many civil society groups 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.

The sense of chaos has been exacerbated by questions over who was behind the attack on Mr. Moïse’s residence. The authorities have arrested at least 20 people, most of them Colombian former soldiers, but have not shed much light on the plot. Investigators have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning in the coming days.

The mystery grew even murkier on Saturday, as a sister of one of the Colombians accused in the assassination said he had told her that he had not gone to Haiti to kill anyone. Rather, he said, he had traveled there after receiving a job offer to protect a “very important person,” she told The New York Times.

His message came shortly before he himself died in the bloody aftermath of the assassination, one of three people killed in confrontations with the authorities.

Natalie Kitroeff, Julie Turkewitz, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Dan Bilefsky, Catherine Porter, Harold Isaac, Jesus Jiménez, Constant Méheut and Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

A Sunday Mass following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince on Sunday.
Credit…Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters

The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.

A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.

Even his critics were outraged.

“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”

She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.

The authenticity of the pictures could not be independently confirmed, but forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.

“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.

“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.

Photos of dead bodies, left on the streets, are a sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.

The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats the country’s poor in clinics in the city’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said the president’s brutal assassination re-traumatized some of his staff members.

Violence is rampant in the country. One of Father Frechette’s staff members is in an automated wheelchair after a kidnapping attempt against him, he said. Another was attacked with a hammer and left for dead.

“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.

And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.

“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.

Harold Isaac contributed from Port-au-Prince

Haitians asking for asylum in front of the U.S. Embassy on Saturday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials have expressed caution about any deployment to Haiti, reflecting not only the fast pace of events since attackers killed President Jovenel Moïse in his home on Wednesday, but also a broader shift in American attitudes toward military interventions.

While sympathetic to the humanitarian misery and mindful of a potential mass exodus of Haitian refugees like one that occurred in the 1990s, the administration nevertheless shows no immediate enthusiasm for sending even a limited American force into the midst of politically based civil strife and disorder.

The administration has said it will send officials from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Port-au-Prince to assess how they might assist the government’s investigation into the murky circumstances of Mr. Moïse’s killing.

But Pentagon officials were taken off guard by the Haitian request for troops late Friday. While they said it would be reviewed, there is little appetite among senior military leaders to dispatch forces.

“We are aware of the request and are analyzing it,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a telephone interview on Saturday, noting that the request was broad and did not specify numbers or types of forces needed.

One senior administration official put it more bluntly late Friday: “There are no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at this time.”

For President Biden, the prospect of a deployment of American forces amid the chaotic aftermath of the brutal killing runs against his core instinct to consolidate America’s overseas military presence, not expand it. The request from the Haitians came just hours after Mr. Biden delivered remarks defending his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year mission.

For now, Biden officials are focused on other ways to assist Haiti with its security needs short of military forces. That could include stepped up training and assistance for Haiti’s police and military provided by the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.

As the United States showed no signs it would send troops anytime soon, Haiti sent a letter to the United Nations requesting troops and security assistance.

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

Martine Moïse and her husband, President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, in 2017. Ms. Moïse was also shot in the attack at the couple’s residence but was said to be in a stable condition in a hospital in Miami.
Credit…Orlando Barria/EPA, via Shutterstock

An audio recording said to be of Martine Moïse, the widow of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, has urged people to carry on his “battle” in a country long plagued by gang violence and now plunged into a deep institutional crisis.

But some Haitians were questioning the authenticity of the recording, which comes amid a fierce battle for control of the country after Mr. Moïse was assassinated last week.

In the recording, which was posted to Ms. Moïse’s verified Twitter account on Saturday, a woman speaking in Creole says, “I am alive thanks to God, but I lost my husband Jovenel Moïse.”

Ms. Moïse was also shot in last week’s attack at the couple’s residence and was taken to a hospital in Miami for treatment. The Haitian authorities have said that she is out of danger and in stable condition.

In the recording, the voice says, “In the blink of an eye, the mercenaries entered my house and riddled my husband with bullets.”

The New York Times could not immediately confirm that the woman speaking in the message was Ms. Moïse, but the Haitian minister of culture and communications, Pradel Henriquez, told Agence France-Presse that it was.

However, a former Haitian culture minister, Lilas Desquiron, said that she doubted the authenticity of the message because she did not recognize Ms. Moïse’s voice.

The authorities in Haiti have arrested at least 20 suspects in the killing of Mr. Moïse. Eighteen have been identified as Colombians, and two as Haitian Americans.

Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian justice of the peace, said that he had found the body of the president lying on the floor at the foot of his bed, “bathed in blood,” with 12 bullet holes. Two of the presidential couple’s three children were present during the attack and hid together in a bathroom, Mr. Destin added.

The woman in the recording says, “I’m crying, it’s true, but we can’t let the country go astray,” and she denounces mercenaries “who want to assassinate the president’s dream, vision and ideas for the country.”

She does not say who could have sponsored the attack but suggests that those behind the killing “do not want to see a transition in the country.”

In his final year in office, Mr. Moïse faced growing protests, with much of Haiti’s political opposition and civil society believing that his term should have ended in February. But Mr. Moïse refused to resign and clung to power, governing by decree as Parliament ceased to function and the country sank deeper into gang violence.

Joseph Lambert, center left, and President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, center right, at a ceremony in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, in 2018.
Credit…Hector Retamal/Afp

Just days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, a high-stakes battle for control of the country is heating up, and the president of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, is among those jockeying for power.

Although the Haitian Parliament is in a state of dysfunction — with only 10 sitting senators out of 30 because the terms of the other 20 have expired — a majority of the remaining lawmakers on Friday signed a resolution calling for a new government to replace the current interim prime minister, Claude Joseph. They declared that Mr. Lambert, who also has the support of several political parties, should become provisional president.

“He seems to be quite intelligent politically,” Laënnec Hurbon, a Haitian sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, said of Mr. Lambert.

Mr. Lambert, 60, is from the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti. An agronomist by training, he is a seasoned politician who was elected to the lower house of Parliament in 1995, before winning a seat in the Senate in 2006. He is currently in his third term as president of the Senate.

Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had initially been close to the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, whose name means “Bald Headed,” which supported Mr. Moïse as well as his predecessor Michel Martelly. But Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had always managed to ingratiate himself with other parties.

In 2019, Mr. Lambert, who had been passed over for the position of prime minister, announced that he was joining the opposition to Mr. Moïse, according to the newspaper Nouvelliste. As Mr. Lambert rose to the Senate’s presidency in January, he criticized Mr. Moïse’s policies but also said that he wanted to cooperate closely with the president to devise solutions to the country’s problems.

On Friday, a dozen parties from all political stripes signed a “protocol of national accord” backing the Senate’s decision and calling for the installation of Mr. Lambert as interim president within the next 48 hours.

“He always knows in perilous, difficult situations like this one, to make the right speech and therefore to seduce the people,” Mr. Hurbon said of Mr. Lambert, adding that he had been surprised to see such a large coalition of opposition parties backing Mr. Lambert’s bid for power.

The Senate’s resolution on Friday said that Mr. Lambert should become provisional president until January, when a new parliament is elected. It also said that Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, should replace Mr. Joseph, the current interim prime minister.

Lilas Desquiron, culture minister in Haiti from 2001 to 2004, said that Mr. Lambert was “a skilled politician” who was very popular among civil servants.

“He is someone who plays for himself but plays with a lot of intelligence,” she said.

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

Dozens of men, women and children packed into a courtyard of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti for a third day in a bid to flee the country’s worsening political instability after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Some came with packed bags and slept outside the embassy.

“We, Haitian citizens, are in danger,” said Thervil Henrider, a 30-year-old Port-au-Prince resident who was among the petitioners on Saturday. “We live in the state of endless insecurity. Even our president, who was the most guarded man in the country, was a victim of mercenaries.”

“We need to find asylum in the world’s biggest power, the U.S.,” Mr. Henrider said.

The crowd began gathering on Thursday after unsubstantiated rumors circulated on social media that the United States would give out visas to Haitians in need.

Haiti had been gripped by instability well before the assassination, as increasingly powerful armed groups took control of large swaths of cities like Port-au-Prince, the capital. More than 8,000 people fled their homes there to escape the gang violence in the first half of June, according to the United Nations, and local observers say the violence has only worsened since Mr. Moïse’s killing this week.

The U.S. Embassy remained closed on Friday and there was no indication that the United States had begun handing out humanitarian visas on a large scale in Haiti in recent days. The State Department and the U.S. ambassador to Haiti did not respond to requests for comment on the crowd’s demands.

About 700,000 people born in Haiti now live in the United States, according to census records, the equivalent of about 6 percent of Haiti’s entire population. (Not 16 percent, as an earlier version of this item stated.)

After a military coup in Haiti in 1991, more than 10,000 Haitians fled to the United States, where they were allowed entry as asylum seekers under the George H.W. Bush administration.

Milford Milo contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This waterfront villa in Quebec has emerged as a symbol of one of the biggest grievances of many Haitians.
Credit…Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

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 President Jovenel Moïse 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.

Haiti closed its borders and began securing infrastructure after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Credit…Ricardo Rojas/Reuters

The interim prime minister in Haiti has sent a letter to the United Nations requesting troops and security assistance, in addition to the request to the United States for troops to help stabilize the country.

The letter to the United Nations, which was dated July 7 but acknowledged by the international organization on Saturday, said that Haiti needed troops to support the national police in re-establishing security across the country. It highlighted the need to protect crucial infrastructure such as ports, the airport and petroleum terminals.

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

The call for American help has been met with little enthusiasm from the Biden administration, and there were no immediate signs that the United States intended to step in. The request was quickly criticized by intellectuals and members of Haiti’s civil society, who argued that Haitians needed 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 Haiti’s instability, they say.

“The solution to the crisis must be Haitian,” said André Michel, a 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.

Some criticism has focused on the contested legacy of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that intervened in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, which brought cholera to the country. Numerous instances of sexual exploitation and abuse, including of girls as young as 11, were also 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.”

For others, opposition has been rooted in the way that last week’s assassination of President Jovenel 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,” Valérie Jean-Charles of Woy Magazine wrote, “was years of weakening of Haitian institutions and the senseless killings of many Haitians.”

Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, a Haitian organization, spoke with The New York Times on Friday to provide background and analysis on the political and humanitarian situation in his country.

Since 2018, he said, there has been growing insecurity in Haiti as gangs connected to factions of the police and to the governing party have battled one another. Kidnappings and killings have terrorized residents of the capital, Port-au-Prince, he noted.

In June, gang warfare in the Martissant, Fontamara and Delmas neighborhoods of the city displaced some 8,500 women and children, according to a UNICEF report. On one night alone in June, at least 15 people were killed in Port-au-Prince, including the political activist Marie Antoinette Duclaire and the journalist Diego Charles, who were shot dead by attackers on motorbikes, according to reports cited by the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mr. Espérance said that the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, like the killings of other Haitians from across the social spectrum, was the culmination of years of impunity and corruption at the highest levels of power.

“Jovenel Moïse died in the same way as people who are massacred in disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Mr. Espérance said.

Andréa SchmidtJean-Marc Hervé AbelardSarah Kerr and