Haitian authorities are searching for more suspects in last week’s killing of President Jovenel Moise, as the country grapples with mounting political uncertainty and many outstanding questions following the assassination.
Police have issued warrants for five fugitives they say are believed to be “armed and dangerous”, including former Haitian senator John Joel Joseph, ex-government official Joseph Felix Badio and businessman Rodolphe Jaar.
The authorities have arrested 18 Colombians and three Haitians, including two dual US-Haitian nationals, accused of forming a gang of mercenaries that opened fire on Moise and his wife, Martine Moise, at their home in Port-au-Prince in the early hours of July 7.
The alleged mastermind of the operation, a US-based Haitian doctor named Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was also arrested this week.
But many questions remain unanswered, including what the motive of the attack was, and Moise’s death has worsened already deep political uncertainty in the country.
Moise was widely criticised for failing to stem surging gang violence, for his alleged involvement in corruption, for ruling by decree for over a year, and for spurring a constitutional crisis after he refused to leave the presidency in February.
Opposition groups, civil society activists and legal experts all said his term expired at that time, but Moise insisted he had another year.
Since his death, three Haitian politicians have vied for the leadership as many state institutions are not functioning and the constitution is unclear about who should take over.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph claimed authority but that has been challenged by two other senior politicians, Prime Minister-designate Ariel Henry and Senate President Joseph Lambert.
Joseph said this week that he formed a committee composed of several government ministers to organise funeral proceedings for Moise.
“The government currently has two priorities: pursuing the investigation to give justice to the president’s family and organising a national funeral for the president,” said Joseph, who ordered a 15-day “state of siege” as well as several days of national mourning after Moise was killed.
Joseph has remained vague about progress in the criminal investigation into the assassination, calling the matter “very sensitive”.
Meanwhile, Joseph’s call last week for the US and United Nations to send troops to Haiti to safeguard critical infrastructure has been met with opposition from Haitian civil society leaders, who say any solution to the current crises must be Haitian-led.
Rights activists have also rejected a push by the US and other international actors for Haiti to hold general elections later this year.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke to the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro and stressed Washington’s “commitment to working with the OAS and our international partners to help Haitian institutions restore security and to pave the way for free and fair legislative and presidential elections in 2021”.
Leading Haitian human rights advocate Pierre Esperance on July 9 urged US President Joe Biden to take a different approach to the country than his predecessors, however.
“In the current state of insecurity in Haiti, the Biden administration must work to create the conditions in which we, the Haitian people – not the United States and the international community – can decide the future of our country, strengthen our democracy, and guarantee our basic human rights,” Esperance wrote in a column for website Just Security.
“We don’t want other countries to impose a government on us,” Port-au-Prince resident Jose Maslin, 55, told Reuters, standing beneath a highway overpass in the capital’s western Delmas neighbourhood.
That was echoed by 39-year-old Judithe Volcy, who told the news agency that foreign troops would be unable to solve Haiti’s deeper problems.
“Look, Haiti’s economy is in horrible shape. Everything is so expensive. So many people just leave for the countryside, or those with money, leave for other countries,” she said.
Haiti has also seen a recent surge in coronavirus infections, which the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday warned could get worse as thousands of people have taken refuge in shelters due to continuing violence.
“Crowded shelters could become active hotspots for COVID transmission,” Carissa Etienne said during a news briefing. “Limited supplies and violence are also hindering the ability of health workers to safely care for patients in need. PAHO along with other partners is committed to supporting the Haitian people in these uncertain times.”