In the week following the brazen assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the state of the Caribbean country remains exceedingly precarious. While there have since been major developments, countless unanswered questions still linger.
As VIBE previously reported, Moïse was murdered in the early morning hours on July 7 during an attack on his private residence in the lush and mountainous suburb of Pétion-Ville, which is home to many of Haiti’s most affluent citizens and overlooks the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
According to the Miami Herald, on the morning of the attack residents of Pétion-Ville reported seeing men dressed in all black running through the area and hearing high-powered rounds. There were also reports of the use of drones and a grenade going off.
Le Nouvelliste, a local Haitian newspaper citing a local justice of the peace, reported that President Moïse’s body had been hit with 12 bullets. A graphic photo of a man closely resembling Moïse quickly circulated online and on social media. The image shows a man dressed in a white button-down shirt, a navy blue tie, and matching blue slacks with several bullet wounds to his chest and torso. His shirt and pants are drenched in blood, as is the surrounding concrete in which he lay flat on his back. The lifeless body is shoeless and the front zipper of his slacks is unzipped and bloodied leaving many to wonder if he had been castrated. VIBE has not verified the photo.
First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot in the attack and transported to a hospital in southern Florida for treatment. On July 10, a woman said to be the president’s widow posted a voice recording on the First Lady’s verified Twitter account. “In the blink of an eye, the mercenaries entered my home and riddled my husband with bullets … without even giving him a chance to say a word,” recalls the woman in the message. “I am alive, thanks to God.” Le Nouvelliste reported that two of the couple’s children were also home during the attack.
According to Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, based on security camera footage of the attack the assailants posed as agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, however, they were “fake D.E.A.” He went on to say that Moïse’s murder was executed “by well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”
A spokesperson for the State Department backed the Haitian ambassador calling the D.E.A. claims “absolutely false.” Like several other U.S. agencies, the D.E.A. has a long-standing history of operations in Haiti, leading many to believe impersonating federal agents was the perfect way to bypass the president’s security.
“To kill a president today,” said Edmond, “if we allow that to continue, tomorrow they may feel free to go somewhere else and kill another president.”
Enemies On All Sides: Why President Jovenel Moïse Was A Target
Without question, Moïse was a controversial figure. An inexperienced political figure mockingly referred to as “the Banana Man” (he formerly worked as a banana exporter), the late president was accused of being the handpicked puppet of his predecessor Michel Martelly.
Political tensions have risen in recent months across Haiti as opposition leaders argued Moïse, who took office in early 2017, had overstayed his term and demanded that he step down. Meanwhile, the president and his supporters maintained that a chaotic election resulted in a year-long gap and forced his five-year term to start behind schedule.
Moïse approved a decree that limited the powers of courts to audit government contracts and established an intelligence agency that only reported to the president. He also tried to pass a new constitution that would have allowed presidents to seek more terms in office.
On the other hand, the president became a target by making efforts to end monopolies that give profitable contracts to the wealthy and elite. In fact, he knew he was a marked man and even spoke publicly about countless people wanting him dead due to his policies and reforms.
In an interview with The New York Times, Simon Desras, a former senator in Haiti, recalled a speech in which the president predicted that his interference with the contracts of the elites “could be the reason for his death, because they are used to assassinating people and pushing people into exile.”
Up In Smoke: The Hunt For The Killers
Despite the shock and sadness that quickly spread throughout the nation following the assassination of the president, Haitian authorities swiftly sprang into action to track down the killers leading to a fatal gun battle in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Recordings from residents of Pétion-Ville gave a bird’s eye view of billows of smoke taking over the sky as the sound of blaring gunfire and explosions pierced the ears.
“The police are engaged in a battle with the assailants,” said Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, at a news conference later that day. “We are pursuing them so that, in a gunfight, they meet their fate or in gunfight they die, or we apprehend them.”
Charles went on to explain that four suspects were killed by police in an exchange of gunfire and three police officers who had been held hostage were released.
For more than 24 hours the streets of Port-au-Prince remained barren as the combat continued, but in the end, Haitian authorities identified more than two dozen people involved in President Moïse’s assassination.
Near And Far: The Suspected Assailants’ Origins
On July 11, a Haitian-born Florida-based doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was arrested as a key suspect in the assassination. Haitian police chief Charles said he believes Sanon was conspiring to take over as president. “The initial mission that was given to these assailants was to protect the individual named Emmanuel Sanon, but afterwards the mission changed.”
Charles indicated that 63-year-old Sanon is an important figure in the case and played a central role in the plot. “He arrived by private plane in June with political objectives and contacted a private security firm to recruit the people who committed this act,” he stated, explaining that the firm was a Venezuelan security company based in the United States called CTU.
Haitian authorities also said the police found a D.E.A. cap during a raid on Sanon’s home.
In a resurfaced 2011 YouTube video titled “Dr. Christian Sanon – Leadership for Haiti,” the doctor condemns Haitian politicians for robbing the nation of its natural resources and presents himself as a potential leader of the country.
“So what happen to the rest of the people who’s living in poverty?” Sanon asks, continuing, “They’re discouraged. They have no hope. But I want to tell them something—there is a hope coming in. Not that hope, that man, that people been [offering] to them. But I wanna bring them the new hope that they need to have to have a better life.”
At a news conference in Bogotá on July 12, General Jorge Luis Vargas, the chief of the Colombian national police, confirmed the number of detained Colombians had risen to 21, three of whom were killed in combat with Haitian authorities. Colombians make ideal mercenaries because they are often trained by U.S. experts and due to their experience fighting domestic guerrilla groups and drug traffickers.
Officials in the Colombian defense ministry identified 13 suspects by name, all of whom are said to be former members of the Colombian military. General Luis Fernando Navarro said the suspects left the military between about 2002 and 2018 and were involved in “mercenary activities” with “purely economic” motives.
Officials went on to explain some of the accused departed Colombia’s capital city and traveled to Haiti as early as May, flying from Bogotá to Panama to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti. While others arrived in the Dominican Republic throughout the month of June.
Colombian officials have publicly denounced the assault and said they are actively assisting the Haitian government and authorities in catching the culprits.
The other two captured men have been identified as Haitian-Americans James Solages and Vincent Joseph. Solages, 35, is originally from Jacmel, a port town on the south coast of Haiti. According to one of his two LinkedIn profiles, he resides in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and because of his belief in humanity has volunteered for the past six years as the president of FWA SA A JACMEL AVAN, INC, a nonprofit that advocates for “understanding democratic values” and “education empowerment” and seeks to “increase civic engagement.”
Solages is also said to have established a Florida-based charity in 2019. However, the website for the charity went offline on July 8. According to the AP, in his bio on the now-defunct site, Solages referred to himself as a “certified diplomatic agent.” The site also described him as the “Former Chief Commander of Bodyguards for the Canadian embassy in Haiti.”
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada confirmed that Solages was “briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard by a security company hired by Global Affairs Canada in 2010.” But also clarified that the company has not been employed in Haiti since 2010 “as another company was awarded the contract.”
So far, very little is known about 55-year-old Vincent Joseph, other than that he too lives in Florida.
Authorities also learned a reserve of equipment and resources, including cell phones, rental cars, weapons, and money, were secured for the attack. During a press conference on July 8, weapons found in a seized vehicle, along with the captured suspects, many showing visible battle scars, were paraded in front of members of the media and civilians.
Crowds composed of both supporters and opposers of Moïse gathered in the streets of the capital calling for vigilante justice, yelling in Haitian Creole, “Gazolin! Gazolin!”, which translates to “gasoline” in English.
Outside Job: How The Hit Squad Came Together
Following the arrests of the alleged assassins, new details have emerged about the events and timelines leading up to Moïse’s murder. Haitian judicial authorities have since discovered that for roughly three months prominent figures in the hit squad prepared for the attack from within Haiti’s borders. Others arrived within the last month through the bordering country of the Dominican Republic, including Manuel Antonio Grosso Guarín, who was identified by the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on July 9, as a former member of the Colombian army’s elite urban counter-terrorism special forces group.
El Tiempo says it obtained access to a confidential report provided to Haitian authorities, which states that on June 4, Guarín and at least three other former members of the Colombian armed forces arrived by plane in the resort town of Punta Cana.
In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, Judge Clément Noël said that after their arrests, Solages and Joseph claimed: “the mission was to arrest President Jovenel Moïse, in the execution of a warrant from an investigating judge, not to kill him.” In fact, Solages told investigators he found “the job on the internet” and thought he would be working as a translator.
The Precarious And Dangerous State of Haiti’s Government
Soon after the assassination of President Moïse interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who called the killing a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” told The New York Times in a telephone interview that he is currently running the country. However, Joseph, the seventh prime minister in Moïse’s four years in office, was scheduled for replacement that same week after only three months on the job. In fact, just two days prior to the president’s death, he appointed neurosurgeon Ariel Henry to take over the role starting that week. Henry has since told Le Nouvelliste that he is the rightful prime minister of Haiti.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Joseph immediately declared a 15-day “état de siège” or a state of siege across the country, which essentially means Haiti is under martial law. During this time, meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder are forbidden and the police and members of the security forces are permitted to enter homes, control traffic, and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of the president.
The problem is, legally, Joseph is not authorized to declare a state of siege. Only Parliament has this power, however, there is currently no functional Parliament in Haiti.
The conflicting claims of power and political uncertainty have left citizens, diplomats, and experts baffled and concerned about Haiti’s future. Still, Prime Minister Joseph assured the nation, “Democracy and the Republic will win.”