Haiti’s Assassinated President Faced a Country in Revolt Against His Government
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse — by gunmen who, in the small hours this morning, slew him in his private home — will shock the world. Haiti, after all, has been off the radar since the 2010 earthquake. Haitians, though, won’t have to look far for motives. The president was far too widely believed to be connected to the political violence that has been wracking my country.
Moïse’s constitutional term, moreover, ended February 7, at least in the view of constitutional experts, civil society organizations. and the religious community, including the Catholic church and major Protestant denominations. Yet supported by the OAS, the United Nations, and, especially, the United States, Moïse was able to flout demands for his resignation.
Moïse was able to do so even when more than one million of his countrymen clogged the streets of the capital and the surrounding suburbs and filled the air with cries of “Down with Jovenel!” that happened as recently as March 1, and, according to a report on Voice of America, some reckoned the protests included 3 million Haitians — all demanding democracy and an end to Moïse’s rule.
Apparently, the president had a plan to keep power indefinitely for himself and his PHT, which was known as the “Bald Headed” Party. His first prime minister, out of five in four years, Jack Guy Lafontant, had said that “the party will be in power for 50 years.” Thus, the birth of the gangs, equipped by the government of President Michel Joseph Martelly.
Mr. Martelly was the bald-headed vaudeville singer, who was “elected” in 2011. These gangs were to keep anti-government organizers in check, especially in the shantytowns surrounding Port-au-Prince. The gangs became so efficient that they carried out bloody punitive actions in several neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince. Finally, on December 10, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Jimmy Chérizier, aka “Barbecue,” a gang leader, and two high officials of Mr. Moïse’s administration.
Those sanctions were for the La Saline massacre in November 2018. Barbecue eventually set-up the “G-9 Family and Allies,” which, though registered at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor as a non-profit, was member of the self-styled “Federated Gangs,” under the command of Barbecue. Since July 2019, there’s a warrant for Barbecue’s arrest.
Fighting to expand their territory, since June 1st, two warring gangs in Martisssant and Fontamara, suburbs south of the capital, have caused an exodus of families from their homes. According to the UN, some 10,000 displaced people are staying in a sports center at Carrefour, with relatives and friends in other parts of the city even leaving town to go to other regions.
The gangs operating south of Port-au-Prince have blocked traffic to four departments, as the 10 mini states are called. Part of the Western department, including the capital, is also affected. The bandits have broken into two banks and have cleaned up several businesses in Martissant. Meanwhile, for three days, the gangs raided major food distributing outlets, pillaging them.
Moreover, several police stations in that area were invaded, with some high police officials killed. Needless to say, the Haitian National Police is no match for the heavily armed gangs.
In the violence on June 29, armed bandits went on a killing spree in the Delmas 32 area northeast of Port-au-Prince, mowing down 15. They went on to a middle-class section known as Christ Roi, where two had been targeted: Diego Charles, 33, a journalist of Radio/Television 2000, and Marie-Antoinette “Netty” Duclaire, 32, a popular human rights activist.
Both were savagely gunned down, with seven bullets pumped into Netty. The anger of people, expressed over social networks like WhatsApp, was palpable. Their refrain — “This has got to stop” — was generally picked up by people calling Diego and Antoinette “heroes of democracy” and vowing that they will have not died in vain.
On Tuesday, eight days after this latest carnage, at about the same hour — 1 a.m. — that Diego and Netty were executed, Jovenel Moïse was meeting his fate at his residence in Pèlerin 5, only yards from the home of Monferrier Dorval, the president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, who was assassinated on August 28 last year, around 10 pm. A week or so later, on television, President Moïse blurted out that “three minutes after the lawyer had died, my wife (Martine) had shown me the video.”
Martine was wounded in the attack in which her husband was killed. I had a call this evening suggesting that she has now been flown by hospital plane out of the country. Though lawyers associations of francophone countries have called for an international investigation into the assassination of the eminent jurist, the investigation has been blocked in Port-au-Prince, ostensibly on orders of the president.
Who profits from the crime? That’s often asked in murky situations like the current one. When Mr. Martelly had chosen Moïse to succeed him, they had a gentleman’s agreement whereby Moïse would return him the favor on finishing his term. Lately, the president has been courted by Laurent Salvador Lamothe, Martelly’s former Prime Minister, who believes he’s the savior of Haiti.
Not having “décharge” — that is, a proper discharge of his duties, from Parliament — he can’t run for office. On Monday, President Moïse, using his prerogative of governing by decree since January 2020, had decreed that Ministers and Prime Ministers who served from February 7, 1991, to February 7, 2017 have “décharge”, no doubt clearing the presidential candidacy of the 48-year-old Laurent Lamothe in the announced September 26 general elections.
Moreover, that same Monday, Dr. Ariel Henry, 71, was named, by decree, Prime Minister, tasked, among other things, with “accompanying” the unconstitutional Provisional Electoral Council in organizing the elections together with a disputed referendum on changing the constitution, to provide almost total power to the executive.
The assassination of Jovenel Moïse jeopardizes all plans, even including a new prime minister. As it is, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, who had written a congratulatory note to Dr. Ariel Henry, has re-asumed leadership by making all statements following the announcement of the assassination. He has declared martial law in Haiti.
Ambassador Joseph, formerly Haiti’s envoy to the United States and editor of Haiti Observateur, has been a long-time contributing editor of the Sun.