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Haitian President’s Assassination: First Lady Accused, Prime Minister Under Scrutiny, Country in Chaos

The assassination of the Haitian president, which transpired more than two years ago, has engendered novel developments that have profoundly startled the global community. First Lady Martine Moise, who miraculously survived the assault, stands accused of complicity in her husband’s murder, as per an indictment clandestinely disclosed to the press.

In July 2021, a band of Colombian mercenaries brazenly breached the sanctum of the Haitian Presidential Palace, perpetrating the heinous slaying of the 53-year-old Haitian President, Jovenel Moise, who succumbed to gunfire, while Martine sustained grave injuries.

Martine avowed in her affidavit that she sought refuge beneath the bed in the boudoir, narrowly evading the clutches of death. However, the indictment impugned the veracity of her testimony, contending that the aperture between the bed and the floor was so minute that not even a sizable rodent could traverse it. Furthermore, the indictment embraced the deposition of Badio, one of the principal architects of the conspiracy, apprehended in 2023. Badio attested that, in a bid to supplant Moise as president, Martine, along with former Prime Minister Claude Joseph and accomplices, conspired to orchestrate his demise. Nonetheless, the dossier fails to furnish any direct evidence implicating Martine in the assassination.

According to media accounts, Judge Walter Voltaire, presiding over the trial, initiated proceedings against 51 individuals, including Martine and Joseph, and issued warrants for their arrest.

Martine presently resides in seclusion within the confines of the United States. She has previously decried the unjust detention and political persecution meted out against her across social media platforms. In an interview with the press, Joseph asseverated that Moïse’s de facto successor, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, reaped the lion’s share of benefits from the assassination, and currently orchestrates a “classic coup” through the Haitian judicial apparatus to suppress dissenters.

A spokesperson for Henry’s office refuted claims of interference in the investigation, asserting that Judge Voltaire exercises unfettered autonomy to issue decrees in accordance with the law and his conscience.

Since Moïse’s assassination, the situation in Haiti has precipitously deteriorated. Gangs have seized control of significant swathes of the capital, Port-au-Prince, perpetrating widespread violence, and abducting multitudes. Following the expiration of the terms of Haiti’s legislative incumbents, the Caribbean nation has plunged into disarray, bereft of a president or any duly elected officials.

An assassination enshrouded in intrigue

Despite a protracted investigation spanning two and a half years, the circumstances surrounding Moïse’s murder remain veiled in mystery. A prominent Haitian entrepreneur once likened the case to an “Agatha Christie novel,” rife with a plethora of suspects.

The assassination unfolded at approximately 1 a.m. on July 7, 2021, as 20 assailants armed with high-caliber weaponry breached the confines of the presidential palace. Though the premises boasted a complement of 30 to 50 guards, most were conspicuously absent or offered negligible resistance. The marauders effortlessly infiltrated the chamber wherein the Moises sought refuge, callously perpetrating their act of violence without explication. Moise sustained a dozen gunshot wounds, his countenance, limbs, and torso riddled with bullet perforations, while Martine endured grievous injuries, her elbow and forearm nearly shattered by gunfire.

Per Martine’s subsequent recollections shared with the media, following the assault, she lay prone upon the floor, feigning lifelessness. She overheard one of the assailants placing a phone call on-site, describing Moise’s physical attributes, seemingly corroborating the target’s identity. Subsequent to terminating the call, the assailant dispatched Moise with a fatal shot.

Martine further recounted overhearing the group rummaging through containers, ostensibly in search of pertinent documents. Conversing in Spanish, they remarked, “It’s not this, it’s not this… it’s found, this is it.”

In the months preceding his demise, Moïse undertook an overhaul of customs, nationalized a seaport notorious for smuggling activities, decommissioned an airstrip utilized by traffickers for narcotics transport, and launched an inquiry into the eel trade, suspected of serving as a conduit for money laundering. A probe by The New York Times revealed that prior to his assassination, Moise had been compiling a roster of political and business figures implicated in Haiti’s narcotics trade, intending to furnish relevant documentation to the U.S. government. Individuals involved in drafting the dossier asserted that Moise instructed them to spare no one, including the power brokers instrumental in his ascent to power.

In 2016, Moïse ascended to the presidency with the backing of former President Michel Martelly, colloquially dubbed Moïse’s “godfather” by locals. Absent Martelly’s patronage, Moïse would have remained a relatively obscure entrepreneur overseeing a modestly successful banana plantation.

Insiders acquainted with the situation disclosed that the Martelly family frequently berated Moise, wielded influence over his appointments, and scrutinized his decisions. Furthermore, Moise unearthed evidence implicating Dimitri Gelard, the head of the presidential palace’s police force, in clandestine surveillance activities on behalf of Martelly’s kin.

In February 2021, Herard thwarted a coup against Moise and earned the latter’s trust. This thwarted coup also prompted Moïse to shift from defense to offense, instigating the aforementioned inquiry into drug and weapons trafficking. Shortly thereafter, upon Moïse’s directive, an airport utilized for drug shipments was obliterated, while Herard’s forces permitted armed assailants to breach the sanctum of the presidential palace.

As per an investigation by Haitian authorities, no sentinels sustained injuries that fateful night save for Moïse and his consort. There exist sundry indications suggesting that this was an assassination plot “orchestrated from within.” Martina further divulged to the press that when marauders besieged the presidential palace, Moise beckoned for Hélar and another security functionary to aid, yet aid never arrived.

Seasoned Haitian officials privy to the investigation disclosed that some apprehended perpetrators had confessed during interrogations that locating the list Moise had been compiling was their foremost objective.

Two days prior to Moïse’s assassination, it was proclaimed that Ariel Henry would ascend to the position of prime minister, supplanting Claude Joseph, who had occupied the post for scarcely three months. The French publication “Le Monde” highlighted Henry’s intimate association with Martelly, attributing the premiership to the latter’s imposition upon Moise.

Police scrutiny revealed that Badio, one of the ringleaders of the assassination, had engaged in no fewer than 12 telephonic conversations with Henry before and after the incident. On the morning of the assassination, the two conversed on the phone for nearly 7 minutes. Henry professed to have forgotten the substance of those discussions.

In September 2021, Haiti’s chief prosecutor Béde-Four Claude recommended that the judge prosecute Henry and impede his departure from the country; subsequently, Henry relieved Claude of his duties citing grave administrative lapses. Henry has consistently repudiated any complicity in the murder.

Certain analysts posit that recently leaked reports suggest Henry is exploiting the case to persecute political adversaries and absolve himself and his confederates from suspicion.

“If Moïse was maneuvering on multiple fronts—entangling with gangs, political dynasties, and the island’s oligarchy—then the pool of potential conspirators is so vast that attributing blame to any one individual becomes arduous,” remarked Haitian sociologist Nixon Boumba.

Gideon Jean, head of the Haitian Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, asserted to the media, “Judge (Voltaire) conducted a perfunctory investigation. His efforts were exceedingly circumscribed and failed to delve into the motive behind the assassination and the backers of the assailants.”

Given that the perpetrators of the crime were operatives of a security firm in Florida, the United States initiated a parallel inquiry into the matter. Presently, the U.S. Department of Justice has brought federal charges against 11 men implicated in conspiring to assassinate Moise. Six of them have entered guilty pleas, while the remaining five will face trial in May of this year. Martina is slated to testify in Florida at that time.

According to media accounts, attorneys representing several defendants in the U.S. federal case have asserted that based on the evidence at their disposal, the U.S. Department of Justice does not deem Martina complicit in her husband’s demise. Martina’s legal representative informed the press that his client had furnished an initial statement to Haitian investigators but declined subsequent inquiries in Haiti citing security concerns. Moreover, he disclosed that U.S. federal prosecutors had advised Martina against discussing the assassination prior to her testimony in court.

“Caribbean Abyss”

Haiti is a nation long beset by calamity and political tumult.

Following the overthrow of French colonial dominance in 1804, Haiti emerged as the globe’s inaugural black-governed republic. However, it was coerced into disbursing tens of billions of dollars in indemnities to France, a debt that endured for 122 years.

The United States assumed control of Haiti in 1915, commandeering its fiscal affairs until the culmination of World War II. Thereafter, under the aegis of the United States, the Duvalier dynasty enforced autocratic dominion over Haiti for decades. From 2005 to 2017, United Nations peacekeeping contingents were deployed in Haiti to ensure the completion of full presidential tenures. Prior to 2007, five of Haiti’s seven presidents had been deposed.

Moise, who ascended to power in 2016, has also governed ineptly. Within a year of assuming office, Haiti witnessed widespread street demonstrations, demanding Moise’s resignation. Protesters lamented the surge in inflation since his assumption of power and accused him of misappropriating billions earmarked for the PetroCaribe initiative. Confronted with escalating public discontent, Moise opted to quell it through collaboration with criminal syndicates. Subsequently, he suspended elections and has since ruled by decree.

Following Moïse’s assassination, the privileged class fled Haiti. Henry emerged triumphant from the political turmoil, assuming de facto leadership over Haiti’s fragmented and feeble administration. Concurrently, the influence of criminal syndicates burgeoned, accompanied by a surge in violence.

Presently, there exist seven prominent gang coalitions operating within Haiti. Their clashes over territorial dominance are frequent, extortion and abduction cases rampant, and drug trafficking pervasive.

As per estimates by Haitian law enforcement authorities, at least 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince is under firm gang control. In these precincts, gangs wield authority as the arbiters of justice. Haitian scholar Jean Marie-Tedot depicts, “Gangs and malevolent forces have seized dominion over the capital, rendering Haiti a vortex of darkness.”

Haiti’s constitution mandates that an election must be conducted within 120 days of a presidential vacancy. While Henry’s term expires in November 2021, he has recurrently postponed elections. Furthermore, the mandates of representatives and local officials elected in 2016 have lapsed. The media characterizes Haiti as being engulfed in chaos, with “no head of state, no legislative assembly, and no municipal leadership.”

Owing to incessant gang warfare, escalating destitution, and successive election deferments, violent protests have erupted anew in Haiti in early February, demanding Henry’s resignation. Demonstrators barricaded roads with incinerated tires, vandalized establishments and government edifices, and clashed with armed law enforcement.

In a national address, Henry implored for calm among the populace. He pledged to organize elections expeditiously upon resolution of Haiti’s security quandaries and asserted his commitment to collaborate with all factions endeavoring to propel the nation forward “in collective decision-making to extricate ourselves from the crisis.”

According to United Nations data, the tally of individuals impacted by violence in Haiti surged to 1,108 in January of this year, more than doubling compared to the same period last year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Türk, cautioned that Haiti’s already dire human rights predicament is deteriorating further, with escalating gang violence wreaking havoc on Haitians. Türk underscored that while ameliorating the security landscape is imperative to disrupting the cycle of crises in Haiti, enduring stability can only be realized through addressing the underlying causes of poverty, social and economic inequity, and corruption.

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