Haiti, Jovenel Moïse and a fraught future

By Max Malone

Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s President, was assassinated on July 7th in an attempted coup. Moïse’s rule was contentious but stable since his election in 2016. Claims of corruption, rigged elections and the use of violence to terrorise the public haunted his term in office, but his sole rule of the country was the only form of government action during the pandemic. His death casts a long shadow of worry over the country’s future.

Logically, the next question is: who benefits from his death? The evidence suggests there are two possible scenarios around the murder:

1) The Haitian diaspora launched a coup to replace Moïse in response to his corruption, killing him in the process.

2) Forces within the Haitian government, with American support, killed Moïse to take power.

Moïse was hated by the Haitian diaspora in America, and every stop on his 2015 state visit had more protesters than attendants. The visit was before Moïse’s rule as President, which saw his undemocratic tendencies, outbreaks of political violence, and economic turmoil resulting from the ineffective response to the pandemic, only worsen. All this further harmed the diaspora’s view of him.

Haiti has a history of parts of the government overthrowing the President

They possibly hired the now-arrested Colombian mercenaries based in Miami and sent two Haitian-Americans with them to act as translators. Using mercenaries is typical of coups organised by private interests, such as in the Wonga Coup in Equatorial Guinea, further evidencing this theory. The Haitian police claim that the mercenaries contacted influential Miami-Haitian Christian Emmanuel Sanon (who had flown from America by private jet with his own security detail) after the killing. This places him as an organiser of the plot and potentially the chosen replacement for the President. This evidence suggests that the assassination was part of an attempted coup on behalf of the diaspora.

While this might appear to be a motive and means tying up the assassination with a neat little bow, there are lingering questions. How did the mercenaries get to the President without harming any of the 24 armed guards? Why are Haitian government officials and members of the President’s security team being sought by police? And why do the mercenaries have links to the US government? These questions lead to the conspiratorial possibility that this was an attempted coup d’etat on behalf of the recently removed Prime Minister Claude Joseph, or some other major figure in the Moïse regime.

Haiti has a history of parts of the government overthrowing the President. In 2005, President Aristide was ousted by the army and alleged that the US government was involved. Given that Moïse’s guards were left unharmed by the assassins, this suggests figures in the President’s inner circle such as Claude Joseph could have been involved. The investigation of Moïse’s security chiefs shows the same suspicion on the ground.

What is clear is that Haiti’s lacklustre pandemic response will not be helped by a decapitated government

A coup d’etat would need the backing of Washington to succeed as America has in the past intervened in Haiti to reverse coups. This backing could have existed through the fact that the mercenaries were trained in America and based in Miami, and one of the mercenaries was a DEA informant.

It is unclear why Washington would want to remove Moïse. He did have sanctions against his regime for his treatment of protesters, but America has maintained closer relationships with dictators more vicious and less co-operative than him.

The picture remains unclear, and there are details about the assassination yet to emerge even some weeks on. What is clear is that Haiti’s lacklustre pandemic response will not be helped by a decapitated government.

Although deadlock has been avoided between Joseph and his replacement Ariel Henry over who will assume the presidency, the situation does not look bright for the Henry government. A potential spike in cases caused by the inflow of UN peacekeepers requested by Joseph, and the prospect of elections in the next year or two, which the recent past shows are unlikely to be calm and peaceful, are storms on the horizon. It is safe to say this could not have happened at a less opportune moment for Haiti, and will likely spell a return to the periodic unrest haunting the country.

Image: Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons

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