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HAITI THROWN INTO UNCERTAINTY AFTER PRESIDENT’S ASSASSINATION

Haiti

By Alex Pollock

The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, 53, was shot and killed in his private residence, the interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced Wednesday [7 June]. The president’s residence said in a statement that the attack occurred around 1 a.m. and that his wife Martine Moise was also wounded and taken to hospital. Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who is now leading the country, declared a state of siege in Haiti and closed the Port au Prince international airport. (Deutsche Welle)

What is known about the attack?

It appears that several assailants claiming to be US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents accessed the president’s home in the capital and shot and killed him in the early hours of Wednesday morning (7 June). Haitian authorities suspect the assassination was carried out by a 28-member hit squad, made up of several Colombians, Haitians, and Haitian-Americans. However, it is suspected that more individuals played a role in the planning and coordination of the killing. As of 11 July, of those arrested for the crime, 18 are Colombian, three are Haitian, and one is Haitian-American. According to Haitian authorities, five suspects are still at large and at least three others were killed.

Details of the attack and its motive are still being unravelled, but authorities have arrested Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 63-year-old dual American-Haitian citizen, for allegedly coordinating the attack. Authorities claim Sanon was plotting to assume the presidency after Mr Moise was killed. Sanon, who has lived in Florida for the past several years, arrived in Haiti via private plane in June, citing “political objectives” as the reason for his visit. According to authorities, Sanon had hired some of the arrested suspects to be his private security during his stay in Haiti. The security team was recruited from a Venezuelan security firm in the United States. Authorities suspect that the plan to protect Sanon developed into an assassination plot, though Sanon has not offered comment to the media to present his side of the story. Sanon has published videos criticising Mr Moise’s government, including comments claiming that he would be a better fit as the leader of the small island nation.

Colombian officials told journalists in Bogota that they could not comment on the involvement of Colombians in the assassination, and that they supported Haiti’s independent investigation. Colombia has one of the best trained and best-funded militaries in South America, and retired Colombian soldiers are often sought after by private security firms around the world.

Other theories as to who could be responsible for the killing include high-ranking gang members who did not like Mr Moise’s efforts in combatting organised crime; Haiti has several active street gangs and there has been an uptick in gang-related violence recently. Haitian prosecutors are also looking into the possibility that some Haitian security officials were somehow involved in the plot.

Haiti under Jovenel Moise

Mr Moise had led Haiti’s 11 million people since February 2017 after winning elections in 2016. He had been ruling by decree since 2018, after a new round of elections were postponed over several political disputes, one being when Mr Moise’s term should have expired. Haiti’s parliament was dissolved due to the disputes. Many in opposition to Mr Moise claim his rule was illegitimate. Mr Moise went through seven Prime Ministers in four years of power, and mass protests began in 2019 calling for his resignation, throwing Haiti into chaos. Opposition leaders accused Mr Moise of being power-hungry and exploiting the people, claiming that by creating an intelligence service that answers only to the president and limiting the power of the courts to perform audits of public procurement contracts, Mr Moise concentrated too much power in the presidency. Close to 60% of Haiti’s population makes less than $2 a day, and fuel and food shortages have led to increased inflation in the nation that is still dealing with the ramifications of a 2010 earthquake and a 2016 hurricane, both of which caused major damage and loss of life. Mr Moise’s supporters claim his term was fully legitimate, citing a year-long hiatus that included the appointment of a provisional president. A constitutional referendum was scheduled to take place in September over Mr Moise’s attempt at extending the powers of the executive branch. Local, legislative, and presidential elections were also scheduled for September.

Who is now in power?

Mr Joseph assumed the role of Prime Minister after Mr Moise’s death and is running the country with the aid of the military and the police. However, Ariel Henry, who Mr Moise appointed as Prime Minister the day before being killed, claims he is the legal successor. Legislators from Mr Moise’s Tet Kale party support Mr Henry as prime minister, and Joseph Lambert (the former head of Haiti’s senate) as provisional president. Laurent Dubois, a professor at Duke University and Haiti expert, says the political vacuum is one of the country’s greatest concerns. Haiti has only 10 elected officials to govern the 11 million people living there, due to failed attempts at holding parliamentary elections.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

International peacekeepers have been involved in Haiti for years, as the country faced one disaster after another. The most recent United Nations mission to Haiti ended in 2019 after efforts were made to train up locals to try to improve the living situations faced by so many. The 2010 earthquake that killed over 300,000 people sharply increased Haiti’s media coverage, but the nation was already struggling with poverty, corruption, and an unstable government long before then. The natural disasters that shook Haiti further widened the wealth gap as those who did not have money to rebuild continued to slide deeper into poverty. A large Cholera outbreak added another wave of destruction, affecting over 800,000 people. More recently, the political upheaval and COVID-19 pandemic have continued to worsen living conditions in Haiti. Despite the continued social and political upheaval, the gospel is spreading in Haiti. Haiti has a Christian population of around 95%, with 18% of those being evangelical (according to the Joshua Project), however, Christianity is often mixed with traditional voodoo beliefs. This heavy cultural (and subsequent spiritual) influence within the sphere of religion provides some challenges and concerns for the local Church. The Catholic Church has a large presence in Haiti, accounting for just over 70% of Christians. Due to its colonial history, Haitian society has long drawn a parallel between Catholicism and colonialism. Thus, to keep some part of their culture alive, many generations of Haitian Christians continued to mesh traditional beliefs with Christianity, creating a unique, but troublesome religious dynamic.

Following Mr Moise’s assassination, Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders have urged all Haitians to gather in prayer for their country, a call that hundreds of Haitians have responded to. Just hours after the announcement of Mr Moise’s death, several hundred people gathered at church services around the country to pray through the power struggle that would ensue following the president’s death.

“Facing this situation, we will not be discouraged. You must stay and fight for peace,” said Father Edwine Sainte-Louis during a televised sermon. Father Sainte-Louis’ message was echoed by other religious leaders who spoke about the importance of togetherness despite an uncertain future.

As Haiti is starting to see the fruit of the gospel being shared following the 2010 and 2016 disasters, the Church can remain hopeful that this current season of uncertainty will also produce much fruit as the local Haitian Church continues to stand together in prayer and dialogue.

Join us in prayer for the following:

  • For a peaceful resolution to the political disputes in Haiti
  • For the truth of the gospel to be shared, free of any harmful cultural influences
  • For local believers to continue to share the gospel despite difficult circumstances

 

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Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

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