U.S. mulls Haiti’s request for troops following president’s assassination

The United States is still reviewing a request for troops made by Haiti’s interim prime minister Claude Joseph to help secure key infrastructure after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a White House spokesperson said Monday.

Jen Psaki said Haiti’s political leadership remains unclear and that it was vital for the country’s leaders to come together to chart a united path forward.

Moïse was shot dead early on Wednesday at his Port-au-Prince home by what Haitian authorities describe as a unit of assassins formed of 26 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans. Haitian police said on Sunday they had arrested another key suspect.

The death of the president has plunged the troubled country into deeper turmoil, and U.S. officials travelled there on Sunday to assess the situation and meet three politicians who have staked competing claims to take charge.

“What was clear about their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership,” Psaki said at a news briefing.

Haitians in parts of Port-au-Prince were planning protests this week against the interim prime minister and acting head of state, according to social media posts.

Joseph’s right to lead the country has been challenged by two other senior politicians: Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry and Senate President Joseph Lambert.

Police stand guard under an overpass in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Monday. Interim Haitian authorities have requested U.S. military help following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday. (Fernando Llano/The Associated Press)

Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said the U.S. delegation held a joint meeting with the three men.

During the talks, the U.S. representatives encouraged open and constructive dialogue to reach an agreement to enable Haiti to hold free and fair elections, Horne said.

Arrest deepens plot mystery 

On Sunday, Haitian police said they had detained one of the suspected plot masterminds, 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian man whom authorities accuse of hiring mercenaries to oust and replace Moïse. 

Sanon, who once expressed a desire to lead his country in a YouTube video, is unknown in Haitian political circles, and associates suggested he was duped by those really behind the assassination.

A Florida friend of Sanon told The Associated Press that the suspect is an evangelical Christian pastor and a licensed physician in Haiti, but not in the U.S. The associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns, said Sanon told him he was approached by people claiming to represent the U.S. State and Justice departments who wanted to install him as president.

WATCH | Hunt continues for more suspects: 

Haitian officials say at least six suspects have been arrested a day after the assassination of President Jovenal Moïse and the hunt for more suspects continues. 2:09

He said the plan was for Moïse to be arrested, not killed, and Sanon would not have participated if he knew Moïse would be assassinated.

“I guarantee you that,” the associate said. “This was supposed to be a mission to save Haiti from hell, with support from the U.S. government.”

DEA informant arrested

Haiti’s National Police chief, Leon Charles, said Moïse’s killers were protecting Sanon, whom he accused of working with those who plotted the assassination.

Charles said officers found a hat with the logo of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four licence plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence, among other things, in Sanon’s house in Haiti.

One of the Haitian American men arrested on suspicion of taking part in the assassination had been an informant to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a DEA official said on Monday.

“One of the suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was a confidential source to the DEA,” the official said in an email, Reuters reported, adding that the suspect had reached out to the DEA after the assassination and that it urged him to surrender.

“These individuals were not acting on behalf of DEA.”

Another Haitian American, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was arrested on Sunday by Haitian authorities, who accused him of being a mastermind of the attack.

Twenty-six former Colombian soldiers are suspected in the killing and 23 have been arrested, along with three Haitians. Charles said five suspects are still at large and at least three have been killed.

Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano, centre, Colombia’s National Police Director Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, right, and Colombian armed forces commander Gen. Luis Fernando Navarro, left, leave a news conference in Bogota, Colombia, on Monday. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

Colombian police said Monday they could not share any hypothesis about the death of Moïse and that they respect the Haitian state’s autonomy. 

“We cannot construct any hypothesis,” Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, head of the Colombian national police, told journalists in Bogota. “We respect the judicial autonomy of the Haitian state and its authorities.”

Broader connections

Families of some of the Colombians, many ex-soldiers, have said their relatives were hired as bodyguards, not as mercenaries, and that they did not kill Moïse.

The men were initially contracted to protect Sanon, and were later presented with a warrant to arrest Moïse, Haiti’s National Police Chief Leon Charles said Sunday.

Haiti’s interim prime minister Claude Joseph speaks during a news conference at his residence in Port-au-Prince on Sunday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

Photos said to show Sanon meeting with a group of men — including another suspect in the case, Haitian-American James Solages — began circulating on social media late Sunday. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the images.

A man by Sanon’s name is listed online as a doctor who has worked in Florida, where a security company that Haitian authorities say hired suspects in the case is based.

Most of the detainees were held after an overnight shootout on Wednesday in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, and three killed.

Nineteen tickets to Haiti were bought for the men via the Miami-based security company CTU, Vargas added.

Run by Venezuelan émigré Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera, CTU has not responded to requests for comment from Reuters.

Soldiers stand guard near the residence of Joseph in Port-au-Prince. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

According to Colombian police, a man named Dimitri Herard, who served as Moïse’s head of security, transited through Colombia multiple times earlier this year, during trips to Ecuador and the Dominican Republic between January and May.

Colombian authorities are investigating Herard’s activities during his visits, police chief Vargas said.

High-ranking Colombian intelligence officials have been in Haiti since Friday to assist with the investigation.

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