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Police arrest alleged mastermind of Haiti president’s murder as U.S. investigators arrive

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Supporters of Haitian politician Youri Latortue sit atop his car in Port-au-Prince on July 12, 2021 as he leaves following a hearing presided over by judge Bed-Ford Claude with Haitian political leaders and businessmen in the wake of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination. – Haitian opposition leader Pierre Reginald Boulos, represented by his lawyer Samuel Madistin, former senator Steven Benoit, and Haitian politician Youri Latortue were being questioned as part of the investigation into the assassination. Latortue said he answered the judge’s questions and condemns the attack on the late president. According to Haitian authorities, a hit squad of 28 men — 26 Colombians and two US citizens — killed the president in his home, also injuring his wife. So far, 17 suspects have been arrested, and at least three killed. But no motive is publicly known and questions are swirling about who might have masterminded the assassination. (Photo by Valerie Baeriswyl / AFP)

Moise’s killing fuels political crisis as rivals vie for power

Haiti’s national police have announced the arrest of the suspected mastermind in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

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A Haitian doctor living in the U.S. state of Florida was arrested, police chief Leon Charles said at a news conference.

The suspected killers called him after the attack and evidence was found in his flat, Mr Charles said.

The 63-year-old doctor recently arrived in Haiti on a private plane to seize the presidency, he said.

He allegedly hired Colombian mercenaries through a private Venezuelan security firm based in Florida.

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Meanwhile, a team of American government officials have traveled to Haiti to assist the investigation into the assassination of the country’s president and to push for a political accord, U.S. officials said.

While the White House and Pentagon are reviewing the Haitian government’s request for troops to help secure the country, there has been little enthusiasm for sending American soldiers or Marines.

But a team of F.B.I. agents and Department of Homeland Security officials have been assisting the investigation into last Wednesday’s killing of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti. State Department and National Security Council officials were also part of the team.

“The delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, who are leading the investigation into the assassination,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Emily Horne, said in a statement yesterday.

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“The delegation also met with Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph and Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry in a joint meeting, as well as Senate President Joseph Lambert, to encourage open and constructive dialogue to reach a political accord that can enable the country to hold free and fair elections.”

In another development, the wife of assassinated Haitian President, Jovenel Moise, has spoken for the first time since gunmen stormed the couple’s home in Port-au-Prince, saying the attack that killed her husband happened “in the blink of an eye”.

In an audio message posted on her official Twitter account on Saturday, Martine Moise called on Haiti not to “lose its way” after the attack that left her critically injured.

“I am alive, thanks to God,” Martine Moise said in Creole in the audio message, which Haiti’s minister of culture and communications, Pradel Henriquez, confirmed to the AFP news agency as being authentic.

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Haitian authorities say an armed commando of 28 men, 26 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans, burst in and opened fire on the couple in their home. Seventeen people have been arrested so far and at least three suspects were killed, but no motive has been made public.

“In the blink of an eye, the mercenaries entered my home and riddled my husband with bullets without even giving him a chance to say a word,” Martine said in the audio message.

She also said the mercenaries were sent to kill her husband “because of roads, water, electricity and referendum as well as elections at the end of the year so that there is no transition in the country”.

“I am crying, it is true, but we cannot let the country lose its way,” Martine Moise said. “We cannot let his blood have been spilt in vain.”

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Long before President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, political fault lines in Haiti had been drawn especially as the president had been attacking his political rivals, dismantling the nation’s democratic institutions and making enemies of church and gang leaders alike.

With the interim prime minister claiming to run the country despite open challenges by other politicians, a power struggle has burst into the open, days after the killing.

As the fight over who inherits the reins of government plays out in public, analysts say a much more complex and far less visible battle for power is picking up speed. It is a fight waged by some of Haiti’s richest and most well-connected kingmakers, eager for the approval of the United States. It is still unclear how this will play out.

On Friday, a group of legislators announced they had recognised Joseph Lambert, the head of Haiti’s dismantled Senate, as provisional president in a direct challenge to the interim government headed by Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

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They also recognised as prime minister Ariel Henry, whom Moise had selected to replace Joseph a day before he was killed but who had not yet taken office or formed a government.

“After the president’s assassination, I became the highest, legal and regular authority because there was a decree nominating me,” Henry told the Reuters news agency in a phone interview late on Friday.

Joseph, who assumed leadership with the backing of police and the military, said he was “not interested in a power struggle”.

“There’s only one way people can become president in Haiti. And that’s through elections,” he said.

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Joseph, who was named interim prime minister in April after the resignation of Joseph Jouthe, has taken the reins of power since Moise’s death, spearheading the government’s response to the assassination, appealing to the United States to send in troops and declaring a 15-day “state of siege”.

Eight of the 10 remaining senators in Haiti signed a resolution calling for a new government to oust Mr. Joseph. As “the only functioning elected officials of the republic,” they wrote, they were the only ones who could “exercise national sovereignty.”

The lawmakers declared that Senate President Joseph Lambert should become provisional president and that Mr. Joseph should be replaced as prime minister by Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician who was named by President Jovenel Moïse to take the position but not sworn in before the assassination. The lawmakers’ proposal was backed by a group of opposition parties and civil society leaders, signalling a broader upswell against the sitting government.

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Elections Minister Mathias Pierre said Joseph would keep his role until presidential and legislative elections are held on September 26.

Elections have been planned for September, but many civil society groups in Haiti worry that holding them would only sharpen the political crisis. They question whether it would even be feasible to hold legitimate elections given how weak the nation’s institutions have become, and some civil society leaders were expected to meet Saturday to try to devise a new path forward.

Many fear that Haitians themselves may not have much of a say in the matter.

The Biden administration has said it has no immediate plans to send in the military but would deploy FBI and Homeland Security officials to help with the investigation.

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