President’s murder inquiry slow amid Haiti’s multiple crises

US & World

FILE – In this July 20, 2021 file photo, authorities pose for a group photo in front of the portrait of late Haitian President Jovenel Moise at at the National Pantheon Museum during his memorial service in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Moise was assassinated on July 7 at his home. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — In the nearly two months since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, Haiti has suffered a devastating earthquake and a drenching tropical storm, the twin natural disasters deflecting attention from the man-made one that preceded them.

Add the constant worry over deteriorating security at the hands of gangs that by some estimates control territory that’s home to about a fifth of Haiti’s 11 million citizens, and the investigation into Moïse’s killing is fast fading from the public consciousness.

Even those still paying attention, demanding accountability and pressuring for a thorough investigation give no chance to the crime’s masterminds being brought to justice in a country where impunity reigns. It doesn’t help that Moïse was despised by a large portion of the population.

The murder seems destined to join other assassinations in Haiti, like that of respected journalist Jean Dominique in 2000 and prominent lawyer Monferrier Dorval last year, both unsolved.

“The hope for finding justice for Jovenel is zero,” said Pierre Esperance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, which is one of Haiti’s most prominent and respected rights groups and a member of the International Federation for Human Rights.

Despite Esperance’s pessimism, his group published a detailed report on the July 7 killing, in which a team of Colombian mercenaries breached the president’s private residence high in a hillside neighborhood above Port-au-Prince, then fatally shot Moïse and wounded his wife.

The report largely tracks the government’s arrests of suspects thus far, implicating those in charge of Moïse’s security. “The intellectual and material authors of this assassination were able to count on the support of at least two heads of presidential security,” the report charges.

But it also suggests that Prime Minister Ariel Henry, Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent and even Martine Moïse, the former president’s wife, know far more about the killing than they have shared.

The group says its report was based on notes made by the magistrates of the peace involved in the initial stage of the investigation and on conversations with those who were arrested. Asked about other sources, Esperance demurred.

The report alleges the prime minister had multiple phone calls, including on the morning of the assassination, with Joseph Badio, a former justice official now at the center of the murder investigation as a suspect. When Henry was asked about the calls with Badio in a recent radio interview, he said he knew Badio and defended him.

“The idea of defending the guy publicly is peculiar, and dismissing the whole possibility that he might have been involved is clearly an interference into the investigation,” said Robert Fatton Jr., a Haiti expert and professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. “When the prime minister says he has nothing to do with it, that sends signals to others that they shouldn’t go there.”

Henry spends much of his public appearances these days talking about earthquake relief operations, though on Monday he did appear to allude to Haiti’s political crisis.

“All sectors should put their heads together for us to find a consensus.” Henry wrote on Twitter. “Therefore, I invite you to talk so that we can get the country out of the bad impasse it finds, to talk about the roots of the problems until we find an agreement that will allow us to get out of this crisis.”

Vincent, the justice minister, also appears conflicted. He was close to Badio, who remains a fugitive.

Last week, Vincent renewed his pledge to find everyone connected to Moïse’s killing and urged the public to be patient. After agreeing to an interview with The Associated Press to discuss the investigation, Vincent cancelled it shortly before the scheduled time.

“If the minister of justice stays in his position, this investigation is not going anywhere,” Esperance said.

The first investigative judge assigned to the case withdrew days after his appointment. A new one was just named, some seven weeks after the assassination. Clerks and others involved in the investigation have reported threats and attempts to influence their findings and in some cases have gone into hiding.

At least 44 people have been arrested, including 18 Colombians who were part of the team that allegedly attacked the president’s house as well as three Haitian-Americans. Most of the rest of the arrests were Haitian security personnel with some responsibility for the president’s security. No one has been charged.

Esperance was no fan of Moïse — he calls him one of Haiti’s worst presidents and says the country regressed under his administration — but he is bothered that the president was killed in his home and no one has resigned. He believes Moïse deserves justice.

His group’s report is clear about the questions it can’t answer, importantly who paid for such an elaborate operation.

Another official who figures prominently in the report is Jean Laguel Civil, the divisional police commander who coordinated the president’s security. He was arrested following the murder along with Dimitri Hérard, head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace.

Reynold Georges, the lawyer representing Civil, said his client had nothing to do with the assassination. “My client is a victim because he did his job well and these people wanted to kill the president,” Georges said.

Civil “told me he was in bed that night, and that about 1:35 a.m. in the morning, the president called him to tell him that people came to his house and they started to fire on his house. A lot of people,” Georges said. “And some of them said this is a DEA intervention.”

Civil then called Hérard and told him to go to the house with backup, Georges said, but Moïse was already dead.

Asked if he thought the investigation would reveal who was behind the president’s murder, Georges said: “The people who killed the president, they are the ones who investigate the matter, so you can conclude for yourself.”

All of this is taking place in a chaotic political landscape. Haiti currently has only 10 elected officials after it failed to hold parliamentary elections, leaving Moïse to rule by decree for more than a year until his death.

Moïse’s own party was so deeply divided that some have suggested members could have been involved in his killing. The opposition has been unable to overcome its own rifts to get behind a single platform. Most anyone in an opposition leadership position is also interested in becoming president.

“So we are nowhere near a solution to the crisis,” said Fatton, the Haiti expert.

Esperance, like the lawyer Georges, believes the people from Moïse’s party still in power lack the motivation to get to the bottom of his killing and could even benefit.

“One of the problems that we have is that the (Tet Kale party) doesn’t want justice for Jovenel,” Esperance said. “They’re using Jovenel’s corpse to do political persecutions. This is also what his wife wants. They want to persecute people who were opposed to Jovenel.”

Ordinary Haitians are already moving on.

“Justice is just a word in Haiti, the institution doesn’t exist,” said Gerald Cenè, who was selling phone credit in a Port-au-Prince market Tuesday.

“I believe many high-level government people are involved in the president’s killing,” Cenè said, adding that he thinks they will do everything to keep the justice system dysfunctional.

Marc-Antoine Dorcel was walking downtown after paying his children’s school fees. “Jovenel was killed and that is the end of it,” said Dorcel, who works in an accounting firm.

Dorcel, like many Haitians, has more pressing concerns. “I need justice for basic reasons, just to have water, electricity, health care, work, make sure my family is safe.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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