Live Updates: Haiti Seizes 2 Americans as Assassination Suspects

Crowds of angry people in the capital, Port-au-Prince, hunted down people they thought were involved in the attack and burned cars. The U.N. Security Council met about the country’s crisis.

LiveUpdated July 8, 2021, 9:02 p.m. ETJuly 8, 2021, 9:02 p.m. ET

Crowds of angry people in the capital, Port-au-Prince, hunted down people they thought were involved in the attack and burned cars. The U.N. Security Council met about the country’s crisis.

Here’s what you need to know:

Two U.S. citizens are among at least 17 suspects arrested in the Moise killing.

Witnesses describe a scene of brutality where Haiti’s president lay dead.

As the authorities seek the killers, some Haitians take matters into their own hands.

Fears of political tumult grow in the wake of the assassination.

Why $13 billion in foreign aid hasn’t done much to help the people of Haiti.

The Haitian diaspora expresses shock, sadness and a fear of what might come next.

In a reeling Haiti, uncertainty has become a way of life.

Haitians surrounding a police station Thursday where two suspects were taken.Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

At least seventeen people, including fifteen Colombians and two American citizens, were detained in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Haitian officials said Thursday night as they paraded the suspects before the news media and asserted that “foreigners” had been involved in the brazen attack.

At a news conference at National Police Headquarters with the interim prime minister, the American men were described as being of Haitian descent and were identified as Joseph Vincent and James Solages. Haitian security officials had earlier described Mr. Solages as a resident of South Florida who had been apprehended on Wednesday during the manhunt for the assailants.

At least eight more suspects were on the run, authorities said.

“We are pursuing them. We are asking the public to help us,” said Haiti’s police chief, Leon Charles, before a phalanx of politicians and police.

The detainees were lined up at the news conference Thursday night in handcuffs, some showing signs of physical injuries. A table displayed at least 10 Colombian passports, along with automatic weapons, sledgehammers and saws.

The country’s interim prime minister Claude Joseph said a group of foreigners had entered the country to kill the president “in a cowardly fashion.””They forgot something,” he said. “You may kill the president, but you cannot kill his dreams, you cannot kill his ideology, and you cannot kill what he was fighting for. That’s why I’m determined for President Jovenel Moise’s family, friends and allies, and the Haitian population, to get justice.”

Angry civilians have also joined in the hunt, capturing some suspects themselves and setting afire vehicles thought to have been used in the attack. Haiti is now basically under martial law after Mr. Joseph declared an “etat de siege” — a state of siege — that allows the police and members of security forces to enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

The rapidly evolving crisis deepened the turmoil and violence that has gripped Haiti for months, threatening to tip one of the world’s most troubled nations further into lawlessness. Questions swirled about who might have been behind such a brazen attack and how they eluded the president’s security detail to carry it out.

There were reports of fighting between suspects and security forces throughout the day. Earlier Thursday, Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, told reporters that a group of suspects had “taken refuge in two buildings in the city and are now surrounded by police.” She spoke via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, after briefing the United Nations Security Council on the Haitian crisis in a private meeting. It was unclear if the situation had been resolved.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, has described the assailants as “well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”

On Wednesday, security forces engaged in a chaotic shootout with a group of what they described as suspected assailants, though they offered no evidence linking them to the attack. Officers killed several in the group and took others into custody, authorities said.

Chief Charles said Thursday that five vehicles that might have been used in the attack had been seized and that several of them had been burned by civilians. He said it was impossible for the police to gather evidence from inside the charred vehicles.

Social media was full of images of civilians parading men with their arms tied behind their backs and men in the back of a police pickup truck.

A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station in the Petionville area of Port-au-Prince on Thursday morning, before Chief Charles spoke, some demanding vigilante justice for the suspects they believed to be inside. “Burn them,” some cried.

Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian judge, told the Nouvelliste newspaper that the assailants had posed as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — both U.S. and Haitian officials said that they were not associated with the D.E.A. — when they burst into the president’s private home on the outskirts of the capital around 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Judge Destin said that a maid and another member of the household staff had been tied up by the attackers as they made their way to the president’s bedroom.

The president was shot at least 12 times, he said.

“The offices and the president’s bedroom were ransacked,” Mr. Destin said. “We found him lying on his back, blue pants, white shirt stained with blood, mouth open, left eye blown out.”

He said Mr. Moise appeared to have been shot with both large-caliber guns and smaller 9-millimeter weapons.

The president’s wife, Martine Moise, was injured in the assault and was rushed by air ambulance to the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, where Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, said she was “out of danger” and in stable condition. Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida said at a news conference in Miami that Ms. Moise was not the target of the attack and that, according to the U.S. State Department, “she was caught in a crossfire.”

Video

Martine Moise, wife of the slain President Jovenel Moise, was rushed to a hospital in Miami on Wednesday following the nighttime raid and attack on their home in Haiti.CreditCredit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Wilson said the couple’s three children are in protective custody. Mr. Destin said that two of the children had been present during the attack, and that they had hidden together in a bathroom.

Andre Paulte and Harold Isaac contributed.

Bullet holes in a wall at the home of President Jovenel Moise on Wednesday.Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

The presidential house peppered with holes and littered with bullet casings. The front doors badly damaged. The body of the president lying on the floor at the foot of his bed, “bathed in blood.”

The Haitian justice of the peace who arrived at the home of President Jovenel Moise in the hours after his assassination described a haunting scene.

“There were 12 holes visible in the body of the president that I could see,” the justice, Carl Henri Destin, told The New York Times. “He was riddled with bullets.”

A day after the assassination, the Caribbean country was still reeling, and as details of the assassination slowly emerged, they seemed to offer more questions than answers.

Between 40 and 50 people were involved in the assault, and they appeared to have been well-trained, State Department officials told members of Congress on Thursday, according to three people familiar with the briefing who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That report was in keeping with earlier comments by the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, who described the attackers “professionals, killers, commandos” in a call with reporters.

The assailants made it past two police checkpoints before reaching the president’s gate, the State Department said, people familiar with the briefing said, adding that the security personnel guarding the president’s residence suffered no injuries.

There was also said to be no reports of an exchange of gunfire between the guards and the attackers — which raised some eyebrows.

“It’s weird that there was no one was fighting back,” said Laurent Lamothe, a former prime minister of Haiti, noting that the presidential guard usually has a detachment of about 100 officers. “There was a lot of shooting, but no deaths. The only death was the president.”

One American lawmaker, Representative Andy Levin, co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the circumstances of the attack, and particularly the apparent lack of fighting, raised questions about whether the assassination could have been “an inside job.”

Mr. Destin, the justice of the peace, said the president’s house had been ransacked. “Drawers were pulled out, papers were all over the ground, bags were open,” he said. “They were looking for something apparently.”

And the attack, he said, had been very violent.

President Moise had been dressed in a white shirt and jeans, he said, both of which were torn and covered in blood. Bullet holes perforated his arms, hip, backside and left ear.

Mr. Destin said two of the president’s children had been present during the attack. He took a statement from the president’s 24-year-old daughter, who had returned to the house from the hospital to collect clothing for her wounded mother.

She told him she and her younger brother had hid together in his bathroom, Mr. Destin said.

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:50

-0:00

transcript

Assassins in Haiti Claimed to Be D.E.A.

In videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the The New York Times, the group of commandos who appeared to be arriving to assassinate President Jovenel Moise shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation.

OK, they say, Everybody do not shoot. They say they are not our enemies, everybody do not shoot. This is a D.E.A. operation. This is a D.E.A. operation. This is a D.E.A. operation. Keep moving, guys. Keep moving. Keep. moving. Keep moving.

In videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the The New York Times, the group of commandos who appeared to be arriving to assassinate President Jovenel Moise shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation.

Two videos filmed at the same time from separate buildings near the presidential compound in Haiti suggest that the group who killed President Jovenel Moise claimed to be agents from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

The videos appear to show the assailants arriving near Mr. Moise’s residence. An eyewitness on one video claims to see the assailants disarming some of Mr. Moise’s guards stationed nearby.

In the videos, around a dozen armed men can be seen walking slowly up a main street, Pelerin 5, alongside at least eight vehicles — a mix of sport utility vehicles and trucks. They appear calm and do not encounter resistance or try to hide.

Over a loudspeaker, a male voice shouts multiple times in English: “This is a D.E.A. operation! Everybody, don’t shoot!”

He repeats the command in Creole.

The D.E.A. has an office in Port-au-Prince to help Haiti’s government “develop and strengthen its counter-narcotics law enforcement program,” according to the U.S. Embassy. But Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told Reuters the gunmen falsely identified themselves as D.E.A. agents: “No way they were D.E.A. agents.”

The attack “was carried out by foreign mercenaries and professional killers,” Mr. Edmond said in Washington.

In one of the two videos, the man holding the camera comments on what’s unfolding, saying the armed men are coming to the president’s home.

“They’ve taken Jovenel. Jovenel is gone,” he says, referring to Mr. Moise by his first name, as shouting can be heard in the distance. “Don’t you see the guys disarming the Jovenel guys?”

Haitians pressured the police on Thursday to hand over the bodies of two men killed in a shootout.Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The official manhunt for the assassins who burst into the home of Haiti’s president continued on Thursday, but as some ordinary Haitians set out to capture suspects themselves, setting afire vehicles believed to have been used in the attack, the interim prime minister appealed for calm and to refrain from violence.

“I’m asking everyone to go to their homes,” said Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “The police have the situation under control.”

The goal, Mr. Joseph said, is to maintain security in the country and get justice for the former President Jovenel Moise and his family.

Haiti’s police chief, Leon Charles, said over the past day the authorities had arrested six suspects. He also said police had recovered three bodies, “visibly foreigners,” as well as five vehicles believed to have been used in the assassination plot.

But several of those vehicles had been burned by citizens, he said, making it impossible for the police to gather evidence.

“We can’t have vigilante justice,” Mr. Charles said. “Let us do our work. Help us do our work.”

But passions were high on the streets of Petionville, an affluent suburb of the capital close to where the president lived. A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station there, demanding to hear from the police chief about the assassins — some of whom were believed to be inside.

Some demanded street justice.

“Burn them,” they cried.

Later, drifting away from the police station, some took their anger into nearby streets, at one point attacking a car dealership. Two protesters were arrested by the police.

A video shared widely on social media shows a crowd of more than 30 Haitians pulling light-skinned men through the footpaths of a dense neighborhood. One of the men was shirtless and had his arms tied with a rope behind his back. The people in the crowd, who appeared to be unarmed, brought the men to the police station, sources told The New York Times.

The police were also surrounding two buildings in which suspects in the assassination had holed up, Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, said at a news conference.

One of the suspects arrested in Haiti is an American citizen of Haitian descent from South Florida, said Haiti’s minister of elections, Mathias Pierre.

On Thursday, just a day after declaring a “state of siege” and a curfew, Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, asked people to return to work and said he planned to reopen the country’s main airport.

Reporting contributed from Andre Paulte and Harold Isaac in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moise, center, with his wife, Martine, and the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, at a ceremony in the Haitian capital,Port-au-Prince, in May.Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

An already turbulent political landscape in Haiti threatened to descend into further turmoil on Thursday as a power struggle between two competing prime ministers stoked tensions after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

In the hours after the killing, the country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said he was in charge, taking command of the police and army in what he cast as an effort to ensure order and stability. Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” for 15 days, essentially putting the country under martial law, though constitutional experts were unsure whether he has the legal authority to do so.

It was not even clear whether he was really still prime minister.

Two days before his death, Mr. Moise appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician, who was supposed to take up the role this week.

In an interview with The Nouvelliste, a newspaper, Mr. Henry said that Mr. Joseph was “no longer prime minister” and claimed the right to run the government.

“I am a prime minister with a decree that was passed in my favor,” Mr. Henry said, adding that he had been in the process of forming his government.

Mr. Henry said that he “did not want to add fuel to the fire,” but he criticized Mr. Joseph’s decision to impose a state of siege and called for dialogue to ensure a smooth political transition.

President Moise himself had faced questions about his legitimacy.

For more than year, he had been ruling by decree. Many, including prominent jurists, contended that his term ended in February. Haiti had been rocked by protests against his rule, and also suffered a surge in gang activity that undercut the legitimacy of the government.

Now, there is a new political struggle, and it threatens to undermine the legitimacy either man would need to effectively lead the police, the army and the country itself.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Mr. Joseph on Wednesday, the State Department said, offering condolences and offering to assist the country “in support of the Haitian people and democratic governance, peace, and security.” Mr. Joseph, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday evening portrayed the conversation as lasting more than 30 minutes.

“We talked about security, elections and a political accord,” he said.

On Thursday, the top United Nations official in Haiti, Helen La Lime, told reporters that she considered Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, the person in charge of the country. She spoke via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, the capital, after briefing the United Nations Security Council about the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Adding to the challenges for a government in crisis, Haiti, a parliamentary democracy, has no functioning Parliament. There are currently only 10 sitting senators out of 30; the terms of the other 20 have expired. The entire lower house is no longer sitting, because the representatives terms expired last year. Long-planned elections were scheduled for later this year, but it was unclear when or whether they would take place.

The president of what remains of the Haitian Senate, Joseph Lambert, put out a news release on Thursday morning, saying that the Senate “reassures Haitians and the international community that everything will be managed by the national institutions, political forces and civil society to guarantee the continuity of the state and the republican order.”

A Haitian political analyst, Monique Clesca, said that Mr. Moise had avoided opportunities to hold national elections, and that when the terms of the country’s mayors expired in January, he had installed his own supporters in those positions.

“The objective was always to be the supreme ruler,” Ms. Clesca said. “Eventually to be able to control the whole political apparatus.”

Haiti has a long history of political instability. The country has been rocked by a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries, often backed by Western powers, and has been marked by frequent leadership crises that have driven Haitians into the streets in protest.

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including help in recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny. The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.

France has had a particularly long and difficult relationship with Haiti. More than two centuries ago, Haitians fought to throw off the yoke of colonial France and to bring an end to one of the world’s most brutal slave colonies.

Jacky Dahomay, a French philosopher who served on a French government-mandated commission on relations with Haiti, faulted France and other international actors for failing to help the country establish “truly democratic institutions.” In an interview, he said that only “the law of the strongest” was working in Haiti at the moment and called for the “an international intervention force to restore order.”

News Analysis

U.S. soldiers delivering aid from the World Food Program to Jabouin, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew destroyed dozens of villages in 2016.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

There are failed states. And then there is Haiti.

The Caribbean nation is better described as what one analyst once called an “aid state.” It ekes out an existence with the help of billions of dollars from the international community.

The country’s struggles have long captured the world’s attention, but they have not occurred in a vacuum: Outside nations have played a major role, through the brutal exploitation of the past and years of political interference. But damage has also been done by their efforts to help.

Over the past decade, the international community has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country, afraid to let Haiti fail. But the nation-building that aid was meant to support never came about. Instead, Haiti’s institutions became further hollowed out.

The funds stripped leaders of the incentive to carry out the institutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country. Instead, analysts and Haitian activists say, the leaders learned to bet that in times of crisis — and the country has had many — international governments would open their wallets.

For years, the aid has provided vital services and supplies, but it has also bred corruption and violence, and left political paralysis unchecked.

Some Haitian civil society leaders contend, the United States, a large provider of aid, has propped up strongmen and tied the fate of the nation to them.

“Since 2018, we have been asking for accountability,” Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian policy expert who gave testimony to the U.S. Congress this year, said in an interview. “We need the international community to stop imposing what they think is correct and instead think about the long term and stability.”

Members of Montreal’s Haitian diaspora holding an anti-Moise demonstration outside the Haitian consulate in March.Credit…Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

Many Haitians in the diaspora are fearing the worst after the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moise, an act of violence that many consider a potent symbol of the mayhem experienced in the Caribbean nation in recent months.

Rodney Saint-Eloi, a Haitian-Canadian poet and publisher in Montreal, said the assassination of Mr. Moise was a blow to democracy in Haiti. “It turns all Haitians into assassins, because he was, like it or not, the president of all Haitians,” he said. “It is the failure of a society and of an elite who helped get us to this point.”

Mr. Moise, killed in an attack early Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, had presided over a country buffeted by instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His refusal to cede power had angered Haitians the world over, and many in the diaspora had put off trips home for the past year as kidnappings and other acts of violence became more commonplace.

Because of its chronic instability, Haiti has a large diaspora, with some of the largest communities based in the United States, Canada, France and the Dominican Republic. About 1.2 million Haitians or people of Haitian origin live in the United States, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But the figure is thought to be higher because of a sizable number of immigrants who are in the country without documentation.

Frantz Andre, a leading Haitian rights advocate in Montreal, organized a protest in March in which dozens of Haitians demonstrated against what they called Mr. Moise’s political repression. He described Mr. Moise as a deeply polarizing figure and said that other Haitians abroad were feeling mixed emotions about the president’s killing.

“I don’t think it would be wise to scream victory at his assassination, because we don’t know what will come after and the situation could be even more precarious,” Mr. Andre said. “Educated people saw him as a threat to democracy, and others have been protesting against him because they have nothing to eat.”

Mr. Andre added that a sizable minority had supported Mr. Moise and saw him as a catalyst for change, because he had promoted the idea of giving Haitians outside the country the right to vote and was pushing to change the Constitution.

An ambulance carrying the body of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday.Credit…Reuters

With security forces still hunting for the killers and investigators combing through the evidence from the scene of his assassination, the body of Haiti’s slain president, Jovenel Moise, was loaded onto an ambulance on Wednesday, bound for a morgue.

A procession of cars was seen speeding away from the presidential residence, but things apparently did not go as planned: Encountering a highway blocked by tires, and hearing gunfire, observers said, the drivers made a quick turnaround.

They needed another route.

The same could be said for Haiti itself on Thursday, a day after its president was shot by a team of assassins described as “well-trained professionals” who had stormed his home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and then disappeared into the night.

Now, an interim prime minister whose legitimacy was already under question — a replacement was named before the assassination — has declared himself in charge, and put the country under a Haitian version of martial law.

Parliament is riddled with vacancies and inactive. And a country steeped in violence is poised for things to get worse. Late Wednesday, prolonged gunfire could be heard in Port-au-Prince.

“It’s a very grave situation,” said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, appealed for calm. “Let’s search for harmony to advance together, so the country doesn’t fall into chaos,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

But the country has learned the hard way over the decades, through earthquake and disease, poverty and political turbulence, that chaos feels always near at hand.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” one man said as neighbors gathered to exchange news. “Everything is possible.”

Andre Paultre contributed reporting.

The Haitian security forces are engaged in what the authorities described as a sweeping manhunt for suspects in the killing of President Jovenel Moise. Four people were killed, and two more taken into custody after a shootout late Wednesday.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very foundation as a country.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. But it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moise, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home early Wednesday, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “etat de siege” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moise. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moise had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moise’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died. Jovenel Moise was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

A street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, last month.Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti on Wednesday could complicate efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the Caribbean nation, which has yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, officials from the World Health Organization warned.

Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O., said her organization had made Haiti a priority in recent weeks as reported cases have surged.

“I am hopeful that the arrival of vaccines in the country can start to turn the tide of the pandemic and bring some relief to the Haitian people during these very difficult times,” Dr. Etienne said. “We continue to stand with them now and will redouble our efforts.”

Haiti did not experience the kind of surge early in the pandemic that many experts feared could devastate the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. But the pandemic has grown worse in recent weeks, with a rise in reported cases that experts say is almost certainly an undercount, considering the country’s limited testing capacity.

Last month, Covid-19 claimed the life of Rene Sylvestre, the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court — a leading figure who might have helped to establish order in the wake of an assassination that has plunged the country into even deeper political uncertainty.

Dr. Etienne’s organization said in an email that while it was too soon to evaluate the impact of the assassination, “further deterioration of the security situation in Haiti could have a negative impact on the work that has been done to curtail Covid-19 infections,” as well as on vaccination plans.

Video

President Jovenel Moise of Haiti was killed in an attack at his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

The organization said that Haiti was also facing challenges from the start of hurricane season and the recent detection of the Alpha and Gamma virus variants on the island. Though “vaccines are expected to arrive shortly” in Haiti, the organization said it did not have a specific delivery date.

In June, Dr. Etienne urged the global community to do more to help Haiti cope with rising coronavirus cases and deaths. “The situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus,” she said.

Haiti is an extreme example of the “stark inequities on vaccine access,” Dr. Etienne said. “For every success, there are several countries that have been unable to reach even the most vulnerable in their population.”

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, there are millions of people who “still don’t know when they will have a chance to be immunized,” she said.

She said the inequitable distribution of vaccines posed practical and moral problems.

“If we don’t ensure that countries in the South have the ability to vaccinate as much as countries in the North, this virus will keep circulating in the poorest nations for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said. “Hundreds of millions will remain at risk while the wealthier nations go back to normal. Obviously, this should not happen.”

— Daniel Politi

Haitian Foreign Minister Claude Joseph during an interview, February 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.Credit…Orlando Barriia/EPA, via Shutterstock

The top United Nations official in Haiti told reporters Thursday that she considered Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, the person in charge of the country in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination.

The assertion by the official, Helen La Lime, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, carries weight concerning the question over who is legally authorized to be running the country of 11 million. A former American diplomat, she spoke remotely via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, the capital, after briefing the United Nations Security Council about the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Mr. Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week by Ariel Henry, who had been appointed prime minister by Mr. Moise two days before his assassination. But hours after the killing of the president early Wednesday, Mr. Joseph assumed leadership of Haiti, taking command of the police and army in what he said was an effort to ensure order and stability.

Mr. Henry’s confirmation as prime minister “did not happen,” Ms. La Lime said, and Mr. Joseph “continues to govern,” under Article 149 of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

At the same time, she said, “there are certainly people on all sides of the issue who have different interpretations of Article 149, and that is why it’s important to have a dialogue.”

Ms. La Lime stressed Mr. Joseph’s contention that he intended to hold elections later this year. The country’s Parliament is not functioning, as many members’ terms expired last year, and Mr. Moise had come under international criticism for failing to call elections.

Ms. La Lime also said that Haiti’s government had made a “request for transitional security assistance” from the United Nations, which once deployed thousands of peacekeepers in the country but withdrew them a few years ago. “Haiti needs to specify what it’s after,” she said.

Regarding the killers of Mr. Moise, Ms. La Lime said “all efforts must be made to bring these perpetrators to justice.”

Leave a Reply