Haitian police said they gunned down four alleged presidential assassins and arrested six others while rival politicians jockeyed to fill the power vacuum left by the death of Jovenel Moise.
The nation was without clear leadership on Thursday, a day after a group of attackers stormed Moise’s official residence and carried out the first slaying of a Haitian head of state in more than a century.
The police on Thursday said they had arrested six people and seized at least five weapons. Video on social media showed crowds of Haitians pushing two bound men, who they believed were among the attackers, through the streets. Previously, the police had said they had killed four suspects and freed three police officers who had been taken hostage by the gang during the brazen nighttime raid.
Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian judge who visited the crime scene, told Le Nouvelliste, a local newspaper, that the assailants had entered Moise’s home about 1 a.m. on Wednesday and tied up two members of the household staff. He said he saw the president sprawled on the floor and that he’d been shot at least 12 times.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph — who had been on the job for less than three months — is seen to be in control of the nation of 11 million, and he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call on Wednesday.
But Joseph’s hold on power is being challenged.
Under Haiti’s constitution, Moise should have been replaced by the head of the Supreme Court — or the highest-ranking judge — and that person would be “invested temporarily with the duties of the president” by the National Assembly. But the chief justice died recently from Covid-19 and the country hasn’t had a functioning legislature since 2020.
Who’s in charge?
To complicate matters, the day before his assassination, Moise had named Ariel Henry to fill the prime minister’s post, although he was never sworn in.
Henry told Le Nouvelliste, that he — not Joseph — is the prime minister, but said he favored dialog to keep from “igniting” the country.
Despite Haiti’s history of unrest and instability, it had not experienced the murder of a head of state in more than 100 years, Haiti’s US Ambassador to Washington Bocchit Edmond told an emergency meeting of the Organisation of American States.
Edmond said in a phone interview that, in the current, highly unusual circumstances, Joseph is the country’s legitimate leader.
If Joseph stays in power, it will be up to him to decide if the nation — seized by gang violence, kidnappings, street protests — can push ahead with presidential and legislative elections as scheduled September 26.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, Helen La Lime, told reporters at the UN on Thursday that Joseph is the Prime Minister, and that the nation plans to go ahead with the first-round election in September with the second round in November.
In the meantime, the hunt for the rest of the killers continues. In a French and Creole speaking country, at least some of the group spoke English and Spanish. And Election Minister Mathias Pierre told the Washington Post that at least one of the detained suspects is a US citizen.
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said he was “not in position to confirm that” report because Haitian authorities are leading the investigation.
The assassins identified themselves as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a ploy that reportedly helped them make it past security on the narrow and heavily guarded street that led to Moise’s residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The US said the DEA had nothing to do with the incident.
Moise’s wife, Martine, was also shot during the attack and medically evacuated to Florida in stable but critical condition.
Moise had plenty of enemies and had faced growing discontent in the months before his murder. Part of the anger was fueled by the fact that he’d been ruling by decree since January 2020, after parliamentary terms expired and legislative elections were not held.
While rumors have swirled that the killers, their motives and nationality remains unclear. During a press conference Thursday, Joseph called for calm and asked the population to support the police.
“Whatever our differences with the president,” he said, “everybody agrees that you can’t kill the president because of his job.”