“He never had a chance”: the fateful fall of the Haitian president

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug. 22 (Reuters) – Haitian President Jovenel Moise began this year by warning that his country was a land of beatings, conspiracy and murder. In the days before he was shot in a murky international plot last month, he was telling friends enemies were there to catch him.

“He told me that a lot of people were spending a lot of money to assassinate him,” said a former Haitian senator and close friend of the late president, recounting a conversation with Moise on the night of his death. “I told him to stop thinking like that.

“He said to me, ‘This is the reality.'”

Showing Reuters his latest texts with Moise, the politician, who asked to remain anonymous for his safety, said the president had not identified the plotters.

More than a dozen officials, politicians, diplomats and those close to Moise told Reuters about the events surrounding his assassination. The assassination beheaded a fragile government in a Caribbean country repeatedly convulsed by crisis – now exacerbated by a major earthquake on August 14 – since the overthrow of the Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986.

The conversations have portrayed the 53-year-old president as an increasingly isolated and endangered man near the end of his life.

Moise’s supporters have described his downfall as the inevitable consequence of a corrupt ruling elite closing ranks against a provincial foreigner who dared to help Haiti’s poor majority.

“He was bringing order. Here, when you bring order, you die,” said Guy François, an ally who served as Moise’s Minister of Citizenship.

Critics, on the other hand, portrayed Moise as a political novice who lacked the skills to achieve consensus, drifted into autocracy and turned a blind eye to gang violence in areas hostile to his administration. .

“It was a bad choice from the start,” said Salim Succar, lawyer and former assistant to Moise’s predecessor and former funder, ex-president Michel Martelly. “He never had a chance.

Many saw his murder as a microcosm of institutional decay in Haiti, where the government has been hampered by factional conflict, entrenched inequalities, and reliance on foreign powers still widely seen as hostile to the country’s very foundation. in 1804, when a slave revolt unleashed the French colonial yoke.

MASTERMIND MISSING

In the garbage-strewn center of Port-au-Prince, the government quarter is surrounded by deserted streets now considered gang-controlled territory. Buildings damaged by an earthquake in 2010 that killed tens of thousands of people in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere still mark the landscape.

Authorities say Moise’s assassins took advantage of the porosity of law and order to carry out their plot at his personal residence in Pétion-Ville, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Moise’s bullet-riddled body was found in the early hours of July 7 after what Haitian authorities described as an attack by a commando group made up mostly of Colombian mercenaries. His wife, Martine, was injured. Police arrested some of the president’s security chiefs but did not identify the mastermind.

Allies accused “oligarchs” – members of Haiti’s business elite – of hiring foreign assassins to eliminate Moise for threatening their privileges, stoking popular anger over Haiti’s historic treatment by the allies. Western powers and the economic predominance of lighter-skinned Haitians.

Some among the elite made no secret of their contempt for Moise, a diplomat said, recalling the “contempt” with which one of his own spoke of Moise in a private meeting.

Several business leaders have publicly condemned Moise’s murder. To date, 18 Colombians, around 20 Haitian police officers and a handful of other Haitian and Haitian-American suspects have been arrested.

Colombian officials familiar with the investigation say most of the Colombians detained were likely the victims of a plot in a plot to distract from the architects.

Only four of the Colombians knew about the plot against Moise in advance; most went to Haiti believing they would be bodyguards, a Colombian official said.

Because the commando unit encountered no significant resistance until after his assassination, investigators believe Moise was betrayed by his own security personnel, the official added.

Moise’s friend, the former senator, said the president knew the Colombians were in Haiti and told him on their last phone call that he was preparing to stop the plotters.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you do it right away?’” The politician said. “He said, ‘I’ll do it.'”

Haiti was supposed to elect a successor to Moise and a new parliament in September, but that date quickly began to slip into November after his assassination.

After the latest earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes, holding an election this year seemed “very difficult,” said Adriano Espaillat, a US congressman from neighboring Dominican Republic .

SHOCK, BUT NOT SURPRISE

Six months before his death, Moise seemed all too aware of the risks. On January 1, he gave a speech to commemorate the independence of Haiti plunged into gloom.

“For 217 years, the whole history of the country has been based on plots, coups d’état, assassinations,” he said. “We conspire to destroy it, never to build it. Over 30 presidents overthrown or assassinated.”

Moise’s efforts to improve electricity supplies at the expense of private interests and constitutional reform that would have strengthened the presidency were cited by allies and critics as key markers on his path to ruin.

But the problems started early.

A few months after taking office in February 2017, Moise’s administration was rocked by major street protests against tax hikes and then rising fuel prices.

A Senate report later accused Moise of embezzling funds from the Venezuela-backed PetroCaribe oil program, which he denied.

The protests worsened, and in 2019 Haiti fell into months of a “Peyi lockdown,” or country lockdown, fueled by opposition-backed protests. As political unrest, violence and kidnappings escalate, calls for his resignation multiply.

Moise, who last year declared himself second after God in Haiti, began ruling by decree in 2020 in the absence of a parliament in place, and has become increasingly confrontational.

In February, a month after his independence speech, Moise said police foiled a coup and an assassination attempt. A sense of apprehension among foreign officials deepened.

“Everyone was shocked,” one diplomat said of his assassination. “But not many people were surprised.”

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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