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Exploring the conspiracies, chaos in the assassination investigation in Haiti

It's been less than a week since the shocking assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse. A possible conspiracy involving a Haitian-born doctor from Florida has further roiled a fraught situation as political rivals jockey for power. Judy Woodruff speaks to Eduardo Gamarra, professor of political science at Florida International University, who has written widely on Haiti, and the Caribbean.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to the crisis in Haiti.

    It's been less than a week since the shocking assassination of Haiti's president by gunman who broke into his home. Now a possible conspiracy involving a Haitian-born doctor living in Florida has further roiled an already fraught situation, all this as political rivals jockey for power.

    There is now a new lead suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Haitian authorities said over the weekend that he is this man, 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian American who lives in Florida. In 2011, he appeared to promote himself as a leader for Haiti.

  • Christian Emmanuel Sanon:

    With me in power, you are going to have to tell me, what are you doing with my uranium? What you going to do with the oil that we have in the country? What are you going to do with the gold that you want to exploit?

  • Judy Woodru:

    Police Chief Leon Charles said Sanon had arrived in Haiti in June. In a search of Sanon's home, officers found weapons, bullets, and a hat with an emblem from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

  • Man:

    DEA operation. Everybody, back up. Stand down.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Video shot at the scene of the crime appeared to show someone purporting to be a DEA agent. Charles said Sanon was in police custody.

  • Leon Charles, National Haitian Police Chief (through translator):

    He arrived in Haiti on a private airplane to fulfill A political objective. He has contacted a company specializing in security to recruit some bandits.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Haitian authorities have arrested 23 Colombians and two Haitian Americans they say carried out the attack.

    Colombia's police chief said a Florida-based security company, CTU, bought 19 plane tickets for the Colombian assailants, many of whom were retired soldiers. The tickets were from Bogota, Colombia, to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. From there, the assailants allegedly crossed over the border into Haiti.

    Meanwhile, the power struggle continued in Haiti. Two men each say they are the rightful prime minister of Haiti. Claude Joseph had the role when Moise was killed. But a successor, Ariel Henry, was supposed to take over that day. Joseph's opponents are already calling for his ouster.

  • Antoine Rodon Bien-Aime (through translator):

    If he had we consider him as a usurper who should be in jail.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Remaining members of the mostly disbanded Haitian Senate voted on their leader, Joseph Lambert, to serve as acting president.

    The White House said a U.S. delegation met with all three men on Sunday. Haiti's powerful gangs also seemed to be taking advantage of the power vacuum. Notorious leader Jimmy Cherizier, known as Barbecue, urged gangs to avenge the president's death.

  • Jimmy Cherizier (through translator):

    I ask all the gangs to mobilize. Take to the streets. We demand explanations about the assassination of the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Port-au-Prince resident Yvens Rumbold said that Moise's murder has led to fear on the streets.

  • Yvens Rumbold:

    The feeling is, if the president can be assassinated at his home, so everything can happen to anyone in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the midst of the chaos, Haiti still has presidential elections scheduled, which the United States says should proceed.

    President Biden spoke this afternoon:

  • President Joseph Biden:

    The people of Haiti deserve peace and security, and Haiti's political leaders need to come together for the good of their country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to Eduardo Gamarra, professor of political science at Florida International University.

    He's written widely on Haiti, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Professor Gamarra, thank you so much for talking with us.

    First of all, what do you make of this new information about the Haitian American who says he is a doctor living in Florida who has now been arrested?

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Well, I think it signifies, more than anything else, the wide net of conspiracy that really lead to the murder of President Moise.

    And it also involves, obviously, a significant component of the Haitian private sector. This man, other than saying he is a doctor, also claims to be a businessperson. So, that possibly leads to a whole series of other names that will come up in the next few days that will help us more readily identify who financed this operation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned the Haitian private sector, the business community in Haiti. What would be the motive for them to get rid of President Moise?

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Well, the unfortunate fact is that President Moise was unpopular across the spectrum in Haiti. But he also stepped on a few toes in the private sector, was facing the wrath of some of the most important businesspeople, who not only were his political opponents, but who also, in essence, pledged to have him removed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what you are saying is it may be difficult to draw a line between what they may have said about him and what finally happened to him.

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Exactly.

    That's the most difficult part to decipher. And so I think that, in a sense, there were so many different, how should I put it, gangs already in place in Haiti funded by different actors, gangs related to drug trafficking, simple gangs related to street neighborhoods, for example, but also — and this is very important — a pattern that we had begun seeing in Haiti around the turn of the century of foreign security teams coming in to provide different sorts of security for ministers, for the president or for the private sector for that matter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think Haiti law enforcement will ultimately get to the bottom of who did this?

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Well, what is surprising is that, given the weakness of the nonexistent judiciary, but also the fact that the police is essentially dismantled, that they got to — so quickly to the culprits, that they arrested so many of the mercenaries and that they are really moving fairly quickly in terms of finding out who financed this operation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Professor Gamarra, what about the political piece of this?

    There are now, what, three people, different people who are saying they should be in charge, who may be laying claim to being prime minister. Where do you see this — how do you see this playing itself out?

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    This is going to be probably determined largely by who the international community supports.

    And, as of right now, it has been the prime minister who was nominated in April, but who was essentially replaced by President Moise on Monday of last week. But the international community is putting their support behind that gentleman, Mr. Joseph.

    So I imagine that is where the direction, at least politically, that Haiti will take. But, again, even in that context, holding elections in Haiti, which I think is what the international community expects, is going to be difficult, given the fact that things are so unraveled at the moment and that, really, there appears to be chaos at least in Port-au-Prince.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, I was struck that you told my colleague, our producer Dan Sagalyn, that — when he asked you if Haiti is a failed state, you said you can't have a failed state when there is no state.

    I mean, did you mean that?

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Yes.

    Unfortunately, Haiti has been in a very precarious situation in terms of institution-building, and probably going back since the collapse of Duvalier regime in the middle of the 1980s. This is a transition to democracy that never really jelled, that never was able to produce political parties, stable institutions, even a constitutional regime.

    And in the context of natural resource — natural catastrophes and recurring political crises, what you have had is complete, complete political implosion.

    And so here we are now, with two prime ministers who — in a parliamentary system that — with a Parliament that doesn't exist, with a judiciary that's collapsed, with police that is essentially half of what it used to be four years ago, with no armed forces, with no institutionality.

    it is very difficult to see the presence of a state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a difficult, difficult set of circumstances.

    Professor Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University, thank you very much.

  • Eduardo Gamarra:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

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