Moise assassination may be linked to what he knew about Haitian drugs, arms trafficking

It has been five months since gunmen assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Authorities have arrested 45 people, but have charged none of them with a crime. This weekend, The New York Times detailed a possible motive for the assassination. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been five months since gunmen assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Authorities have arrested 45 people, but have charged none of them with a crime.

    This weekend, The New York Times detailed a possible motive for the assassination.

    Nick Schifrin has more.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jovenel Moise was a political unknown before becoming Haiti's president in 2017. But, in July, a hit squad walked into Moise's house unchallenged by his security and assassinated him.

    He had been presiding over a country that's been compared to a narco-state, rampant with drug smuggling, corruption, and widespread impunity, from powerful gangs to oligarchs to the government itself.

    Moise was a product of that world. But, as The New York Times reports, he was also apparently taking major steps to reveal it.

    The article was written by Maria Abi-Habib, who joins us now via Skype.

    Maria, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    So, tell us, what information was Moise preparing and what was he intending to do with it?

  • Maria Abi-Habib, The New York Times:

    Well, Jovenel Moise was preparing a document that basically broke down the intricate network of drug trafficking and arms struggling smuggling and also the powerful people, whether they be oligarchs or political figures, who support those networks.

    And he was preparing to hand it over to the U.S. government.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, to understand the story, let's take a little bit of a step back.

    How entrenched is the drug trade and other illicit businesses inside Haiti's government? And what was President Moise's predecessor, Michel Martelly's relationship with those groups?

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    Well, Michel Martelly has people around him that have always been suspected of being narco-traffickers. Some have been thrown into jail for narco-trafficking.

    One of the people around Michel Martelly who was hugely influential in Michel Martelly's cabinet and also in President Moise's is a man named Charles "Kiko" Saint-Remy, Kiko being his nickname.

    Kiko is the brother in law of Michel Martelly and also is a suspected drug dealer, according to DEA people that we have spoken with and also Haitian police. He is suspected to be one of the biggest actually in Haiti.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so how much did Martelly consider Moise a kind of placeholder who would continue the status quo?

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    Very much so.

    I mean, from what we understand that's exactly why Moise was lifted from the unknown, a poor Haitian guy with has peasant origins tapped on the shoulder one day by Michel Martelly. The way that Michel Martelly his associates have always said it was, oh, Michel Martelly was struck by his brilliance as an entrepreneur.

    But what our reporting shows is that, actually, Moise knew a lot of the people who were very close to Michel Martelly for years. He knew Kiko Saint-Remy years and was allegedly in business with him and others that are suspected drug trader — drug traffickers who were close to Michel.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moise initially seems to have been a loyal successor to Martelly.

    But you write he turned against some of Martelly's corrupt allies. How important were some of the steps Moise was taking, a crackdown on the eel fishing trade, nationalizing a seaport, closing down airstrips that facilitated drug trafficking routes?

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    I mean, incredibly important.

    You have to remember that Moise was supposed to be a placeholder, because the Constitution of Haiti prevents presidents from running for two consecutive terms. So, Michel Martelly allegedly tapped him on the shoulder, keep the bench warm for me for five years, then campaign for me. And these elections, national elections are due next year.

    So, when Moise started to turn against the very people who brought him into power through things like this airstrip that we identify in the middle of the country, a place called Savane Diane, that allegedly got up to 4,000 kilos of cocaine between May and June delivered from possibly Venezuela or Colombia. He moved on the eel industry, which we understand from various sources Kiko Saint-Remy has cornered and is actually under investigation right now as a money laundering conduit.

    This started to actually really hit where it hurts, which is your wallet. And you can't have a political future without a big fat chunk of — chunk of change in your pocket.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moise himself, of course, has been accused of having his own corruption before becoming president. There were questions of how much money was in his bank account compared to his income and, as president, connections to powerful gangs.

    Wasn't he benefiting from the very system that you report he was trying to expose?

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    Yes, for sure.

    What we have been told by several people who served in his government and were loyal friends through and through was that Moise really turned a blind eye to the corruption that was happening in his government because he wanted to be able to do his own things, like provide electricity, provide infrastructure.

    But there were corruption allegations around this man. We should not lionize President Moise at all.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, finally, inside Haiti, has the investigation stalled?

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    Well, certain Haitian officials say, no, the investigation hasn't stalled, but we believe otherwise.

    From what we understand, people are incredibly nervous. They're not willing to come forward. So people don't really have a lot of faith in the Haitian judicial system.

    And the thinking is, OK, even if we don't like Moise, he wasn't a great president, if we can't solve who killed this head of state, then how can regular Haitians live their lives expecting to have — to have a fair shake, essentially?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maria Abi-Habib, thank you very much.

  • Maria Abi-Habib:

    Thank you.

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