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FLASH ALERT: ASSASSINATION OF HAITI'S PRESIDENT, JOVENEL MOÏSE

Team: SOUTHCOM

Week of: July 5, 2021


Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse[1]

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for the general public across Haiti and the Caribbean after the killing of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. Haiti was already in the midst of a constitutional crisis and was dealing with rampant gang violence. Haiti is under "siege" as a result of Moïse's death. Fears of escalating political unrest are growing.[2] Furthermore, there is a strong likelihood that gang violence will continue and that the humanitarian crisis will worsen. Haiti, one of the world's most troubled and impoverished countries, is likely to fall further into lawlessness. The political vacuum left by President Moïse could quickly lead to a coup d'état by both the opposition and the military as well as the population's protesters, which have been growing in number for months. Many may attempt to leave the country in the coming days, posing security concerns for nearby regions.


Gunmen stormed President Jovenel Moïse's heavily guarded private residence in Port-au-Prince on July 7, assassinated him, and injured his wife, Martine Marie Etienne Joseph Moïse.[3] She was rushed to a nearby hospital before being flown to Miami for treatment.[4] The assailants who killed Moïse claimed to be working with the Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States (DEA).[5] A total of 17 people have been arrested, including two Haitian-Americans and several former Colombian soldiers, while more assailants are being sought.[6] Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the situation in Haiti, whose government had requested additional security assistance after the assassination.[7] Haiti has also requested foreign troops to protect critical infrastructure. Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph has sent the request to the United States and the United Nations, but the US says it has no plans to provide military assistance "at this time.”[8] U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned in the strongest terms the assassination as “abhorrent,” and called on all Haitians to preserve constitutional order and remain united.[9]


The assassination of President Moïse deepens a crisis that Haiti was already facing. Among the key factors, gang violence in the capital city of Port-au-Prince reached dangerous heights, resulting in over 10,000 people taking refuge in makeshift shelters.[10] The gangs have used kidnappings to finance themselves, which have increased exponentially since January and have spread terror among the population.[11] As a result of this, gangs have grown in number and power, also taking advantage of the country’s political instability, which is at the center of Haiti’s crisis. The country did not have a parliament at the time of the assassination, whereby Moïse had been ruling by decree since January 2020. The end date of Moïse's mandate had been in dispute, with the president maintaining that his term of office would run until February 7, 2022, while the opposition movement stated it ended on February 7, 2021, with requests for him to resign.[12] In September 2021, Haiti should be holding elections. However, there is currently no certainty about this agenda, which could unleash protests in the Haitian population. Another factor behind Haiti's crisis is that cases of COVID-19 are rising, and the vaccination campaign has yet to begin due to the social and political turmoil.[13] This makes the population feel abandoned by institutions even more, as a new outbreak of COVID-19 may exacerbate their sanitary conditions, which will further the impacts of existing health concerns such as cholera.


The events of Haiti have serious political ramifications for the foreseeable future. Although the investigations are still underway, it is likely that people opposed to Moise's policies, particularly his constitutional reform initiative, which they saw as a way to consolidate his authority, were behind his assassination that did not solve the problems but complicated them. The killing of Moïse, the first of a sitting president in Haiti's modern political history[14], has left a power vacuum difficult to fill. The day before his death, Moïse had named a new Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, to form a consensus cabinet that would unify the country's varied political parties ahead of the elections.[15] However, Henry was also Moïse's seventh prime minister, indicating that Moïse's government was weak and lacked widespread support, increasing tensions further.[16] Moïse’s attempt to bring the opposing parties together was almost certainly bound to fail. As a consequence of it, after Moïse’s death, Henry had not yet assumed his duties and is claiming that he, not Claude Joseph, is the rightful premier. However, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph and his cabinet have taken over executive powers until a new president can be elected, but it is unclear whether the elections will take place as scheduled.[17]Conflicts between Joseph and Henry, as well as between the government and the opposition and an uptick in gang violence, are likely to lead to the election being called off. If no date is confirmed and conflicts between the successors to the presidency continue, the country will likely descend into chaos, posing a threat to the entire region. Without a date for the elections and a parliament, there is a risk that the current government will quickly become an authoritarian regime, also to protect itself from other power contenders. A coup d'état by Ariel Henry, the opposition, or the army, is a likelihood. This would raise public tensions to the point where people would protest, which would likely be suppressed. Violence and abuse, which would likely be necessary to maintain central power, could become the norm.


Furthermore, the gangs could take advantage of the situation to offer their support to the new government, as one of their leaders, Jimmy Cherizier, had promised "a revolution" in the country on June 23, 2021.[18] To strengthen its position, the new government could allow them to establish a parallel power with complete impunity and control over the territory, as the ‘collectivos’ in Venezuela under Maduro’s government. According to a report by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Haitian Observatory of Crimes Against Humanity, many gangs were financed by corrupt police and government officials.[19] As of this report, no action has been taken to punish those responsible, despite the UN urging the Haitian government to end impunity for gang leaders in February 2021.[20] If impunity continues, the gangs may be able to keep Haiti under control by causing another wave of violence, throwing the country further into turmoil. Kidnappings for ransom could increase, and the population’s fear may grow in a cycle of violence. People may come to the streets to protest once more, which could result in numerous injuries or deaths. Additionally, citizens may flee the country, particularly by sea, because the Dominican Republic closed its shared border with Haiti, and the international airport in Port-au-Prince was also closed for 72 hours. The controversial plan of the Dominican Republic to lengthen the existing border wall may be revived. Protests and border clashes are expected to become more frequent in the coming months.


The implications of the assassination have a direct impact on critical infrastructure with the Haiti Government requesting assistance from US military troops.[21] Some of Haiti’s citizens strongly disagree with the request due to a controversial history regarding US presence in the country. This is likely to have immediate implications with the potential for violent protests and disagreements with local police forces. Local police forces currently lack key resources that would be necessary for protecting citizens and key buildings. At-risk infrastructure includes private housing, ports, and airports; these may be targeted by violent gangs who are increasing their activities or demonstrations from citizens. The destruction of infrastructure will directly impact the economy and provision of external resources to Haiti, especially if the airport or marine ports are targeted. The safety of citizens will be further impacted as it will be difficult for police to combat the actions of gangs. If private homes of citizens are targeted by gangs, people in Haiti will likely need to seek shelter or attempt to leave the country. The Government will need to rely on regional partnerships but there has yet to be strong support from the US, the most influential and powerful actor in the region.


CONCLUSION

As a team, CTG SOUTHCOM recommends that an investigation be carried out appropriately with the help of the governments of Colombia and the United States, and international organizations to find the assassins of President Moïse. Unsubstantiated versions are emerging such as the statement made by former Haitian senator Steven Benoit where he suggested that the accusations against the former military are false because the group allegedly arrived two hours after Moïse was assassinated.[22] Multiple unanswered questions need to be resolved which may take time due to rapid changes within the country. Given Haiti's political polarization and fragmentation, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Haiti is a member, should be seen as a natural and neutral interlocutor. We also urge the Biden administration of the US to reconsider former US President Donald Trump's decision in 2017 to withdraw financing for UN peacekeeping personnel in Haiti. In a country that appears to be ungoverned, a United Nations peacekeeping operation or a consortium of agreeable nations may oversee a fair election and assist a new government in taking office.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate may be considered HIGH. We base this assessment on the political, social, and institutional implications that Haiti is currently having as a result of the assassination of the president of this country. The threat from violent gangs and instability may be high in the context of Haiti’s concerning history.


Our analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that violence will occur with political unrest and gang violence likely to increase.


For more detailed information, please contact us at info@counterterrorismgroup.com.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a unit of the global risk consulting and security firm Paladin 7. CTG proactively searches for and analyzes the threat of terrorism that comes from International Terrorist Organizations, Domestic Terrorist Organizations, and Individuals determined to inflict terror upon societies, organizations, and individuals. Our international and national security professionals set up protective measures to detect, deter, and prevent, discourage, and dissuade any terrorist organization or individual from attacking organizations and individuals. We work to protect our clients from any terrorist threat or attack. We also work proactively with the proper authorities to find those in terrorist organizations and individuals who will cause harm and assist in bringing them to justice and mitigating the threat long-term.


Sources:

  • FBI and DHS will assist the investigation of Haitian president’s assassination, White House says, CNBC, July 2021,

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/09/two-us-citizens-arrested-after-haitian-president-killing-state-department.html


  • Who Was Behind the Killing of Haiti's President?, Insight Crime, July 2021

https://insightcrime.org/news/who-behind-killing-haiti-president/


  • The U.S., Colombia sending officials to Haiti after assassination arrests, Reuters, July 2021

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombian-suspects-haiti-presidents-killing-arrived-via-dominican-republic-2021-07-09/


  • To Save Haiti’s Democracy, Don’t Hold Elections, Just Security, July 2021

https://www.justsecurity.org/77379/to-save-haitis-democracy-dont-hold-elections/


  • Haití: "El asesinato del presidente Moïse pone al país a la puerta del caos, de una inestabilidad que puede tener implicaciones para toda la región", BBC, July 2021

https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-57759820


[1] Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse by PresidenciaRD licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Haiti Declares State of Siege After President Is Assassinated, VOA, July 2021 https://www.voanews.com/americas/haiti-declares-state-siege-after-president-assassinated

[3] Haiti in upheaval: President Moïse assassinated at home, AP, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/haiti-president-jovenel-moise-killed-b56a0f8fec0832028bdc51e8d59c6af2

[4] First Lady of Haiti Martine Moïse arrives in South Florida for treatment after being shot multiple times, Local 10, July 2021, https://www.local10.com/news/local/2021/07/07/first-lady-of-haiti-martine-moise-arrives-in-south-florida-for-treatment-after-being-shot-multiple-times/

[5] Men who killed the president of Haiti pretended to be with the DEA: reports, Business Insider, July 2021,

[6] More suspects arrested in assassination of Haitian president, AP, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-government-and-politics-colombia-caribbean-haiti-5066fd5e0169cce7df8950843c8d3544

[7] Top UN Haiti envoy hails commitment to hold new elections, United Nations website, July 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1095542

[8]Jovenel Moïse: Haiti requests foreign troops after president's assassination, BBC, July 2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57786862

[9] UN condemns ‘abhorrent’ assassination of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse, UN News, July 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1095422

[10] Deadly surge in gang violence in Haiti’s capital displaces nearly twice as many people in June than in all of 2020, Relief Web, June 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/deadly-surge-gang-violence-haiti-s-capital-displaces-nearly-twice-many-people-june-al

[11] Descent into hell’: Kidnapping explosion terrorizes Haiti, Reuters, April 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/descent-into-hell-kidnapping-explosion-terrorizes-haiti-2021-04-26/

[12] Haiti opposition condemns country's slide into rule by decree, Reuters, January 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-politics-idUSKBN1ZE098

[13] ‘Cautionary tale’: Haiti sees COVID surge as it awaits vaccines, Al Jazeera, June 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/9/cautionary-tale-haiti-braces-covid-surge-as-it-awaits-vaccines

[14] How the Assassination of Haiti’s President Follows Years of Strife and Gridlock, New York Times, July 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/world/americas/haiti-president-assassination.html

[15] 2 men are claiming to be Haiti's prime minister after the country's president was assassinated, Business Insider, July 2021 https://www.businessinsider.com/haiti-prime-minister-henry-joseph-prime-minister-moise-assassination-2021-7

[16] Ariel Henry appointed Haiti's new prime minister, Radio Jamaica News, July 2021 http://radiojamaicanewsonline.com/local/ariel-henry-appointed-haitis-new-prime-ministe

[17]Two Haitian Adversaries Vying for Power Are Negotiating to Bring Stability, Elections, Wall Street Journal, July 2021 https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-haitian-adversaries-vying-for-power-are-negotiating-to-bring-stability-elections-11626126813

[18] Haiti gang leader launches 'revolution' as violence escalates, Reuters, June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/haiti-gang-leader-launches-revolution-violence-escalates-2021-06-24/

[19] Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Haitian Observatory of Crimes Against Humanity, May 2021 http://hrp.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Killing_With_Impunity-1.pdf

[20] Haiti : UN issues report on gang violence in Port au Prince, Reliefweb, February 2021 https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/haiti-un-issues-report-gang-violence-port-au-prince

[21] 'We need help': Haiti's interim leader requests US troops, Associated Press News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-caribbean-haiti-election-2020-011ce271fe57211c29ffb0e5eef9c506

[22] Mystery swirls around Haiti leader's murder, France24, July 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210709-mystery-swirls-around-haiti-leader-s-murder

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