Live Updates: Haiti Plans a State Funeral for a Divisive President

The Haitian national flag was flown at half-staff in Port-au-Prince on Saturday after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Credit…Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters

Amid a continuing power struggle in Haiti and swirling questions about the country’s future nearly a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, there’s at least one thing that some people in the nation seem to agree on: a state funeral for the slain leader.

Haiti’s government says it is setting up a committee to plan a state funeral for Mr. Moïse “with the respect, solemnity and dignity attached to his rank as head of state.”

Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Moïse, said that while the president had been a deeply polarizing character, many Haitians felt it was imperative that the dignity of the office be respected.

“He was Haiti’s president. Even if we disagreed and thought he should be out of office, this is a former president who died, and there is respect for the office,” Ms. Clesca said. “Jovenel Moïse was not loved, and this is a guy who traumatized the country for the past few years. But in our culture the dead are sacred. A Haitian president has died, and we must rise above it all.”

Still, while there is some support for a state funeral, Mr. Moïse was a divisive leader and had many detractors. There is also ambivalence in some quarters about how much respect to afford him given what his critics say was the suffering that he brought about.

At a news conference over the weekend, Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim prime minister, said his priority was to investigate the assassination and to find answers.

“As Prime Minister, it is my mission to lead this investigation that will allow the president, his wife, his sons and his daughter to find justice,” he said. He commended the Haitian people for maintaining their calm, suggesting that the assassination may have been calculated to “push the population to revolt and carnage.”

In recent days, the country has been convulsed by photos circulating on social media that purport to show the president’s corpse, and even his harshest critics have been angered over the pictures and their impingement on the dignity of the dead.

Last Wednesday, just hours after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in his residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s official government journal, Le Moniteur, published a government order declaring 15 days of national mourning.

The order called for the national flag to be flown at half-staff, and nightclubs and other establishments to remain closed. It “invited” radio and television stations to program circumstantial programs and music.

Two days later, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, released a video on Twitter praising Mr. Moïse’s legacy.

“He believed in change that would last,” read one of the captions of the video, which showed images of Mr. Moïse mingling with crowds while a nostalgic piano soundtrack played.

“Rest in peace President,” Mr. Joseph wrote.

The planning for the funeral comes as Haiti is facing a political crisis with several rival claims to power. Two men are competing for the job of prime minister even as Haiti’s democratic institutions have been severely hollowed out. And the president of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, has also been jockeying for power.

Mr. Moïse had planned to remove Mr. Joseph as prime minister, naming a replacement who was supposed to have been sworn in last week.

Mr. Moïse had presided over a country shaken by political instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His mandate was contested, with opponents saying that his five-year term should have ended in February. But Mr. Moïse had insisted that he had more than a year to serve, arguing that his term did not begin until a year after the presidential election, amid accusations of voting fraud.

Information about the committee planning the funeral was published in Le Moniteur on Monday. The committee includes the defense minister, the interior minister, the minister of foreign and religious affairs and the minister of culture and communication, in addition to the director general of Haiti’s National Pantheon Museum and two civil servants who work for the president’s office.

Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” immediately after the assassination, effectively placing the country under martial law. In that period of 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins.”

The empty streets of Port-au-Prince at dusk on Monday.
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Nearly a week after Haiti’s president was gunned down in his bedroom, the country is still wracked by questions over who was behind the killing, and their motives. And even as a state funeral is being planned for President Jovenel Moïse, political leaders are battling over who should lead the shaken nation.

Now, as a sprawling multinational investigation broadens, with suspects stretching from Colombia to Florida, the Haitian authorities have turned their focus to a little-known doctor who they said coveted the presidency. But how he might have managed to set in motion such an ambitious plot — involving perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from abroad — is not easily explainable.

Our correspondent Catherine Porter, who has reported on Haiti during about 30 trips over many years, has now landed in Haiti. Here’s what she saw on her arrival.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Green mountains peek through the heavy clouds below me, little farms clinging to their steep edges seemingly by magic.

Haiti is a beautiful country.

Flying into Port-au-Prince Monday evening, I thought of a Creole proverb: “dèyè mòn, gen mòn.”

Mountains beyond mountains. It is used to portray the endless difficulties in life.

The Haitian eye doctor seated next to me on the plane explained one of the expression’s meanings: Nothing is simple. There are always many layers.

We agreed it seemed a perfect expression for Haiti, and this moment in particular.

A president assassinated in his fortified home. Not one of his bodyguards reportedly injured. A group of Colombian ex-military commandos labeled by the police chief as the culprits, and a Haitian-born American doctor the alleged mastermind.

Yet, if they were specially trained army commandos, why did they not have an escape plan? Why would they have announced their arrival via a loudspeaker, alerting the whole neighborhood, and not been covert?

The first time I came to Haiti was after another devastating event: the 2010 earthquake. I have returned some 30 times since to report, and on a few occasions to visit friends.

The first thing I noticed leaving the airport this time was how empty the city seemed. The normally bustling, chaotic streets were barren of life.

It became clear quickly that it wasn’t just from mourning.

As dusk fell, our car was enveloped in darkness as though we were in the countryside, not in a city jammed with more than one million people.

Few lights shone from the concrete two-story buildings around us: The city was experiencing another power outage — an increasingly common phenomenon that President Jovenel Moïse, killed on Wednesday, had promised and failed to fix.

When we did see people, they were lined up at a gas station, sitting in their cars and tap-taps — local buses made from converted pickup trucks. My fixer, Harold Isaac, explained that the city’s violently warring gangs had essentially shut down one of the country’s main highways, separating the city from its main gas reserves, causing fuel shortages.

Then we went through the Christ-Roi neighborhood, where 11 people, including a journalist and well-known activist, were gunned down on the street one week before the president.

Pink bougainvillea tumbled over the high walls lining the streets, like flowers atop gravestones.

There were many complicated problems in Haiti before Mr. Moise’s horrific assassination. His death has simply added to them.

Dèyè mòn, gen mòn.

The accusation that a Florida-based doctor was a central figure in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti has been met with bewilderment by some who knew him and surprise by prominent Haitian Americans who said he was not known as a major political player.

At the same time, a university professor who met with the doctor twice last month said that he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over Haiti’s presidency.

About two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, and Haitian officials have placed the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, at the center of an investigation that has stretched out from Haiti to Colombia and the United States.

The doctor’s brother, Joseph Sanon, said that he had not been in touch with him for a while and that he had no idea what was going on. “I am desperate to know what’s happening,” he said.

A former neighbor of the doctor’s in Florida, Steven Bross, 65, said, “He was always trying to figure out ways to make Haiti more self-sufficient, but assassinating the president, no way.”

In a telephone interview on Monday, Michel Plancher, a civil engineering professor at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, said he had received a call from out of the blue to attend a meeting with Dr. Sanon, who he was told was planning a political campaign.

Professor Plancher said he had never heard of the doctor but decided to attend the meetings, which were held at a home in the capital, after internet searches showed Dr. Sanon to be a pastor who had done charitable work.

The two men had a first meet-and-greet encounter on June 1, Professor Plancher said. The initial contact was followed a day or two later by an hourlong meeting with Dr. Sanon and a group of six to eight people. Both meetings happened in the same home in Port-au-Prince.

There, he said, Dr. Sanon outlined his political ambitions.

“He said he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace Moïse,” Professor Plancher said. “He said the president would be resigning soon. He didn’t say why.”

Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, has accused Dr. Sanon of playing a pivotal role in the assassination and wanting to become president, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.

During a raid of his home, the Haitian authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who assaulted Mr. Moïse’s home appear to have falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.

A YouTube video recorded in 2011 titled “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” appears to present Mr. Sanon as a potential leader of the country. In it, the speaker denounces Haiti’s leaders as corrupt plunderers of its resources.

As the authorities focus on Dr. Sanon’s actions in recent months, a clearer picture of his past is also coming into view.

Dr. Sanon was born in 1958 in Marigot, a city on Haiti’s southern coast, and graduated from the Eugenio María de Hostos University in the Dominican Republic and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., according to a short biography from the Florida Baptist Historical Society.

Public records show that Dr. Sanon was licensed to practice conventional medicine and osteopathic medicine. In 2013, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Florida, a process in which people can liquidate assets to pay creditors. Dr. Sanon stated at the time of his bankruptcy filing that he was a doctor and the director of the Rome Foundation, a nonprofit involved in assisting people in Haiti.

And though Dr. Sanon was straddling two worlds, dividing time between his homes in Haiti and Florida, some in Miami’s Haitian diaspora expressed surprise when Dr. Sanon was named as a central figure in the assassination plotting.

“I never heard of this Sanon before,” said Georges Sami Saati, 68, a Haitian American businessman who is a prominent figure in Miami’s community of Haitian émigrés. “Nobody ever heard of him.”

A group of the Colombian ex-soldiers at their compound in Haiti in the days before the assassination of the Haitian president.
Credit…Duberney Capador, via Yenny Carolina Capador

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The retired soldiers trusted Duberney Capador because he was one of them: a former soldier who had spent years traversing Colombia, fighting left-wing guerrillas and other enemies in rugged conditions.

So when Mr. Capador, 40, reached out with a job offer — high-paying and important, he told them — many of the men jumped at the opportunity, and asked few questions.

The New York Times interviewed a dozen retired Colombian soldiers who were recruited for a potentially dangerous security operation in Haiti shortly before the president’s assassination last week. The soldiers interviewed did not end up participating — in some cases because they were part of a second wave of people who were supposed to arrive in Haiti at a later point, they said.

The exact relationship between Mr. Capador, the ex-soldiers and the death of the president is unclear. But Mr. Capador died in the aftermath of the assassination, and Haitian officials have 18 Colombians in custody in connection with the president’s death.

The narrative began with Mr. Capador, who retired from the military in 2019 and was living on a family farm in western Colombia with his mother. His sister, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, said in an interview in Bogotá that Mr. Capador had received a phone call in April from a security company that asked him to put together a group that would “protect important people in Haiti.”

Mr. Capador took the job, and by mid-May he had flown with a military buddy to Haiti to find a home base for the men and gather supplies.

He also started recruiting his military friends and asking them to call their friends. He organized them in at least two WhatsApp groups, and told them to buy boots and black polo shirts and to prepare their passports.

Some of the men said they had been promised $2,700 a month.

Carlos Cifuentes, one of the men recruited by Mr. Capador, said he had been told that it would be a “long-term post, initially a year.” Mr. Cifuentes said he had been told he would be fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.

Others were told that they would be providing security for “dignitaries” and “important people.”

“All we know is that we were going to provide security in an exclusive area under the command of Mr. Capador,” said one recruit who asked that he not be named to protect his safety. “We weren’t interested in how long, or where, or the name of the person we were going to protect. For these types of jobs there are never any details.”

Two of the 12 people interviewed said they had been told they would be protecting a president.

Others said that they had struggled to find well-paid work after leaving the military.

“I’ve been out of the military for four years and I’ve looked for work,” said Leodan Bolaños, 45, one of the recruits. What he had found paid too little, he said.

Mr. Capador started one of the WhatsApp groups, called “First Flight,” on May 26. By early June, the first wave of men had arrived in Haiti, several of the ex-soldiers said.

“We’re doing well,” wrote a former soldier in Haiti to one of the recruits still in Colombia, “they’re treating us like they promised.”

But the second wave of men never arrived.

Haitian officials say that a group of assailants stormed President Jovenel Moïse’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Wednesday at about 1 a.m., shooting him and wounding his wife, Martine Moïse, in what the Haitian authorities called a well-planned operation that included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.

On Monday, the head of Colombia’s national police, Jorge Luis Vargas, said Colombian officials had determined that at least two of the Colombian ex-soldiers found in Haiti, including Mr. Capador, had contact with a Florida-based company called CTU Security, run by a Venezuelan American named Antonio Intriago. But Mr. Vargas said nothing about Mr. Capador’s motives or the motives of the many men who followed him to Haiti.

Edinson Bolaños and Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.

A mural of the assassinated President Jovenel Moïse near his house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Credit…Orlando Barria/EPA, via Shutterstock

The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.

A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.

Even his critics were outraged.

“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted the journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”

She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.

Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister in charge of elections, said on Tuesday that the photos were of Mr. Moïse and that an autopsy had been carried out on the president’s body.

“The pictures that are circulating were taken at the laboratory by technicians during the scan,” Mr. Pierre said, referring to part of the autopsy procedure.

He did not say when the autopsy results would be made public.

Forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.

“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.

“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.

Photos of dead bodies left on the streets are sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.

The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats Haiti’s poor in clinics in Port-au-Prince’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said that for some of his staff members, the president’s brutal assassination had brought back memories of past violence.

“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.

And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.

“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.

Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

An atmosphere of unease persisted in Haiti this week as investigators tried to make sense of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, how the killing was plotted and what the motives were behind it.

U.S. Marines patrolled in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in 2004, having been deployed to restore order after the ouster of Haiti’s first democratically elected president.
Credit…Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

Barely a week after withdrawing nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden faces a strikingly similar dilemma much closer to home, in Haiti.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Biden concluded that American forces could not be expected to prop up the country’s frail government in perpetuity. His critics argue that the withdrawal makes Washington culpable for the collapse that seems likely to follow.

There is no threat of insurgent takeover in Haiti. But with the authorities there requesting U.S. troops to help restore order and guard its assets, Mr. Biden faces a similar choice.

Past interventions in Haiti suggest that another could forestall further descent into chaos. Those occupations lasted years, did little to address (and may have worsened) the underlying causes of that chaos and left the United States responsible for what came after.

Still, after decades of involvement there, the United States is seen as a guarantor of Haiti’s fate, also much as in Afghanistan. Partly because of that involvement, both countries are afflicted with poverty, corruption and institutional weakness that leave their governments barely in control — leading to requests for more U.S. involvement to prop them up.

Refusing Haiti’s request would make Washington partly responsible for the calamity that U.S. forces likely could otherwise hold off. But agreeing would leave it responsible for managing another open-ended crisis of a sort that has long proven resistant to outside resolution.

On Monday, President Biden accused officials in Cuba of “enriching themselves” instead of protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit…Ernesto Mastrascusa/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden took office with bold warnings for Russia and China about human rights as he pressed democracies around the world to stand up against autocracy. But this week he is facing a string of similar challenges in America’s neighborhood.

On Monday, a day after huge protests across Cuba, Mr. Biden accused officials there of “enriching themselves” instead of protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic, repression and economic suffering.

By early afternoon, Mr. Biden has refocused on Haiti, urging its political leaders to “come together for the good of their country,” less than a week after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his bed.

The turmoil presents a potential crisis closer to home, with a possible exodus of Haitians as the Biden administration contends with a surge of migrants at the southwestern border. It is also forcing the White House to focus on the region more broadly after years of indifference — or limited attention — from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

U.S. influence began waning in the region over the past decade as it turned toward focusing on terrorism in the Middle East and as Russia and especially China moved in to finance projects and offer political support and other incentives.

As Haitians continued to process a presidential assassination that has all the hallmarks of a sinister thriller, one baffling aspect of the killing dominated conversations in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora: How were the assassins able to so easily breach the presidential guard?

The Haitian authorities have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning this week as investigators try and understand how armed assassins could have entered a heavily guarded residence where Mr. Moïse was protected by dozens of officers.

Bedford Claude, the chief public prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, said that he had asked the police to interrogate all of the security staff close to Mr. Moise including two key security officials, Jean Laguel Civil, who is head of the unit protecting current and former presidents, akin to the U.S. Secret Service; and Dimitri Hérard, the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, the seat of executive power in Haiti. The two were expected to be interrogated this week.

An employee at the National Palace, who is familiar with the investigation and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about it, said that the night of the assassination, Mr. Moïse was supposed to have a force of 50 security guards at his residence. Instead, he said there were fewer than 10, all of whom have been arrested. “People here are baffled as to how that could have happened,” he said.

He said the President had made several calls from the residence the night of the assassination, including to Haiti’s top police official, but the precise timing of the calls was not clear.

Haitian security experts said that, given the magnitude of the crime, it was odd that the chief security officers were being summoned so late after the killing. They said they were concerned that some among the president’s security detail could have fled or tried to flee the country.

Manel Mauvais, the Haitian-Canadian director of Production Sécurité, a Montreal-based security company with 1,000 security agents and close ties to Haiti, said the delay in questioning the senior security guards underlined how the poor Caribbean nation was ill-equipped to conduct a professional investigation. The country is buffeted by lawlessness and violence, and the courts have barely been functional.

He said many Haitians abroad and in Haiti were viewing the investigation as a farce that seemed to be “just for show.” He said the security personnel should have been summoned within 24 or 48 hours of the assassination, before some could flee, or suspects could talk with each other to concoct false stories of what had happened.

“How can you do an investigation a week later and give people time to escape after such a major crime was committed?” he asked.

Some two dozen people have been detained so far in connection with the assassination.

Colombian officials said that some of the accused people had traveled to Haiti from Bogotá in May, flying to Panama, and the Dominican Republic before arriving in Haiti. The United States and Colombian officials said they would work with Haitian law enforcement to try and untangle the plot. The Biden administration officials has said that those efforts would include sending staff from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Haiti.

Conspiracy theories about the assassination were swirling in Haiti at supermarket lines, in cafes and bars, and on social media. One unsubstantiated theory was that the president was already dead when he was attacked. Another is that the Colombians were being framed for a plot they had no part in. Still another was that it was a plot from within the president’s own ranks.

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