Jovenal Moïse, the president of Haiti, was assassinated by what appears to be men who were well armed with heavy-caliber weapons in his home on Wednesday. It is not yet clear who the men are. Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph says that the men spoke English or Spanish but provided no further details. The Miami Herald reports that the gunmen falsely claimed to be with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and says that sources say that one of the gunmen spoke English with an American accent. The State Department has called the claims of DEA involvement "absolutely false." The Haitian ambassador to the US has called the assassins "mercenaries." The operation seems to have been well trained and sophisticated.
The enormously unpopular Moïse had been illegally holding on to power and growing increasingly authoritarian since last February. The US backed president’s term in office was over, but he had been trying to hold on to another year of power, claiming it was owed to him because disputes over the 2018 election cut into his term. Even though the Haitian judiciary has refuted his claim, the US State Department has backed it. State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing that “a new elected president should succeed President Moïse when his term ends on February 7th, 2022.”
The situation in Haiti has been becoming more confusing, as protests and violence have grown in the streets, and so has the American response.
There are two issues in Haiti. One is a referendum on a new constitution that has been accused of being designed to consolidate power in the presidency. Moïse’s proposed constitution would abolish the senate, replace the prime minister with a vice president appointed by the president and give the president control over all ministries. The president would also have the power to appoint the electoral council that organizes elections. The president would also be conferred immunity from crimes and corruption committed while president. The other crucial issue is the postponed election. The US is backing the election but not the referendum.
The referendum has received international criticism for failure to be “inclusive, participatory or transparent” and for being “unconstitutional and illegal.”
US support for the election is more confusing. Though support for elections seems like the opposite of a coup or of intervention, the Biden administration’s support for the election has been seen as the opposite.
State Department spokesman Ned Price insists that "Presidential elections scheduled for the fall of this year are necessary.” How can election support be antidemocratic coup support? Democrat members of congress explain in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that "While elections will clearly be needed in the near future to restore democratic order, we remain deeply concerned that any electoral process held under the current administration will fail to be free, fair or credible….” Supporting the elections in Haiti was supporting Moïse’s attempt to hold on to power.
Nonetheless, Biden continued the Trump administration’s support for Moïse and continued to support the election.
America and its allies have a long history of coups and interference that have caused Haiti to struggle to attain stability. Haiti’s democratic wishes have long been snuffed out by the US, and the people of Haiti have never had much say in whom they want to lead their country. In 1959, when a small group of Haitians tried to overthrow the savage US backed dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the US military, which was in Haiti to train Duvalier’s brutal forces, not only helped locate the rebels but took part in the fighting that squashed them.
A quarter of a century later, when the people of Haiti longed to elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, the CIA, with the authorization of President Reagan, funded candidates to oppose him, according to William Blum in Killing Hope. When the people of Haiti surmounted American obstructions and elected Aristide, the US, sometimes with the help of Canada and France, took him out: twice!
CIA expert John Prados says that the "chief thug" amongst the groups of thugs and militia behind the coup was a CIA asset. Tim Weiner, the author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, agrees. Weiner says that several of the leaders of the junta that took out Aristide "had been on the CIA’s payroll for years."
In all the confusion, it is unclear who will now take power in Haiti and what will happen.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.