How Local Guerrilla Fighters Routed Ethiopia’s Powerful Army

A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.


SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.

Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.

“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.

The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.

The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.

airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.

Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.

In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.

Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.

Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.

Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.

Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.

Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.

Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”

“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”

Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.

The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.

Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.

Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.

“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”

As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.

But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.

At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.

The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.

Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.

“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”

Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.

Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.

Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.

He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”

Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.

“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”

Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”

Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.

Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.

Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.

Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”

But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.

Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.

On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.

The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.

As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.

For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.

“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”

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Live Updates: Haitian Officials Request U.S. Forces

political intrigue, gang violence, a public health crisis driven by the pandemic and difficulties delivering essential international aid.

The Haitian minister of elections, Mathias Pierre, said the request was made because President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had promised to help Haiti.

A deputy State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, told a news briefing on Friday that she could not confirm such a request. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, did say that the United States would be sending senior F.B.I. and homeland security officials to Port-au-Prince “as soon as possible” to determine how to assist Haiti.

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White House Says U.S. Law Enforcement Will Be Sent to Haiti

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the Biden administration would respond to the Haitian government’s request and send U.S. law enforcement officials to assist after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

The United States remains engaged and in close consultations with our Haitian and international partners to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination of the president. In response to the Haitian government’s request for security and investigative assistance, we will be sending senior F.B.I. and D.H.S. officials to Port-au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we may be able to assist. Our assistance is to help the people of Haiti and to help them get through what is a very challenging time, and has long been even before the assassination of the president. So the investigation is not going to impact the assistance we’re providing to the people of Haiti. But as I announced at the beginning, we are sending because supporting law enforcement efforts on the ground and making sure we are providing resources in terms of women and manpower, but also financial resources is part of what our objective is as well.

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The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the Biden administration would respond to the Haitian government’s request and send U.S. law enforcement officials to assist after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Haitian authorities have said the assassination involved “foreign” forces, and the police have identified more than two dozen people involved in the assassination of the president, including 26 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent.

Colombia’s president asked several of the country’s top intelligence officials and an officer from Interpol’s central office in Colombia to travel to Haiti to assist with the investigation, Colombia’s defense department said on Friday.

Mr. Pierre, the Haitian minister of elections, said the country had already been facing a large problem with “urban terrorists” who might use the opportunity to attack key infrastructure in the country while the police are focused on their manhunt.

“The group that financed the mercenaries want to create chaos in the country,” he said. “Attacking the gas reserves and airport might be part of the plan.”

Robenson Geffrard, a reporter for Le Nouvelliste, one of the country’s leading newspapers, said a “sense of uncertainty” and the “shadow of violence” was looming over the capital, Port-au-Prince, raising fears that Friday was but a fleeting interlude before the situation spirals out of control again.

“In supermarkets and public markets, people are jostling” to stock up on basic goods such as rice and pasta, Mr. Geffrard said, and there are lines at stations selling propane gas, often used for cooking.

The country is enmeshed in a constitutional crisis, with a nonfunctioning Parliament and competing claims over leadership. The Caribbean nation’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, says he has taken command of the police and the army. But the president, days before his death, had appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry. Mr. Henry told a local newspaper after the assassination that he was the rightful prime minister.

The situation has been further complicated by the pandemic. While there are many legal uncertainties, in the past the country’s top justice has been expected to fill any void in the political leadership. But that justice, René Sylvestre, died of Covid-19 in June.

Haiti, the only country in the Americas with no active Covid-19 inoculation campaign, has virtually no vaccine doses, and public health experts say that the coronavirus is far more widespread there than publicly reported.

Ms. Psaki said the United States would be sending vaccines to Haiti, possibly as early as next week.

With the prospect of greater turmoil looming, international observers worry that a growing humanitarian crisis could lead to the kind of exodus that has previously followed natural disasters, coups and other periods of deep instability.

The Pan American Health Organization said in a statement that the crisis was “creating a perfect storm, because the population has lowered its guard, the infrastructure of Covid-19 beds has been reduced, the security situation could deteriorate even further and hurricane season has started.”

Police searched the Morne Calvaire district of Petion Ville for suspects who remain at large in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday. Despite the city’s activities returning to normal, tension remains high.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The usually crowded streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, returned to some normalcy on Friday, three days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, according to a local journalist.

“But it’s a precarious, apparent calm, it can go awry at any moment,” said the journalist, Robenson Geffrard, a reporter for Le Nouvelliste, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

Mr. Geffrard said that economic activity had resumed. Street vendors were out; supermarkets, gas stations and banks reopened; and public transportation and public administration tentatively picked up.

So had gang violence, he said, an integral part of Haitians’ daily lives.

“Armed gangs resumed hostilities with a lot of bursts of automatic weapons,” Mr. Geffrard said, adding that there was gang fighting along one of the main roads connecting the south of Port-au-Prince to the surrounding provinces.

A “sense of uncertainty” was looming over the capital, he said.

“In supermarkets and public markets, people are jostling” to stock up on basic goods such as rice and pasta, Mr. Geffrard said. Lines have appeared in front of stations selling propane gas, which is often used for cooking.

Mr. Geffrard said that in the hours after the assassination, the shock and fear were such that people deserted the streets, turning Port-au-Prince into a ghost town.

A video he posted on Twitter on Thursday showed the usually bustling suburb of Pétionville, where the presidential residence is, almost empty of people, with only a few motorcycles venturing out on the roads.

The silence in the capital was broken on Thursday only when crowds of protesters gathered outside of a police station to demand justice for the suspects the police had arrested in the search for the president’s killers. A video from Agence France Presse showed protesters shouting slogans in front of a police station while cars and tires were being burned in nearby streets.

“There is still this specter of violence, of insecurity that haunts the minds of the population,” Mr. Geffrard said.

During a news conference on Thursday, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, called on businesses to reopen despite the 15-day “state of siege” he imposed, essentially putting the country under martial law.

“It is true that there is a state of siege, but I want to tell everyone to resume economic activities,” Mr. Joseph said, as he also ordered the reopening of Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture international airport.

A crowd surrounded a police vehicle carrying two suspects in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.
Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

Two Americans arrested in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti this week said that they were not in the room when he was killed and that they had worked only as translators for the hit squad, a Haitian judge said on Friday.

Clément Noël, a judge who is involved with the investigation and who interviewed both men soon after their arrest, said that neither was injured in the assault.

One of the Americans was identified as James J. Solages, a U.S. citizen who lived in South Florida and previously worked as a security guard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. The other was identified as Joseph Vincent, 55.

Judge Noël, speaking by telephone, said that he could not provide details on the wider plot or a possible motive, but said the two Americans maintained that the plot had been planned intensively for a month.

The Americans, he said, would meet with other members of the squad at an upscale hotel in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to plan the attack. He said they had relayed that the goal was not to kill the president but to bring him to the national palace.

Mr. Moïse was shot dead in his private residence on the outskirts of the capital around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, his body riddled with bullets.

Judge Noël said the Americans had been taken into custody after a shootout with police that resulted in the death of two Colombians.

When they were taken into custody, they had in their possession weapons, clothes, food and other paraphernalia used in the assault.

Judge Noël said that it was Mr. Solages who had yelled that the assailants were agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency over a loudspeaker at the start of the assault.

Mr. Vincent said he had been in the country for six months and that he had been staying with a cousin. Mr. Solages said he had been in Haiti for a month.

The men said the Colombians involved in the plot had been in the country for about three months.

All that Mr. Vincent would say about the broader plot was that the mastermind was a foreigner named “Mike” who spoke Spanish and English. Mr. Solages said that he had found the job to translate for the hit squad in a listing posted online. They would not say how much they had been paid.

Judge Noël said Mr. Solages had “replied in a very evasive manner.”

As the Haitian security forces continued to hunt for suspects in Mr. Moïse’s assassination, the interview offered the clues into who carried out the operation. Most of those in custody are Colombian, the authorities say, and include retired members of the military.

The body of another mercenary was found on Thursday around 10 a.m., on the roof of a private residence in Pétionville. The man, presumed a Colombian, was hit by a single bullet in his left side and killed, despite the fact he was wearing a bulletproof vest, said a justice of the peace, Phidélito Dieudonné. The man had climbed the security wall of the home, and then used a ladder to get up on the roof, Mr. Dieudonné said. He had no firearm or identity documents on him, but a couple of license plates had been dropped to the courtyard.

At a news conference announcing the arrests on Thursday, the authorities had singled out the Americans as they sat on the floor with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. It was not clear what evidence the Haitian authorities had against the two men, when they had entered the country and what their connection might be to those identified as Colombian.

Mr. Solages, 35, is a native of Jacmel, a city in southern Haiti, and lived in Broward County, the Florida county that includes Fort Lauderdale. He was the president of a small charity organization that said it focused on giving grants to women in his home city. But federal tax records show that he claimed to work 60 hours a week on an organization that in 2019 took in just over $11,000.

The organization, Jacmel First, says that its primary objective is reducing poverty and promoting education and better health systems in Haiti. His biography on his website said that he was a consultant, building engineer and “certified diplomatic agent.”

He also claimed to be chief commander of the bodyguards for the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. A Canadian government official said that Mr. Solages was briefly a reserve officer for a security company that had a contract to protect the embassy in 2010.

By the end of Thursday, as photographs of Mr. Solages in custody in Haiti circulated online, the charity group’s website had been taken down. So was a Facebook page that showed Mr. Solages in sharp suits.

Asked about the president’s murder and Mr. Solages’s arrest, Jean Milot Berquin, of Jacmel First’s board members, said, “I’m so sorry about that,” and declined to comment further.

While the biography on Mr. Solages’s charity website paints him as a professional and politician, his LinkedIn profile lists an entirely different set of jobs that sound more like maintenance positions.

His online résumé says that he has an associate degree from a technical college and is a plant operations director at a senior living facility in Lantana, Fla. (Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.)

State corporation records show that he owns maintenance company whose address was the same as the charity’s: a second-floor office above a restaurant in a strip mall. The office is now occupied by someone else.

Mr. Solages’s Twitter account, which has been dormant for over a year, includes inspirational quotes like “Don’t let nobody tell you that you are aiming too high or expecting too much of yourself, with both Mars, your ruler, and the Sun about to move to your favor, you should in fact expecting more of yourself then (sic) ever before.”

Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian envoy to the United States, has called for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act.
Credit…Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States has formally requested that the Biden administration impose human rights sanctions on those behind the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken dated Wednesday, Haiti’s envoy to Washington, Bocchit Edmond, said his government was asking the United States to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act “on all perpetrators who are directly responsible or aided and abetted in the execution of the assassination of the president.”

Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016 to penalize foreign government officials for human rights abuses in any country, following the death of a Russian tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in a Russian prison in 2009.

Mr. Edmond and other Haitian officials have said they believe “foreigners” were behind the plot to murder Mr. Moïse, who was gunned down in his residence early Wednesday morning. At least 19 people, including 17 Colombians and two American citizens, have been detained in Haiti in connection with the attack.

Mr. Edmond’s letter also details his government’s previously known request for American assistance with its investigation into the killing. He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s international operations office and the Department of Justice “can play a critical role in rendering justice.”

During a Friday briefing for reporters, the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, said the Biden administration was “committed to cooperating with Haitian authorities” but did not provide more detail.

Ms. Porter referred questions about the detained Americans to Haitian authorities, citing “privacy considerations,” and also referred questions about the detained Colombians to officials of that country.

A protest on Thursday near the police station in the Pétionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Credit…Richard Pierrin/Getty Images

After 24 hours filled with intense standoffs and gun battles, the police said they had identified more than two dozen people involved in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse this week, including 26 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent.

Mr. Moïse’s chief bodyguards have been called for questioning as part of the investigation into the president’s murder, said Bedford Claude, chief public prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. He said he had issued summons for the head of presidential guard, Jean Laguel Civil, security chief for the presidential palace, Dimitri Hérard and two other top presidential bodyguards to appear for questioning next Wednesday.

One of the main questions surrounding Mr. Moïse’s murder is how the assassins managed to enter the residence of Haiti’s most guarded man without apparently encountering resistance from dozens of bodyguards protecting him.

The authorities have so far offered no clue as to who might have organized the operation or a motive for the attack, but they have pointed to “foreign” involvement, and arrested 19 people, including two Americans and 17 Colombians.

On Friday, the Taiwanese authorities said that 11 heavily armed people had been arrested a day earlier on the grounds of its embassy in Port-au-Prince, about a mile from the assassination. Joanne Ou, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said the Haitian police were investigating.

In the aftermath of the assassination, at least two people killed in clashes with police were also identified as Colombians.

Colombia’s defense minister, Diego Molano, said initial information suggested that the people from his country in custody were retired members of the Colombian military.

On Friday, President Iván Duque of Colombia said that he had spoken with Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph. “We expressed our solidarity and support at this time,” Mr. Duque said on Twitter. “We offered full collaboration to find the truth about the material and intellectual authors of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.”

Mr. Joseph said he had taken command of the police and the army. But the president, days before his death, had appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry. Mr. Henry told a local newspaper after the assassination that he was the rightful prime minister.

Despite declaring what is essentially martial law and imposing a curfew, Mr. Joseph asked people to return to work on Friday. Airports resumed commercial flights, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy.

More than a dozen of the suspects — some with physical injuries — were paraded before the cameras at a late-night news conference on Thursday. At least six other suspects are on the run, the authorities said.

“We are pursuing them,” said Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, before a phalanx of politicians and police officers.

U.S. Marines guarding Haitians outside Port-au-Prince in February 1920. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines to protect U.S. interests after the assassination of the Haitian president.
Credit…Bettmann, via Getty Images

The Haitian government’s extraordinary request for U.S. forces to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of the assassination of its president carries haunting vestiges from American military interventions that happened more than a century ago.

Back then, however, the United States dispatched forces without an invitation from Haiti. The American government was motivated by Haiti’s internal turmoil and a willingness to meddle in the affairs of neighbors to protect its own interests under the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, calling the invasion a justifiable response to avert anarchy after Haiti’s president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, was assassinated by a mob. The American military stayed for nearly two decades.

But even before that, Mr. Wilson saw fit to take military action in Haiti, worried about what his administration saw as the growing influence of Germany there, according to a historical page about the U.S. interventions on the State Department archive website.

In 1914, his administration sent in Marines who removed $500,000 from the Haitian National Bank for what the administration called “safekeeping” in New York, giving the United States control of the bank, the website said.

Eighty years later, President Bill Clinton ordered more than 23,000 U.S. troops sent to Haiti in what was termed “Operation Restore Democracy,” aimed at ensuring a transition that would return ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

In 2004, President George W. Bush sent in the Marines as part of an “interim international force” after Mr. Aristide resigned under intense U.S. pressure.

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Assassins in Haiti Claimed to Be D.E.A.

In videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the The New York Times, the group of commandos who appeared to be arriving to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation.

OK, they say, Everybody do not shoot. They say they are not our enemies, everybody do not shoot. This is a D.E.A. operation. This is a D.E.A. operation. This is a D.E.A. operation. Keep moving, guys. Keep moving. Keep. moving. Keep moving.

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In videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the The New York Times, the group of commandos who appeared to be arriving to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation.

Two videos filmed at the same time from separate buildings near Haiti’s presidential compound suggest that the group who killed President Jovenel Moïse claimed to be agents from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

The videos appear to show the assailants arriving near Mr. Moïse’s residence. A witness on one video claims to see the assailants disarming some of Mr. Moïse’s guards stationed nearby.

In the videos, about a dozen armed men can be seen walking slowly up a main street in the Pèlerin 5 neighborhood alongside at least eight vehicles — a mix of sport utility vehicles and trucks. The men appear calm and do not encounter resistance or try to hide.

Over a loudspeaker, a male voice shouts multiple times in English: “This is a D.E.A. operation! Everybody, don’t shoot!”

He repeats the command in Creole.

The D.E.A. has an office in Port-au-Prince to help Haiti’s government “develop and strengthen its counternarcotics law enforcement program,” according to the U.S. Embassy. But Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told Reuters that the gunmen had falsely identified themselves as D.E.A. agents. “No way they were D.E.A. agents,” he said.

The attack “was carried out by foreign mercenaries and professional killers,” Mr. Edmond said in Washington.

In one of the two videos, the man holding the camera comments on what is unfolding, saying that the armed men are coming to the president’s home.

“They’ve taken Jovenel. Jovenel is gone,” he says, referring to Mr. Moïse by his first name, as shouting can be heard in the distance. “Don’t you see the guys disarming the Jovenel guys?”

A police patrol in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Taiwanese authorities said on Friday that 11 heavily armed people had been arrested on Thursday on the grounds of its embassy in Port-au-Prince, about a mile from where President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was assassinated.

It was not immediately clear whether the people arrested at the embassy were involved in the assassination. Joanne Ou, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said the Haitian police were still looking into the matter.

In a separate statement posted on Friday, Taiwan’s Embassy in Haiti condemned the assassination as “cruel and barbaric” and referred to those arrested on its grounds as “mercenaries.”

Ms. Ou, the spokeswoman, said that on Thursday morning, security personnel had discovered a group of “fully armed, suspicious-looking individuals” breaking through the embassy’s security perimeter and had immediately notified the police and embassy staff.

She said that no embassy personnel were on the grounds when the intruders were discovered, because they had been instructed to work from home shortly after the assassination in the early hours of Wednesday.

Ms. Ou said embassy officials had immediately agreed to allow the Haitian police to enter the grounds to conduct a search and make arrests.

By 4 p.m. on Thursday, the police had arrested the suspects, she said, adding that no one was harmed and that an initial inspection indicated only minimal property damage.

It was not immediately clear whether the 11 people detained at the embassy were included in the group of 19 suspects who the Haitian authorities say have been arrested in connection with the assassination.

Haiti is one of only 15 nations to have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by China. Taiwan’s embassy in Port-au-Prince is in Pétion-Ville, the suburb where Mr. Moïse was killed.

“At this difficult time,” Ms. Ou said, “the government of Taiwan reiterates its support for interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph in leading Haiti to overcome this crisis and restore democratic order.”

Haiti was gripped by unease on Friday after the nation’s president was killed at his home on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince earlier in the week. There are questions about who is in charge of the Caribbean nation even as the coronavirus is spreading and armed gangs wield growing power.

Bullet holes in a wall at the home of President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday.
Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

The presidential house peppered with holes and littered with bullet casings. The front doors badly damaged. The president’s body lying on the floor at the foot of his bed, “bathed in blood.”

The Haitian justice of the peace who arrived at the home of President Jovenel Moïse in the hours after his assassination on Wednesday described a haunting scene.

“There were 12 holes visible in the body of the president that I could see,” the justice, Carl Henri Destin, told The New York Times. “He was riddled with bullets.”

In the days after the assassination, the Caribbean country was still reeling, and as details of the assassination emerged, they seemed to offer more questions than answers.

Forty to 50 people were involved in the assault, and they appeared to have been well-trained, State Department officials told members of Congress on Thursday, according to three people familiar with the briefing who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That report was in keeping with earlier comments by the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, who described the attackers as “professionals, killers, commandos” in a call with reporters.

The assailants made it past two police checkpoints before reaching the president’s gate, the State Department said, according to people familiar with the briefing, adding that the security personnel guarding the president’s residence had suffered no injuries.

There were also said to be no reports of an exchange of gunfire between the guards and the attackers — which raised some eyebrows.

“It’s weird that there was no one was fighting back,” said Laurent Lamothe, a former prime minister of Haiti, noting that the presidential guard usually had a detachment of about 100 officers. “There was a lot of shooting, but no deaths. The only death was the president.”

One American lawmaker, Representative Andy Levin, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the circumstances of the attack, and particularly the apparent lack of fighting, raised questions about whether the assassination could have been “an inside job.”

Mr. Destin, the justice of the peace, said the president’s house had been ransacked. “Drawers were pulled out, papers were all over the ground, bags were open,” he said. “They were looking for something apparently.”

And the attack, he said, had been very violent.

President Moïse had been dressed in a white shirt and jeans, he said, both of which were torn and covered in blood. Bullet holes perforated his arms, hip, backside and left ear.

Mr. Destin said two of the president’s children had been present during the attack. He took a statement from the president’s 24-year-old daughter, who had returned to the house from the hospital to collect clothing for her wounded mother.

She told him that she and her younger brother had hid together in his bathroom, Mr. Destin said.

The international airport in Port-au-Prince is resuming commercial flights on Friday, two days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti led to its closure and a series of canceled flights.

Christopher D. Johnson, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince, confirmed in a statement that flights would resume on Friday. The facility, Toussaint Louverture International Airport, first closed early Wednesday, Mr. Johnson said.

Among the U.S. airlines that operate flights between the United States and Haiti are American Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit. JetBlue, which averages five flights per day between the United States and Haiti, has suspended flights until at least Saturday, a spokesman said, and is evaluating the situation.

“If and when we add flights before Sunday, we will reach out to customers to inform them,” said the spokesman, Derek Dombrowski. The Haiti-based Sunrise Airways, which flies within the Caribbean, grounded all flights until further notice.

American Airlines operates two daily flights from Miami and one daily flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The airline said it planned to operate both flights out of Miami but was still evaluating Fort Lauderdale flights because of “early timing.”

On Thursday, a day after declaring a “state of siege” and a curfew, Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, asked people to return to work and ordered the airport reopened.

The Dominican Republic’s president, Luís Abinader, had closed the country’s border with Haiti and also increased security, causing dozens of trucks to back up along the crucial passageway, according to The Associated Press.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very foundation as a country.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. But it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

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Live Updates: Haiti Seizes U.S. Citizen, Possibly 2, in Assassination

declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege — that allows the police and members of security forces to enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

The rapidly evolving crisis deepened the turmoil and violence that has gripped Haiti for months, threatening to tip one of the world’s most troubled nations further into lawlessness. Questions swirled about who might have been behind such a brazen attack and how they eluded the president’s security detail to carry it out.

Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, told reporters that a group of suspects had “taken refuge in two buildings in the city and are now surrounded by police.” She spoke via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, after briefing the United Nations Security Council on the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, has described the assailants as “well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”

On Wednesday, security forces engaged in a chaotic shootout with a group of what they described as suspected assailants, though they offered no evidence linking them to the attack. Officers killed four in the group and took two into custody.

On Thursday, Haiti’s police chief, Leon Charles, said that the authorities had now arrested six suspected assailants, and that three foreign nationals had been killed. Two suspects had been wounded in clashes with the police, according to Mr. Pierre.

Chief Charles also said that five vehicles that might have been used in the attack had been seized and that several of them had been burned by civilians. He said it was impossible for the police to gather evidence from inside the charred vehicles.

Social media was full of reports that could not be immediately verified, showing groups of civilians parading men with their arms tied behind their backs and men in the back of a police pickup truck.

A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station in the Pétionville area of Port-au-Prince on Thursday morning, before Chief Charles spoke, some demanding vigilante justice for the suspects they believed to be inside. “Burn them,” some cried.

Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian judge, told the Nouvelliste newspaper that the assailants had posed as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — both U.S. and Haitian officials said that they were not associated with the D.E.A. — when they burst into the president’s private home on the outskirts of the capital around 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Judge Destin said that a maid and another member of the household staff had been tied up by the attackers as they made their way to the president’s bedroom.

The president was shot at least 12 times, he said.

“The offices and the president’s bedroom were ransacked,” Mr. Destin said. “We found him lying on his back, blue pants, white shirt stained with blood, mouth open, left eye blown out.”

He said Mr. Moïse appeared to have been shot with both large-caliber guns and smaller 9-millimeter weapons.

The president’s wife, Martine Moïse, was injured in the assault and was rushed by air ambulance to the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, where Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, said she was “out of danger” and in stable condition. Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida said at a news conference in Miami that Ms. Moïse was not the target of the attack and that, according to the U.S. State Department, “she was caught in a crossfire.”

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Martine Moïse, wife of the slain President Jovenel Moïse, was rushed to a hospital in Miami on Wednesday following the nighttime raid and attack on their home in Haiti.CreditCredit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Wilson said the couple’s three children are in protective custody. Mr. Destin said that a daughter, Jomarlie, was at home during the attack but hid in a bedroom and escaped unharmed.

Haitians pressured the police on Thursday to hand over the bodies of two men killed in a shootout.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The official manhunt for the assassins who burst into the home of Haiti’s president continued on Thursday, but as some ordinary Haitians set out to capture suspects themselves, setting afire vehicles believed to have been used in the attack, the interim prime minister appealed for calm and to refrain from violence.

“I’m asking everyone to go to their homes,” said Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “The police have the situation under control.”

The goal, Mr. Joseph said, is to maintain security in the country and get justice for the former President Jovenel Moïse and his family.

Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, said over the past day the authorities had arrested six suspects. He also said police had recovered three bodies, “visibly foreigners,” as well as five vehicles believed to have been used in the assassination plot.

But several of those vehicles had been burned by citizens, he said, making it impossible for the police to gather evidence.

“We can’t have vigilante justice,” Mr. Charles said. “Let us do our work. Help us do our work.”

But passions were high on the streets of Pétionville, an affluent suburb of the capital close to where the president lived. A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station there, demanding to hear from the police chief about the assassins — some of whom were believed to be inside.

Some demanded street justice.

“Burn them,” they cried.

Later, drifting away from the police station, some took their anger into nearby streets, at one point attacking a car dealership. Two protesters were arrested by the police.

A video shared widely on social media shows a crowd of more than 30 Haitians pulling light-skinned men through the footpaths of a dense neighborhood. One of the men was shirtless and had his arms tied with a rope behind his back. The people in the crowd, who appeared to be unarmed, brought the men to the police station, sources told The New York Times.

The police were also surrounding two buildings in which suspects in the assassination had holed up, Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, said at a news conference.

One of the suspects arrested in Haiti is an American citizen of Haitian descent from South Florida, said Haiti’s minister of elections, Mathias Pierre.

On Thursday, just a day after declaring a “state of siege” and a curfew, Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, asked people to return to work and said he planned to reopen the country’s main airport.

Reporting contributed from Andre Paulte and Harold Isaac in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse, center,  with his wife, Martine, and the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, at a ceremony in the Haitian capital,Port-au-Prince, in May.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

An already turbulent political landscape in Haiti threatened to descend into further turmoil on Thursday as a power struggle between two competing prime ministers stoked tensions after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

In the hours after the killing, the country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said he was in charge, taking command of the police and army in what he cast as an effort to ensure order and stability. Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” for 15 days, essentially putting the country under martial law, though constitutional experts were unsure whether he has the legal authority to do so.

It was not even clear whether he was really still prime minister.

Two days before his death, Mr. Moïse appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician, who was supposed to take up the role this week.

In an interview with The Nouvelliste, a newspaper, Mr. Henry said that Mr. Joseph was “no longer prime minister” and claimed the right to run the government.

“I am a prime minister with a decree that was passed in my favor,” Mr. Henry said, adding that he had been in the process of forming his government.

Mr. Henry said that he “did not want to add fuel to the fire,” but he criticized Mr. Joseph’s decision to impose a state of siege and called for dialogue to ensure a smooth political transition.

President Moïse himself had faced questions about his legitimacy.

For more than year, he had been ruling by decree. Many, including prominent jurists, contended that his term ended in February. Haiti had been rocked by protests against his rule, and also suffered a surge in gang activity that undercut the legitimacy of the government.

Now, there is a new political struggle, and it threatens to undermine the legitimacy either man would need to effectively lead the police, the army and the country itself.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Mr. Joseph on Wednesday, the State Department said, offering condolences and offering to assist the country “in support of the Haitian people and democratic governance, peace, and security.” Mr. Joseph, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday evening portrayed the conversation as lasting more than 30 minutes.

“We talked about security, elections and a political accord,” he said.

Adding to the challenges for a government in crisis, Haiti, a parliamentary democracy, has no functioning Parliament. There are currently only 10 sitting senators out of 30; the terms of the other 20 have expired. The entire lower house is no longer sitting, because the representatives terms expired last year. Long-planned elections were scheduled for later this year, but it was unclear when or whether they would take place.

The president of what remains of the Haitian Senate, Joseph Lambert, put out a news release on Thursday morning, saying that the Senate “reassures Haitians and the international community that everything will be managed by the national institutions, political forces and civil society to guarantee the continuity of the state and the republican order.”

A Haitian political analyst, Monique Clesca, said that Mr. Moïse had avoided opportunities to hold national elections, and that when the terms of the country’s mayors expired in January, he had installed his own supporters in those positions.

“The objective was always to be the supreme ruler,” Ms. Clesca said. “Eventually to be able to control the whole political apparatus.”

Haiti has a long history of political instability. The country has been rocked by a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries, often backed by Western powers, and has been marked by frequent leadership crises that have driven Haitians into the streets in protest.

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including help in recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny. The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.

France has had a particularly long and difficult relationship with Haiti. More than two centuries ago, Haitians fought to throw off the yoke of colonial France and to bring an end to one of the world’s most brutal slave colonies.

Jacky Dahomay, a French philosopher who served on a French government-mandated commission on relations with Haiti, faulted France and other international actors for failing to help the country establish “truly democratic institutions.” In an interview, he said that only “the law of the strongest” was working in Haiti at the moment and called for the “an international intervention force to restore order.”

News Analysis

U.S. soldiers delivering aid from the World Food Program to Jabouin, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew destroyed dozens of villages in 2016.
Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

There are failed states. And then there is Haiti.

The Caribbean nation is better described as what one analyst once called an “aid state.” It ekes out an existence with the help of billions of dollars from the international community.

The country’s struggles have long captured the world’s attention, but they have not occurred in a vacuum: Outside nations have played a major role, through the brutal exploitation of the past and years of political interference. But damage has also been done by their efforts to help.

Over the past decade, the international community has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country, afraid to let Haiti fail. But the nation-building that aid was meant to support never came about. Instead, Haiti’s institutions became further hollowed out.

The funds stripped leaders of the incentive to carry out the institutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country. Instead, analysts and Haitian activists say, the leaders learned to bet that in times of crisis — and the country has had many — international governments would open their wallets.

For years, the aid has provided vital services and supplies, but it has also bred corruption and violence, and left political paralysis unchecked.

Some Haitian civil society leaders contend, the United States, a large provider of aid, has propped up strongmen and tied the fate of the nation to them.

“Since 2018, we have been asking for accountability,” Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian policy expert who gave testimony to the U.S. Congress this year, said in an interview. “We need the international community to stop imposing what they think is correct and instead think about the long term and stability.”

Members of Montreal’s Haitian diaspora holding an anti-Moïse demonstration outside the Haitian consulate in March.
Credit…Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

Many Haitians in the diaspora are fearing the worst after the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, an act of violence that many consider a potent symbol of the mayhem experienced in the Caribbean nation in recent months.

Rodney Saint-Éloi, a Haitian-Canadian poet and publisher in Montreal, said the assassination of Mr. Moïse was a blow to democracy in Haiti. “It turns all Haitians into assassins, because he was, like it or not, the president of all Haitians,” he said. “It is the failure of a society and of an elite who helped get us to this point.”

Mr. Moïse, killed in an attack early Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, had presided over a country buffeted by instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His refusal to cede power had angered Haitians the world over, and many in the diaspora had put off trips home for the past year as kidnappings and other acts of violence became more commonplace.

Because of its chronic instability, Haiti has a large diaspora, with some of the largest communities based in the United States, Canada, France and the Dominican Republic. About 1.2 million Haitians or people of Haitian origin live in the United States, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But the figure is thought to be higher because of a sizable number of immigrants who are in the country without documentation.

Frantz André, a leading Haitian rights advocate in Montreal, organized a protest in March in which dozens of Haitians demonstrated against what they called Mr. Moise’s political repression. He described Mr. Moïse as a deeply polarizing figure and said that other Haitians abroad were feeling mixed emotions about the president’s killing.

“I don’t think it would be wise to scream victory at his assassination, because we don’t know what will come after and the situation could be even more precarious,” Mr. André said. “Educated people saw him as a threat to democracy, and others have been protesting against him because they have nothing to eat.”

Mr. André added that a sizable minority had supported Mr. Moïse and saw him as a catalyst for change, because he had promoted the idea of giving Haitians outside the country the right to vote and was pushing to change the Constitution.

The Haitian security forces are engaged in what the authorities described as a sweeping manhunt for suspects in the killing of President Jovenel Moïse. Four people were killed, and two more taken into custody after a shootout late Wednesday.

An ambulance carrying the body of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday.
Credit…Reuters

With security forces still hunting for the killers and investigators combing through the evidence from the scene of his assassination, the body of Haiti’s slain president, Jovenel Moïse, was loaded onto an ambulance on Wednesday, bound for a morgue.

A procession of cars was seen speeding away from the presidential residence, but things apparently did not go as planned: Encountering a highway blocked by tires, and hearing gunfire, observers said, the drivers made a quick turnaround.

They needed another route.

The same could be said for Haiti itself on Thursday, a day after its president was shot by a team of assassins described as “well-trained professionals” who had stormed his home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and then disappeared into the night.

Now, an interim prime minister whose legitimacy was already under question — a replacement was named before the assassination — has declared himself in charge, and put the country under a Haitian version of martial law.

Parliament is riddled with vacancies and inactive. And a country steeped in violence is poised for things to get worse. Late Wednesday, prolonged gunfire could be heard in Port-au-Prince.

“It’s a very grave situation,” said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, appealed for calm. “Let’s search for harmony to advance together, so the country doesn’t fall into chaos,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

But the country has learned the hard way over the decades, through earthquake and disease, poverty and political turbulence, that chaos feels always near at hand.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” one man said as neighbors gathered to exchange news. “Everything is possible.”

Andre Paultre contributed reporting.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very foundation as a country.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. But it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home early Wednesday, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 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” of President Jovenel Moïse. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moïse had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moïse’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died. Jovenel Moïse was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

A street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, last month.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti on Wednesday could complicate efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the Caribbean nation, which has yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, officials from the World Health Organization warned.

Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O., said her organization had made Haiti a priority in recent weeks as reported cases have surged.

“I am hopeful that the arrival of vaccines in the country can start to turn the tide of the pandemic and bring some relief to the Haitian people during these very difficult times,” Dr. Etienne said. “We continue to stand with them now and will redouble our efforts.”

Haiti did not experience the kind of surge early in the pandemic that many experts feared could devastate the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. But the pandemic has grown worse in recent weeks, with a rise in reported cases that experts say is almost certainly an undercount, considering the country’s limited testing capacity.

Last month, Covid-19 claimed the life of René Sylvestre, the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court — a leading figure who might have helped to establish order in the wake of an assassination that has plunged the country into even deeper political uncertainty.

Dr. Etienne’s organization said in an email that while it was too soon to evaluate the impact of the assassination, “further deterioration of the security situation in Haiti could have a negative impact on the work that has been done to curtail Covid-19 infections,” as well as on vaccination plans.

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President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was killed in an attack at his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

The organization said that Haiti was also facing challenges from the start of hurricane season and the recent detection of the Alpha and Gamma virus variants on the island. Though “vaccines are expected to arrive shortly” in Haiti, the organization said it did not have a specific delivery date.

In June, Dr. Etienne urged the global community to do more to help Haiti cope with rising coronavirus cases and deaths. “The situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus,” she said.

Haiti is an extreme example of the “stark inequities on vaccine access,” Dr. Etienne said. “For every success, there are several countries that have been unable to reach even the most vulnerable in their population.”

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, there are millions of people who “still don’t know when they will have a chance to be immunized,” she said.

She said the inequitable distribution of vaccines posed practical and moral problems.

“If we don’t ensure that countries in the South have the ability to vaccinate as much as countries in the North, this virus will keep circulating in the poorest nations for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said. “Hundreds of millions will remain at risk while the wealthier nations go back to normal. Obviously, this should not happen.”

Haitian Foreign Minister Claude Joseph during an interview, February 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Credit…Orlando Barríia/EPA, via Shutterstock

The top United Nations official in Haiti told reporters Thursday that she considered Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, the person in charge of the country in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.

The assertion by the official, Helen La Lime, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, carries weight concerning the question over who is legally authorized to be running the country of 11 million. A former American diplomat, she spoke remotely via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, the capital, after briefing the United Nations Security Council about the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Mr. Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week by Ariel Henry, who had been appointed prime minister by Mr. Moïse two days before his assassination. But hours after the killing of the president early Wednesday, Mr. Joseph assumed leadership of Haiti, taking command of the police and army in what he said was an effort to ensure order and stability.

Mr. Henry’s confirmation as prime minister “did not happen,” Ms. La Lime said, and Mr. Joseph “continues to govern,” under Article 149 of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

At the same time, she said, “there are certainly people on all sides of the issue who have different interpretations of Article 149, and that is why it’s important to have a dialogue.”

Ms. La Lime stressed Mr. Joseph’s contention that he intended to hold elections later this year. The country’s Parliament is not functioning, as many members’ terms expired last year, and Mr. Moïse had come under international criticism for failing to call elections.

Ms. La Lime also said that Haiti’s government had made a “request for transitional security assistance” from the United Nations, which once deployed thousands of peacekeepers in the country but withdrew them a few years ago. “Haiti needs to specify what it’s after,” she said.

Regarding the killers of Mr. Moïse, Ms. La Lime said “all efforts must be made to bring these perpetrators to justice.”

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Live Updates: Haiti’s President Is Assassinated, and Interim Prime Minister Declares ‘State of Siege’

he told The New York Times in 2016, shortly after winning his election, trying to flick off the accusations. He promised to show results within six months.

After more than four years in office, he was gunned down in his home early Wednesday at the age of 53. He left a wife and three children.

In his last year in office, as protests grew and he declined to step down, he had to defend himself in other ways: “I am not a dictator,” he told The Times in February.

So who was he?

Mr. Moïse was a former chamber of commerce leader when he ran for president. Few people had heard of him as he emerged as a leading candidate. They dubbed him “the Banana Man.”

He won a majority of votes cast in a crowded field where few people bothered to cast ballots.

In interviews, Mr. Moïse often recounted how he grew up on a large sugar plantation and could relate to a vast majority of Haitians who live off the land. He was raised in a rural area in the north but attended school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. He said he learned how to succeed by watching his father’s profitable farming business.

“Since I was a child, I was always wondering why people were living in such conditions while enormous lands were empty,” he said. “I believe agriculture is the key to change for this country.”

He ran a large produce cooperative that employed 3,000 farmers.

During his time in office, Mr. Moïse was often accused of being a strongman who tried to consolidate power. He tried to push through a new Constitution that would have given his office more power and presidents the ability to seek more terms in office. Those plans were derailed by Covid-19 and rising insecurity.

In a dispute over when his term should end, he declined to step down and ruled by decree as the terms of nearly every elected official in the country expired and no elections were held. He was accused of working with gangs to remain in power.

Even his critics agree that Mr. Moïse used his power in office to try to end monopolies that offered lucrative contracts to the powerful elite. And that made him enemies.

“To some he was a corrupt leader, but to others he was a reformer,” said Leonie Hermatin, a Haitian community leader in Miami. “He was a man who was trying to change the power dynamics, particularly when it came to money and who had control over electricity contracts. The oligarchy was paid billions of dollars to provide electricity to a country that was still in the dark.”

Simon Desras, a former senator in Haiti, said Mr. Moïse seemed to know that his battle against the wealthy and powerful interests in the country would get him killed.

“I remember in his speech, he said he just targeted the rich people by putting an end to their contracts. He said that could be the reason for his death, because they are used to assassinating people and pushing people into exile,” Mr. Desras said in a telephone interview, as he drove through Haiti’s deserted streets. “It’s like he made a prophecy.”

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The normally clogged streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, were empty following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Bullet holes could be seen on the president’s house.CreditCredit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The first shots rang out after 1 a.m.

For what some witnesses described as a half-hour, explosions echoed through the streets of the leafy, mountainous neighborhood that was home to President Jovenel Moïse and many of Haiti’s most affluent citizens.

At first, some nearby residents thought it was one of the twin terrors that plague the nation: gang violence or another earthquake.

But by dawn, as people huddled around radios and listened to television reports, the news slowly emerged that the president was dead.

As people waited for the government to provide them with an update on how it would move forward, that shocking news was one of the few things that was certain.

As the morning went on, videos circulating on WhatsApp painted an ominous scene — a formation of SUVs arriving on the street and spilling out armed men in military formation. One announced in Creole and English over a loudspeaker, “This is a D.E.A. operation.” The legitimacy of the videos could not be verified.

A State Department spokesman said the D.E.A. claims were “absolutely false.” The agency has a long history of operations in Haiti, and some suggested that the attackers might have been resorting to a ruse to get officers guarding the president to step aside.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, offered few details, aside from a rather cryptic comment that some of the attackers were speaking Spanish.

A businessman who lives in the same neighborhood as the president said he had been woken in the night by the sound of explosions around 1 a.m. Other residents said they had heard shooting between 1 and 1:30 and that it had lasted about an hour.

The normally clogged streets of the capital were ominously empty on Wednesday.

Banks and stores were shuttered; university classrooms vacant; the ti machann — market women — who normally line the shoulders of roads selling their wares were conspicuously absent.

Lines formed at some depots, with people stocking up on water — which is normally bought by the container in poorer areas — in case they end up hunkered down for a long time. Others huddled at home, calling one another to check on their safety and ask for updates. In some middle-class neighborhoods, people huddled on the sidewalk sharing their fears for the country’s future.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now — everything is possible,” one man said while speaking to neighbors.

Jenny Joseph, a university student from the suburb of Carrefour, said the country would have to be on the alert. “Things are hard and ugly now,” she said. “For the next few days, things will be crazy in Haiti.”

The main two-lane road up to Pèlerin, the suburb where the president lived, was blocked by green camouflage-speckled trucks.

The president had a high level of protection. He regularly traveled with a large motorcade of more than a dozen armored cars and police guards. Many wondered how it was possible that assassins entered his home.

Advisers to Mr. Moïse told The New York Times that the country had closed the airport and many other points of entry early Wednesday as they tried to hunt down the team of assailants who assassinated the president.

Harold Isaac and Jacques Richard Miguel contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, and Dieu-Nalio Chery contributed reporting from New York.

Protesting in Port-au-Prince in March.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jovenel Moïse had been struggling to quell growing public anger over his attempt to hold onto power despite the opposition’s insistence that his term had expired.

Mr. Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent jurists, contend that his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against his rule, and also has suffered a surge in gang activity.

The opposition said that Mr. Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. When Mr. Moïse refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets, setting trash and tires on fire as they demanded his resignation.

In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a top judge and a senior police officer, who the president said had tried to kill him and overthrow the government.

“The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life,” President Moïse said at the time. “That plan was aborted.”

Mr. Moïse insisted that he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the vote that brought him to the top office amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian community leader in Miami, said people across the diaspora, however divided they may have been about Mr. Moïse, were united in their shock and despair.

“We don’t want to go back to ways of the past where presidents were eliminated through violence,” she said, adding, “There’s no one celebrating.”

The protests this year were part of broader unrest, with heavily armed gangs clashing on the streets and attacking police stations.

“While exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought shelter with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month in a report on the situation.

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Biden Responds to Assassination of Haiti’s President

President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.

Reporter: “Mr. President.” Reporter: “What’s your reaction to the Haitian president’s assassination, Mr. President?” Reporter: “Mr. President —” Reporter: “What’s your reaction, Mr. President, to the Haitian president being assassinated?” “We need a lot more information, but it’s just, it’s very worrisome about the state of Haiti.” Reporter: “Does the U.S. have a role in —” [reporters talking]

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President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden said Wednesday that he was “shocked and saddened” by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti and the shooting of the leader’s wife, Martine Moïse. The sentiment from the American leader, whose administration has vowed to put a renewed focus on Haiti, came even as it faces difficult questions about U.S. policy goals and actions.

“We condemn this heinous act,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery.”

Representative Andy Levin, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination “a devastating, if not shocking, example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled.”

“For months,” Mr. Levin, a Democrat, said in a statement, “violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community — the United States included, I fear — has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition.”

The committee’s lead Republican, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, likewise condemned the killing, saying in a statement that “there must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder.”

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including helping the country recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny.

The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, and a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries were backed by Western powers.

France, in particular, has long had a difficult relationship with Haiti, a former slave colony that it ruled throughout the 18th century, turning it into an extremely lucrative territory. Anti-French sentiment is common in Haiti, where the first visit by a French president was not until 2010.

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a statement that he was “shocked” by Mr. Moïse’s killing. “All light must be shed on this crime, which comes amid a very deteriorated political and security climate,” Mr. Le Drian said. He urged “all of the actors of Haitian political life” to observe “calm and restraint.”

The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, said through a spokesman that “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.”

He called on Haitians to “preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence” and vowed that the United Nations would continue to stand with the country’s government and the people of Haiti.

Brazilian soldiers with a U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince in 2007.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The United Nations once deployed thousands of peacekeeping troops and police officers in Haiti as part of a coordinated international effort to rescue the country from its chronic bouts of political violence and instability. But the cholera epidemic that followed the 2010 earthquake — spread by infected peacekeepers — indelibly tainted the global organization in the eyes of many Haitians.

Even the U.N. secretary-general who presided during that period, Ban Ki-moon, admitted in a memoir published last month that the cholera disaster “forever destroyed the United Nations’ reputation in Haiti.”

A peacekeeping force authorized by the Security Council in 2004, known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or by its French acronym Minustah, was empowered to send as many as 6,700 troops of all ranks and more than 1,600 civilian police officers to Haiti.

Ninety-six members of the peacekeeping mission were among those killed in the 2010 earthquake, which by some estimates left more than 300,000 people dead. The crisis led the Security Council to strengthen Minustah’s size to as many as 8,940 soldiers and 3,711 police officers.

But many Haitians came to regard the peacekeepers as an occupying force, and one that did not necessarily protect them. The force’s reputation was further impaired by reports that a Nepalese contingent may have introduced cholera to the country through poor sanitation — reports that were later confirmed by independent investigations.

Mr. Ban eventually acknowledged some responsibility, but the U.N. successfully rejected claims for compensation sought by aggrieved Haitians. A U.N. trust fund established under Mr. Ban to help Haiti cope with the cholera epidemic’s aftermath, which was supposed to total $400,000, has only a fraction of that sum.

Minustah’s mandate was terminated in 2017 with a transition to a much smaller mission, known as the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti or its French acronym, Binuh. But the mission, which is confined to the capital, Port-au-Prince, has struggled. None of its aspirations — helping Haiti achieve good governance, the rule of law, a stable environment and promotion of human rights — have shown any significant progress.

Helen La Lime, a former American diplomat and Binuh’s chief, summarized the worsening conditions afflicting the country in a report last month to the Security Council:

“The deep-rooted political crisis which has gripped the country for the better part of the last four years shows no sign of abating,” she said. “A political agreement remains elusive, as the rhetoric used by some political leaders grows increasingly acrimonious.”

Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said Wednesday that Ms. La Lime was in “constant contact” with the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and that she was calling “on the Haitian people to ensure calm.”

Mr. Dujarric said Binuh was in the process of accounting for its 1,200 staff members in Haiti, which includes about 200 from other countries, and he was advising them to “stay in place and in a safe place.”

Haiti has suffered a series of devastating events in recent years, including a devastating magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010, a powerful hurricane in 2016 and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Political turmoil in recent months led to thousands taking to the street demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moïse, who was killed in the early hours of Wednesday.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and security members can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moïse. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moïse had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moïse’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died.

“Jovenel Moïse was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince in March to protest the new Constitution promoted by Jovenel Moïse.
Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

Despite public unrest and fragile political support, in the months before President Jovenel Moïse was killed he was pursuing an aggressive agenda that included rewriting the country’s Constitution.

Among the provisions he was pushing for was one that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions while in office, leading critics to charge that he presented a threat to democracy and was setting the country on a course toward authoritarian rule.

“We need a system that works,” Mr. Moïse said in a telephone interview with The New York Times in March. “The system now doesn’t work. The president cannot work to deliver.”

The United States, whose support is critical for Haiti, had called on the country to hold presidential and legislative elections as soon as technically feasible. It also opposed the effort to draft a new constitution along the lines Mr. Moïse proposed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s tougher stance during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June.

Even though many were critical of Mr. Moïse’s approach to reshape the government, many Haitians say a new Constitution is needed.

The current one has created two competing power centers in the country — the president and prime minister — which often leads to friction and a fractured government.

The draft Constitution would have abolished the Senate, leaving in place a single legislative body elected every five years, and replace the post of prime minister with a vice president who answers to the president, in a bid to streamline government.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very beginning.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. Bit it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

Selam Gebrekidan contributed reporting.

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How NYC Faces a Lasting Economic Toll Even as the Coronavirus Pandemic Passes

“It’s gone from feeling super lonely and now it’s feeling pretty normal,” Mr. Gray added.

Wall Street and the banking sector are pillars of the city’s economy, and they have been among the most aggressive industries in prodding employees to go back to the office. James Gorman, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, told investors and analysts this month that “if you want to get paid in New York, you need to be in New York.”

Many firms, including Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, have huge real estate holdings or loans to the industry, so there is more than civic pride in their push to get workers to return. Technology companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly important employers as well as major commercial tenants, and they have been increasing their office space. But they have been more flexible about letting employees continue to work remotely.

Google, which has 11,000 employees in New York and plans to add 3,000 in the next few years, intends to return to its offices in West Chelsea in September, but workers will only be required to come in three days a week. The company has also said up to 20 percent of its staff can apply to work remotely full time.

The decision by even a small slice of employees at Google and other companies to stay home part or all of the week could have a significant economic impact.

Even if just 10 percent of Manhattan office workers begin working remotely most of the time, that translates into more than 100,000 people a day not picking up a coffee and bagel on their way to work or a drink afterward, said James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

“I expect a lot of people will return, but not all of them,” he said. “We might lose some neighborhood businesses as a result.”

The absence of white-collar workers hurts people like Danuta Klosinski, 60, who had been cleaning office buildings in Manhattan for 20 years. She is one of more than about 3,000 office cleaners who remain out of work, according to Denis Johnston, a vice president of their union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

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U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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