Astonishing data for 2021 tell the story. U.S. start-ups raised $330 billion, nearly double 2020’s record haul of $167 billion, according to PitchBook, which tracks private financing. More tech start-ups crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold than in the previous five years combined. The median amount of money raised for very young start-ups taking on their first major round of funding grew 30 percent, according to Crunchbase. And the value of start-up exits — a sale or public offering — spiked to $774 billion, nearly tripling the prior year’s returns, according to PitchBook.
The big-money headlines have carried into this year. Over a few days this month, three private start-ups hit eye-popping valuations: Miro, a digital whiteboard company, was valued at $17.75 billion; Checkout.com, a payments company, was valued at $40 billion; and OpenSea, a 90-person start-up that lets people buy and sell nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs, was valued at $13.3 billion.
Investors announced big hauls, too. Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm, said it had raised $9 billion in new funds. Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, two other venture firms, each raised nearly $2 billion.
The good times have been so good that warnings of a pullback inevitably bubble up. Rising interest rates, expected later this year, and uncertainty over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have deflated tech stock prices. Shares of start-ups that went public through special purpose acquisition vehicles last year have slumped. One of the first start-up initial public offerings expected this year was postponed by Justworks, a provider of human resources software, which cited market conditions. The price of Bitcoin has sunk nearly 40 percent since its peak in November.
But start-up investors said that had not yet affected funding for private companies. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more competitive market,” said Ambar Bhattacharyya, an investor at Maverick Ventures.
Even if things slow down momentarily, investors said, the big picture looks the same. Past moments of outrageous deal making — from Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp to the soaring private market valuations of start-ups like Uber and WeWork — have prompted heated debates about a tech bubble for the last decade. Each time, Mr. Bahat said, he thought the frenzy would eventually return to normal.
Instead, he said, “every single time it’s become the new normal.”
Investors and founders have adopted a seize-the-day mentality, believing the pandemic created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake things up. Phil Libin, an entrepreneur and investor, said the pandemic had changed every aspect of society so much that start-ups were accomplishing five years of progress in one year.
MOSCOW — Thousands of people returned to the streets across Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a fourth straight day of demonstrations driven by outrage over surging gas prices, in the biggest wave of protests to sweep the oil-rich country for decades.
Protesters stormed government buildings and captured police vehicles despite a strict state of emergency and government attempts to concede to their demands, including by dismissing the cabinet and announcing the possible dissolution of Parliament, which would result in new elections. Kazakhtelecom, the country’s largest telecommunications company, shut off internet access throughout the country on Wednesday afternoon.
Anger has been building since Sunday, when Kazakhs began protesting after the government lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas — frequently referred to by its initials, L.P.G. — and the cost of the fuel doubled.
Many people in the country of 19 million found the price increase particularly infuriating because Kazakhstan is an exporter of oil and gas. It added to the economic misery in a country where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated severe income inequality.
according to the local statistics authority. Most people earn only a fraction of that amount, according to Mr. Umbetov, with the average skewed in favor of oil industry workers.
As the protests have unfolded, the demands of the demonstrators have expanded to include a broader political liberalization. Among the changes they seek is the direct election of Kazakhstan’s regional leaders by voters; in the current system, they are directly appointed by the president.
For almost 30 years, Kazakhstan was ruled by Mr. Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party boss, who is now 81.
The ascension of Mr. Tokayev created two centers of power. Mr. Nazarbayev and his family enjoy wide authority, while the new president, even though he is loyal to his predecessor, is trying to carve out a stronger role for himself, disorienting Kazakhstan’s bureaucracy and elites. This divide has contributed to the government’s slow reaction to the protesters’ demands, according to Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asia expert in Moscow.
“The government has been slow because it is divided and has no idea what young people in Kazakhstan really want,” Mr. Dubnov said. “On the other hand, the protesters don’t have a leader who would articulate it clearly.”
The countries of the former Soviet Union are watching the protests closely. For Russia, the events represent another possible challenge to autocratic power in a neighboring country.
Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014 after pro-democracy protests erupted there, and the Kremlin offered support to the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr G. Lukashenko as he violently crushed peaceful protests against his autocratic rule in 2020.
The protests in Kazakhstan represent a warning signal for the Kremlin, Mr. Dubnov said, describing the government in Kazakhstan as “a reduced replica of the Russian one.”
“There is no doubt that the Kremlin would not want to see an example of such a regime beginning to talk to the opposition and conceding to their demands,” he added.
Mr. Putin has been in power for 20 years, and though a 2020 referendum gave him the right to rule until 2036, observers are watching for signs of a managed transition out of power.
Pro-Kremlin media have portrayed the events in Kazakhstan as an organized plot against Russia. Komsomolskaya Pravda, a pro-government tabloid, referred to the protests as a “dirty trick played on Moscow” ahead of “crucial talks between Russia and the U.S. and NATO” next week. Those discussions will be focused on the crisis in Ukraine, where there are fears of a renewed Russian invasion.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.
Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.
An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.
Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.
found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.
hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.
While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.
After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.
Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”
Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.
A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.
Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.
“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”
sewn into the linings of clothes.
In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.
According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.
The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.
Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.
The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.
The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.
GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.
Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.
Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.
In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.
Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.
“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.
There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.
A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.
Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”
Spilling Into Jordan
While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.
“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.
Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.
Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.
“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.
The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.
The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.
And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.
Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.
“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”
Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.
ALGECIRAS, Spain — No one knew the man’s name when he washed ashore. His body had floated in the ocean for weeks, and it then sat much of the summer unidentified in a refrigerator in a Spanish morgue.
He was one among thousands lost at sea during what has been a record year for migrant drownings in Spain. And he might have been sent with the other unclaimed dead to an unmarked grave if Martín Zamora had not figured out that the body had a name, and a life.
He was Achraf Ameer, 27, a mechanic from Tangier. He had been missing for weeks when Mr. Zamora reached his family by WhatsApp. He had found their son’s body. He could bring it to them in Morocco, for a price.
“Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead — in 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know how many — they will look at us like monsters,” he said. “They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way.”
tracks the deaths. The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that keeps a more conservative count, has recorded more than 1,300 deaths so far this year.
Helena Maleno Garzón, who heads Caminando Fronteras, said Spain’s situation was especially perilous because it is the only European country with smuggling routes on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. “These include some of the most dangerous routes which are now being used,” she said.
Dozens of boats have gone down this year near the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off West Africa.
Migrant boats also are tempted by the narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait, only nine miles wide in one section, despite strong currents that sink many boats. Some migrants drown only hours after leaving Africa, their bodies later washing ashore on beaches in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.
The Spanish media sometimes carry stories about the latest bodies. Then, when the headlines recede, Mr. Zamora’s work begins.
The World We Live In
The body is the mystery. The clothes are often the only clues.
“It can be hard to identify someone’s face,” Mr. Zamora said. “But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt — suddenly a family member will recognize it, because it once was a gift.”
His first clue came in 1999, when he found a note inside the clothes of a dead Moroccan man. Back then, the government was outsourcing to funeral homes the job of burying unclaimed remains in a field alongside the local cemetery.
Mr. Zamora was on call when that body and 15 others were discovered on the beaches. He brought the corpses back to his mortuary and discovered the damp note with a phone number in Spain.
He called and a man on the other end of the line claimed to know nothing. But a few days later, Mr. Zamora recalled, the same man called back and admitted he was the brother-in-law of the young man who had drowned.
“I told him, ‘I’ll make you a deal: I’ll charge you half the price to get the body home, but you have to help me look for the rest of the families,’” Mr. Zamora said.
The man agreed to guide him to the region in southeastern Morocco where his brother-in-law had lived. Mr. Zamora first took care of the body of the young man, embalming it and sending it back to Morocco. Then he got permission from a local judge to take the clothes of the other dead migrants to Morocco.
Mr. Zamora and the relative went from village to village, carrying a large rack on which they hung the clothes of the dead migrants, along with rings and other personal effects, which they took to markets where they knew people would go.
After two weeks they had identified the remaining 15 relatives and repatriated every body.
Mr. Zamora realized he had a solution to what had been seen as a lost cause in Spain. Yet it costs thousands of euros to repatriate the bodies. And the families that he was meeting had far less than he did.
“You find the family, you get the father and the mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back,” he said. “What do you do? Be a businessman or be sentimental?”
Mohammed El Mkaddem, an imam at the mosque in Algeciras which makes collections for the families of the dead, said he understood Mr. Zamora’s constraints. “In the end, they run a funeral home and it’s a business,” said the imam. “But they do what they can, and we’re thankful for it.”
José Manuel Castillo, the director of the city morgue in Algeciras, said Mr. Zamora filled a gap left by the authorities. “Someone has to take care of the paperwork and the repatriation of the bodies, and if it’s Martín Zamora, that is great,” he said.
Even in the heat of southern Spain, Mr. Zamora wears a tie and loafers, looking more like a lawyer than an undertaker. On a recent afternoon, he was working on a body with his son, Martín Jr., 17.
“They found him in his work clothes,” Martín Jr. said of the corpse. “Maybe he went straight from work into the boat.”
The boy wandered off for a moment, and Mr. Zamora began to speak, almost to himself. His son was 15 the first time they worked together, after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the coast of Barbate, just north of Algeciras, leaving 22 dead.
He was afraid his son would have nightmares, but Martín Jr. wanted to work, he said.
“No father wants his son to see these things,” Mr. Zamora said. “But this is the world we live in.”
A Mechanic From Tangier
Just before the summer, Mr. Zamora said he received a WhatsApp message from a man who identified himself as Yusef and said he worked at a mosque in the city of La Linea, across the border from the Rock of Gibraltar.
“There were two boys we don’t know if they are alive or dead — surely they are dead,” began the voice message. “The family was looking everywhere and I said we would ask someone we know who is involved in this kind of thing.”
The next message contained a picture of three men in a dinghy with homemade life vests, taken moments before they left Morocco. One was Achraf Ameer, the illiterate mechanic from Tangier.
With that, Mr. Zamora contacted the local authorities, who had a body in the morgue. They gave Mr. Zamora photographs of the man’s clothes, and Mr. Zamora — helped by Yusef — located Mr. Ameer’s sister in Tangier and showed her a photo of the clothes. These days, Mr. Zamora rarely needs to make the trips to Morocco that he used to, making identifications from afar.
“The paint on his clothes was the paint he has on his clothes at work,” the sister, Soukaina Ameer, 28, said in a telephone interview from Tangier.
She said her brother had tried once before to cross into Spain, only to be deported. This time, he didn’t tell anyone but left cryptic hints when the family began making plans to move to a new home.
“He was always telling us: ‘I won’t be living with you in the new house,’” Ms. Ameer recalled.
He left on April 13, she said, his boat likely sinking the same night. His body floated in the sea for much of April before it came ashore around the end of the month. For the rest of the spring and part of the summer, it was placed in a morgue, where it deteriorated from not being frozen.
And so on a sweltering day, Mr. Zamora loaded Mr. Ameer’s body into his hearse and, with his son, drove past pines and sunflower fields. The body was wrapped in blankets from the Red Cross, which had found him. A hospital tag was affixed to one leg. At the mortuary, Mr. Zamora and his son arrived dressed in hazmat suits and began embalming.
Ten pumps from a long needle into Mr. Ameer’s shoulder. Another 10 into his chest. After an hour, Mr. Zamora wrapped the body in a shroud which he covered in a green cloak and sprinkled it with dried flowers, recreating a Muslim rite that an imam had once shown him. Then he shut the lid on the coffin and he and his son took off their hazmat suits. The two were covered in sweat.
Yet the work hardly felt finished. In the adjoining room sat stacks of case files, people whose bodies Mr. Zamora was still trying to locate after their relatives had gotten in touch with him. There was an Algerian man, born in 1986. There were two Moroccans who had been lost at sea; and a Syrian man, who once had a wife and lived in Aleppo.
And there was a ringing from the other room, and with it, another possible lead.
“Martín, go get my phone,” Mr. Zamora said to his son, taking off his gloves.
Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco, and José Bautista from Madrid.
“With Facebook being down we’re losing thousands in sales,” said Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder in Ireland who runs HUH Clothing, a fashion brand focused on mental health that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers. “It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”
Samir Munir, who owns a food-delivery service in Delhi, said he was unable to reach clients or fulfill orders because he runs the business through his Facebook page and takes orders via WhatsApp.
“Everything is down, my whole business is down,” he said.
Douglas Veney, a gamer in Cleveland who goes by GoodGameBro and who is paid by viewers and subscribers on Facebook Gaming, said, “It’s hard when your primary platform for income for a lot of people goes down.” He called the situation “scary.”
Inside Facebook, workers also scrambled because their internal systems stopped functioning. The company’s global security team “was notified of a system outage affecting all Facebook internal systems and tools,” according to an internal memo sent to employees and shared with The New York Times. Those tools included security systems, an internal calendar and scheduling tools, the memo said.
Employees said they had trouble making calls from work-issued cellphones and receiving emails from people outside the company. Facebook’s internal communications platform, Workplace, was also taken out, leaving many unable to do their jobs. Some turned to other platforms to communicate, including LinkedIn and Zoom as well as Discord chat rooms.
Some Facebook employees who had returned to working in the office were also unable to enter buildings and conference rooms because their digital badges stopped working. Security engineers said they were hampered from assessing the outage because they could not get to server areas.
Facebook’s global security operations center determined the outage was “a HIGH risk to the People, MODERATE risk to Assets and a HIGH risk to the Reputation of Facebook,” the company memo said.
PANJSHIR, Afghanistan — In this lush strip of land — walled off from potential invaders by high mountain peaks and narrow, ambush-prone passes — former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan commandos regrouped in the days after the Taliban toppled the Afghan government, vowing to fight to the last man. With its history of resistance and its reputation for impenetrability, the Panjshir Valley seemed an ideal place for a determined force of renegades to base an insurgency.
By Sept. 6, however, the Taliban claimed to have captured the entire province of Panjshir, a momentous victory in a region that repelled numerous Soviet offensives in the 1980s, and had remained beyond the Taliban’s control during its rule from 1996 to 2001.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
He said that Qari Qudratullah, the new provincial governor, was meeting with elders to discuss a peaceful handover.
A Taliban military commission official, Mullah Hafiz Osman, later confirmed this was true, while Mr. Nazary, the resistance spokesman, denied the claim.
Behind the Panjshiri fighters flew the green, white and black flag of the Northern Alliance, repurposed to signify the National Resistance Front, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the leader assassinated in 2001. But villagers said that the Taliban had long been active in the valley, and that their takeover had been negotiated by some of the residents.
Outside the tomb of the elder Massoud, a young Talib, far from his home in Helmand Province in the south, performed his evening prayers.
Days earlier, photos of the partially destroyed tomb, in a dramatic hilltop mausoleum overlooking the valley, appeared on social media alongside accusations that the Taliban had ransacked the place. “This wasn’t our work,” one of the Taliban guards said. “Civilians broke in and smashed the glass.”
The site had since been repaired by the Taliban and was now in its original state. A group of guards stood around the tomb, and as evening fell, they stretched a green shroud over it and closed the doors for the night.
Outside the valley, those who had fled wondered if they would ever be able to return.
When the Taliban first entered Panjshir, Sahar, 17, and her family barricaded themselves at home, thinking the resistance would eventually chase the Talibs away. But the fighting steadily drew closer.
Neighbors started to flee, said Sahar, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity. Her uncle and cousin were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint near the village, she said, where they were beaten and ordered to turn over their weapons and the names of resistance fighters.
Last week, the family escaped through the mountains. They walked for five days, through remote valleys and over mountain ridges. Sahar fainted three times from dehydration, she said, and her mother had blisters and swollen feet. Her father, who is diabetic, nearly collapsed.
Eventually, they hitched a ride to Kabul, the country’s capital, where they had relatives with whom they are now living.
“We don’t know what will happen,” Sahar said by phone from Kabul. “We may never be able to get back.”
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, N.Y. Wali Arian contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.
Facebook has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social network to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body.
The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart.
Outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blasted in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, does not want to be seen as the sole decision maker on political content, two of the people said.
Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal and policy experts who adjudicate whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from its platforms. Facebook has pushed some content decisions to the Oversight Board for review, allowing it to show that it does not make determinations on its own.
pays them through a trust.
The Oversight Board’s highest-profile decision was reviewing Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Facebook opted to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a penalty that the Oversight Board later deemed “not appropriate” because the time frame was not based on any of the company’s rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.
In June, Facebook responded by saying that it would bar Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Oversight Board has separately weighed in on more than a dozen other content cases that it calls “highly emblematic” of broader themes that Facebook grapples with regularly, including whether certain Covid-related posts should remain up on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.
A spokesman for the Oversight Board declined to comment.
Facebook has had a spotty track record on election-related issues, going back to Russian manipulation of the platform’s advertising and posts in the 2016 presidential election.
bar the purchase of new political ads the week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all U.S. political advertising after the polls closed on Election Day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad-buying firms.
The company has struggled with how to handle lies and hate speech around elections. During his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while casting doubt on the electoral process as votes were tallied in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders posted was newsworthy and should not be touched, before later reversing course.
The social network has also faced difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation across its WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election in 2018. In 2019, Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with political parties in India ahead of the country’s national elections.
Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticisms. It established a political ads library to increase transparency around buyers of those promotions. It also has set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent interference.
There are several elections in the coming year in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely scrutinized. Voter fraud misinformation has already begun spreading ahead of German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.
“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is going in and tilting elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes have global implications.”
Internal conversations around an election commission date back to at least a few months ago, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
An election commission would differ from the Oversight Board in one key way, the people said. While the Oversight Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or an account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide guidance without the company having made an earlier call, they said.
Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now runs a nonprofit voter registration organization, said that many have lost faith in the company’s abilities to work with political campaigns. But the election commission proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they’re doing something and they’re not saying we alone can handle it.”
an ambitious proposal to cut carbon emissions, how will those who hope to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel respond?
If only because of their sheer scale, analysts say, the floods are likely to play a significant role for voters when they go to the polls on Sept 26 to replace Ms. Merkel, who has led the country for 16 years.
The death toll in Germany climbed to at least 143 on Saturday, while the toll across the border in Belgium stood at 27, its national crisis center said. The count rose most sharply in Germany’s Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate State, where the police said that more than 90 people had died. The authorities feared that number could yet grow.
In Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country that prides itself on its sense of stability, the chaos wrought by nature was likely to reverberate for months, if not years.
But on Saturday, residents and rescue workers in flood-hit areas faced the more immediate and daunting task of clearing piles of debris, unclogging roads and salvaging some of the homes that had survived the deluge.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, but officials have struggled to offer precise numbers.
Electricity and telephone services remain inaccessible in parts of Germany, and some roads are still impassable. That lack of access may account for the high tallies of those still considered missing. And some of those who are not accounted for could simply be away, on vacation or work assignment. In Belgium, police officers started knocking on doors to try to confirm the whereabouts of residents.
Still, officials said they expected to find additional victims.
Extreme downpours like the ones that hit Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more rainfall.
Floods of this size have not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years, according to meteorologists and German officials.
Rhineland-Palatinate was one of the two hardest-hit German states in the west, along with North Rhine-Westphalia. The Rhine River flows through the two regions, and the rain fell so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and tributaries not typically considered flood threats.
Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, traveled on Saturday to the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where the flooding destroyed homes. Ms. Merkel planned to travel on Sunday to Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate, which was badly hit, even as all of its 700 residents managed to survive.
There were scenes of devastation from all around Western Europe, the floods having caused damage from Switzerland to the Netherlands. But Germany was hardest hit.
Days before roiling waters tore through western Germany, a European weather agency had issued an extreme flood warning, as models showed that storms would send rivers surging to levels that had not been seen in hundreds of years.
The warnings, however, did little good.
Though Germany’s flood warning system, a network of sensors that measure river levels, functioned as it was supposed to, state and local officials said the amount of rain was unlike anything they had ever seen, causing even small streams and rivers to flood their banks.
Survivors and officials said many areas were caught unprepared as normally placid brooks and streams turned into torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges. About 15,000 police officers, soldiers and emergency service workers have been deployed in Germany to help with the search and rescue.
Dr. Linda Speight, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Reading in Britain who studies how flooding occurs, blamed poor communication about the high risk posed by the flooding as contributing to the significant loss of life. “There should not have been so many deaths from this event,” she said.
Residents returning home, only to find their homes no longer there. Roads submerged by landslides. Loved ones still unaccounted for.
As the weather improved on Saturday and rescue workers searched for missing residents, many people in flood-hit areas of Germany were trying to re-establish some order amid the chaos and destruction.
Friends and relatives mobilized to help, maneuvering around blocked roads and washed-out bridges. Crushed cars and mounds of ruined goods were carted away, or piled by the side of muddied, cracked roads.
Many expressed amazement at how so much could have been destroyed so quickly. For Lisa Knopp, 19, who was helping to empty the flood-ruined basement of her grandmother’s home in Sinzig, a small town between the Rhine and Ahr rivers, the scenes of destruction “will stay with me a long time.”
Kim Falkenstein said her mother lost her home in Ahrweiler, one of the hardest-hit spots. Ms. Falkenstein, who was born in Ahrweiler and now lives in New York, said several friends had also lost their homes, and a classmate had died.
“I am heartbroken,” she said.
“Seeing my city being destroyed, people who I am close with losing their existence, and knowing I will never return to something I once called home,” Ms. Falkenstein said, “gives me goose bumps.”
In a country that is among Europe’s most prosperous, where orderliness is highly prized, many Germans were unnerved by the helplessness wrought by nature.
Bertrand Adams, a local official in Trier-Ehrang, a town in western Germany, stared in disbelief at the swirling waters only now receding from his community.
“It is beyond anything that could ever be imagined,” he told ZDF television. “We have a very good flood protection system that we developed only five years ago. We were so certain that nothing can go wrong.”
Daniela Schmitz, who has a ranch in Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, was relieved that her property was not destroyed by the floods and that her horses had been evacuated. Others, she said, weren’t that fortunate.
“We were warned early enough — other stables are not doing so well,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message. “Many animals have drowned, entire stalls destroyed, and feed is becoming scarce. The conditions are really catastrophic in many places.”
On Saturday, German television channels carried wall-to-wall coverage of the flooding, as rescue workers continued searching for those who had been trapped by rising waters, with 143 confirmed dead in Germany and hundreds still missing.
As the official response picked up speed on Saturday, electricity, water and internet coverage were slowly being restored. Hundreds of police, fire and emergency vehicles crammed the roads into the most afflicted areas of Rhine-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Several of the central figures under investigation by the Haitian authorities in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse gathered in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the troubled nation once the president was out of power, according to the Haitian police, Colombian intelligence officers and participants in the discussions.
The meetings, conducted in Florida and the Dominican Republic over the last year, appear to connect a seemingly disparate collection of suspects in the investigation, linking a 63-year-old doctor and pastor, a security equipment salesman, and a mortgage and insurance broker in Florida.
All have been identified by the Haitian authorities as prominent players in a sprawling plot to kill the president with the help of more than 20 former Colombian commandos and seize political power in the aftermath. It is unclear how the people under investigation could have accomplished that, or what powerful backers they may have had to make it possible.
But interviews with more than a dozen people involved with the men show that the suspects had been working together for months, portraying themselves in grandiose and often exaggerated terms as well-financed, well-connected power brokers ready to lead a new Haiti with influential American support behind them.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a doctor and pastor who divided his time between Florida and Haiti, conspired with the others to take the reins of the country once Mr. Moïse was killed. During a raid of Mr. Sanon’s residence, they say, the police found six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets and a D.E.A. cap — suggesting that it linked him to the killing because the team of hit men who struck Mr. Moïse’s home posed as agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Sanon is now in custody.
Haitian officials are investigating whether the president’s own protection force took part in the plot as well, and on Thursday they detained the head of palace security for Mr. Moïse. Colombian officials say the palace security chief made frequent stopovers in Colombia on his way to other countries in the months before the assassination.
The Haitian authorities offered little explanation as to how Mr. Sanon — who did not hold elected office — planned to take over once the president was killed. It was also difficult to understand how he might have financed a team of Colombian mercenaries, some of whom received American military training when they were members of their nation’s armed forces, to carry out such an ambitious assault, given that he filed in Florida for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2013.
But the interviews show that several of the key suspects met to discuss Haiti’s future government once Mr. Moïse was no longer in power — with Mr. Sanon becoming the country’s new prime minister.
“The idea was to prepare for that eventuality,” said Parnell Duverger, a retired adjunct economics professor at Broward College in Florida, who attended about 10 meetings on Zoom and in person with Mr. Sanon and other experts to discuss Haiti’s future government.
street protests demanding his removal — would eventually have no choice but to step down. Mr. Duverger, 70, described the meetings as cabinet-style sessions intended to help Mr. Sanon form a potential transition government once that happened.
that hired the former Colombian commandos and brought them to Haiti.
The other was Walter Veintemilla, who leads a small financial services company in Miramar, Fla., called Worldwide Capital Lending Group. On Wednesday, the Haitian authorities accused him of helping to finance the assassination plot.
Mr. Intriago arrived in Haiti, he and Mr. Veintemilla met in the neighboring Dominican Republic with Mr. Sanon.
On Wednesday, Haitian and Colombian officials said that a photograph showed the three men at the meeting with another central suspect in the investigation: James Solages, a Haitian American resident of South Florida who was detained by the Haitian authorities shortly after the assassination.
It is unclear whether any of the discussions crossed into a nefarious plot that led to the death of Mr. Moïse. The Haitian police have provided little concrete evidence, and American and Colombian officials familiar with the investigation said their officers in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, had been unable to interview most of the detained suspects as of Wednesday morning, forcing them to rely on the accounts of the Haitian authorities.
Another participant in one of the meetings with Mr. Sanon also said there was never any hint of a plot to kill the president.
websites, which claim to offer generic financial services such as mortgages and insurance, do not mention any notable deals.
And the owner of the company that hired the Colombian commandos, Mr. Intriago, has a history of debts, evictions and bankruptcies. Several relatives of the Colombian soldiers said they had never received their promised wages.
After the assassination, 18 of the Colombian soldiers were detained by the Haitian authorities and accused of participating in the killing. Another three Colombians, including the recruiter, Mr. Capador, were killed in the hours after the president’s death.
On Thursday, the Colombian police said Mr. Capador and a retired Colombian captain, German Alejandro Rivera, had conspired with the Haitian suspects as early as May to arrest Haiti’s president, providing the first indication of at least some of the veterans’ complicity in the plot.
It remained unclear how the plot turned into murder, but the Colombian authorities said seven Colombian commandos had entered the presidential residence on the night of the attack, while the rest guarded the area.
“What happened there?” said the wife of one of the detained former soldiers, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety. “How does this end?”
Reporting was contributed by Mirelis Morales from Miramar, Fla.; Sofía Villamil from Bogotá, Colombia; Edinson Bolaños from Villavicencio, Colombia; Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington; and Catherine Porter.
jostling for power that it took them a week just to announce that they had formed a committee to organize the president’s funeral.
For months, as Haiti fell deeper into crisis over Mr. Moïse’s rule, with protests upending the nation and Parliament reduced to a shell in the absence of elections, the Commission had been meeting regularly, desperate to come up with a plan to get the country functioning again. Health care, a working judiciary, schools, food: Their goals were at once basic and ambitious.
Now all the focus seems to be on who will emerge as Haiti’s next leader, said Monique Clesca, a former United Nations official, a promiment Commission member. But the group wants the country to think bigger — to reimagine itself, and plan for a different future.
While they are still hammering out their plans, Ms. Comeau-Denis was emphatic about one thing: less fighting and more collaboration. “Together, we can become a force,” she said.
Among the group’s biggest concerns is corruption, and members said they wanted an inquiry into how foreign aid had been squandered in Haiti. Three damning reports by the country’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $2 billion lent to Haiti as part of a Venezuela-sponsored oil program, PetroCaribe, had been embezzled or wasted over eight years by a succession of Haitian governments.
The call by Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, for the United States to send troops to Haiti to help stabilize the country has drawn loud criticism from the civil society leaders, who do not want foreign forces to step in. The issue of foreign intervention is especially sensitive in a former slave colony that has suffered historically under the repression of colonial powers like France. The United States has sent troops into Haiti several times, and occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.
“We have racist whites who want to impose their own solution,” said Josué Mérilien, an activist who fights for better conditions on behalf of teachers.
Amid a continuing power struggle in Haiti and swirling questions about the country’s future nearly a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, there’s at least one thing that some people in the nation seem to agree on: a state funeral for the slain leader.
Haiti’s government says it is setting up a committee to plan a state funeral for Mr. Moïse “with the respect, solemnity and dignity attached to his rank as head of state.”
Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official who has criticized Mr. Moïse’s leadership, said that while the president had been a deeply divisive figure, many Haitians felt it was imperative that the dignity of the office be respected.
“He was Haiti’s president. Even if we disagreed and thought he should be out of office, this is a former president who died, and there is respect for the office,” Ms. Clesca said. “Jovenel Moïse was not loved, and this is a guy who traumatized the country for the past few years. But in our culture the dead are sacred. A Haitian president has died, and we must rise above it all.”
Carmen Cajuste, 68, a grandmother in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, observed that Mr. Moïse was human, after all, and she wanted the president to have a big funeral. “He came out of here,” she said, touching her belly, before making the sign of the cross.
Still, while there is some support for a state funeral, Mr. Moïse had many detractors. There is also ambivalence in some quarters about how much respect to afford him given what his critics say was the suffering that he brought about.
Over the weekend, Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim prime minister, said his priority was to investigate the assassination and to find answers. He commended the Haitian people for maintaining their calm, suggesting that the assassination may have been calculated to “push the population to revolt and carnage.”
Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” immediately after the assassination, effectively placing the country under martial law. In that period of 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins.”
In recent days, the country has been convulsed by photos circulating on social media that purport to show the president’s corpse, and even his harshest critics have been angered over the pictures and their impingement on the dignity of the dead.
Last Wednesday, just hours after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in his residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s official government journal, Le Moniteur, published a government order declaring 15 days of national mourning.
The order called for the national flag to be flown at half-staff, and nightclubs and other establishments to remain closed. It “invited” radio and television stations to program circumstantial programs and music.
Two days later, the interim prime minister, Mr. Joseph, released a video on Twitter praising Mr. Moïse’s legacy.
“He believed in change that would last,” read one of the captions of the video, which showed images of Mr. Moïse mingling with crowds while a nostalgic piano soundtrack played.
“Rest in peace President,” Mr. Joseph wrote.
The planning for the funeral comes as Haiti is facing a political crisis with several rival claims to power. Two men are competing for the job of prime minister even as Haiti’s democratic institutions have been severely hollowed out. And the president of the Senate has also been jockeying for power.
Mr. Moïse had planned to remove Mr. Joseph as prime minister, naming a replacement who was supposed to have been sworn in last week.
Mr. Moïse had presided over a country shaken by political instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His mandate was contested, with opponents saying that his five-year term should have ended in February. But Mr. Moïse had insisted that he had more than a year to serve, arguing that his term did not begin until a year after the presidential election, amid accusations of voting fraud.
Nearly a week after Haiti’s president was gunned down in his bedroom, the country is still wracked by questions over who was behind the killing, and their motives. And even as a state funeral is being planned for President Jovenel Moïse, political leaders are battling over who should lead the shaken nation.
Now, as a sprawling multinational investigation broadens, with suspects stretching from Colombia to Florida, the Haitian authorities have turned their focus to a little-known doctor who they said coveted the presidency. But how he might have managed to set in motion such an ambitious plot — involving perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from abroad — is not easily explainable.
Our correspondent Catherine Porter, who has reported on Haiti during about 30 trips over many years, has now landed in Haiti. Here’s what she saw on her arrival.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Green mountains peek through the heavy clouds below me, little farms clinging to their steep edges seemingly by magic.
Haiti is a beautiful country.
Flying into Port-au-Prince Monday evening, I thought of a Creole proverb: “dèyè mòn, gen mòn.”
Mountains beyond mountains. It is used to portray the endless difficulties in life.
The Haitian eye doctor seated next to me on the plane explained one of the expression’s meanings: Nothing is simple. There are always many layers.
We agreed it seemed a perfect expression for Haiti, and this moment in particular.
A president assassinated in his fortified home. Not one of his bodyguards reportedly injured. A group of Colombian ex-military commandos labeled by the police chief as the culprits, and a Haitian-born American doctor the alleged mastermind.
Yet, if they were specially trained army commandos, why did they not have an escape plan? Why would they have announced their arrival via a loudspeaker, alerting the whole neighborhood, and not been covert?
The first time I came to Haiti was after another devastating event: the 2010 earthquake. I have returned some 30 times since to report, and on a few occasions to visit friends.
The first thing I noticed leaving the airport this time was how empty the city seemed. The normally bustling, chaotic streets were barren of life.
It became clear quickly that it wasn’t just from mourning.
As dusk fell, our car was enveloped in darkness as though we were in the countryside, not in a city jammed with more than one million people.
Few lights shone from the concrete two-story buildings around us: The city was experiencing another power outage — an increasingly common phenomenon that President Jovenel Moïse, killed on Wednesday, had promised and failed to fix.
When we did see people, they were lined up at a gas station, sitting in their cars and tap-taps — local buses made from converted pickup trucks. My fixer, Harold Isaac, explained that the city’s violently warring gangs had essentially shut down one of the country’s main highways, separating the city from its main gas reserves, causing fuel shortages.
Then we went through the Christ-Roi neighborhood, where 11 people, including a journalist and well-known activist, were gunned down on the street one week before the president.
Pink bougainvillea tumbled over the high walls lining the streets, like flowers atop gravestones.
There were many complicated problems in Haiti before Mr. Moise’s horrific assassination. His death has simply added to them.
Dèyè mòn, gen mòn.
The accusation that a Florida-based doctor was a central figure in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti has been met with bewilderment by some who knew him and surprise by prominent Haitian Americans who said he was not known as a major political player.
At the same time, a university professor who met with the doctor twice last month said that he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over Haiti’s presidency.
About two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, and Haitian officials have placed the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, at the center of an investigation that has stretched out from Haiti to Colombia and the United States.
The doctor’s brother, Joseph Sanon, said that he had not been in touch with him for a while and that he had no idea what was going on. “I am desperate to know what’s happening,” he said.
A former neighbor of the doctor’s in Florida, Steven Bross, 65, said, “He was always trying to figure out ways to make Haiti more self-sufficient, but assassinating the president, no way.”
In a telephone interview on Monday, Michel Plancher, a civil engineering professor at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, said he had received a call from out of the blue to attend a meeting with Dr. Sanon, who he was told was planning a political campaign.
Professor Plancher said he had never heard of the doctor but decided to attend the meetings, which were held at a home in the capital, after internet searches showed Dr. Sanon to be a pastor who had done charitable work.
The two men had a first meet-and-greet encounter on June 1, Professor Plancher said. The initial contact was followed a day or two later by an hourlong meeting with Dr. Sanon and a group of six to eight people. Both meetings happened in the same home in Port-au-Prince.
There, he said, Dr. Sanon outlined his political ambitions.
“He said he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace Moïse,” Professor Plancher said. “He said the president would be resigning soon. He didn’t say why.”
Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, has accused Dr. Sanon of playing a pivotal role in the assassination and wanting to become president, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.
During a raid of his home, the Haitian authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who assaulted Mr. Moïse’s home appear to have falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.
A YouTube video recorded in 2011 titled “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” appears to present Mr. Sanon as a potential leader of the country. In it, the speaker denounces Haiti’s leaders as corrupt plunderers of its resources.
As the authorities focus on Dr. Sanon’s actions in recent months, a clearer picture of his past is also coming into view.
Dr. Sanon was born in 1958 in Marigot, a city on Haiti’s southern coast, and graduated from the Eugenio María de Hostos University in the Dominican Republic and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., according to a short biography from the Florida Baptist Historical Society.
Public records show that Dr. Sanon was licensed to practice conventional medicine and osteopathic medicine. In 2013, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Florida, a process in which people can liquidate assets to pay creditors. Dr. Sanon stated at the time of his bankruptcy filing that he was a doctor and the director of the Rome Foundation, a nonprofit involved in assisting people in Haiti.
And though Dr. Sanon was straddling two worlds, dividing time between his homes in Haiti and Florida, some in Miami’s Haitian diaspora expressed surprise when Dr. Sanon was named as a central figure in the assassination plotting.
“I never heard of this Sanon before,” said Georges Sami Saati, 68, a Haitian American businessman who is a prominent figure in Miami’s community of Haitian émigrés. “Nobody ever heard of him.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The retired soldiers trusted Duberney Capador because he was one of them: a former soldier who had spent years traversing Colombia, fighting left-wing guerrillas and other enemies in rugged conditions.
So when Mr. Capador, 40, reached out with a job offer — high-paying and important, he told them — many of the men jumped at the opportunity, and asked few questions.
The New York Times interviewed a dozen retired Colombian soldiers who were recruited for a potentially dangerous security operation in Haiti shortly before the president’s assassination last week. The soldiers interviewed did not end up participating — in some cases because they were part of a second wave of people who were supposed to arrive in Haiti at a later point, they said.
The exact relationship between Mr. Capador, the ex-soldiers and the death of the president is unclear. But Mr. Capador died in the aftermath of the assassination, and Haitian officials have 18 Colombians in custody in connection with the president’s death.
The narrative began with Mr. Capador, who retired from the military in 2019 and was living on a family farm in western Colombia with his mother. His sister, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, said in an interview in Bogotá that Mr. Capador had received a phone call in April from a security company that asked him to put together a group that would “protect important people in Haiti.”
Mr. Capador took the job, and by mid-May he had flown with a military buddy to Haiti to find a home base for the men and gather supplies.
He also started recruiting his military friends and asking them to call their friends. He organized them in at least two WhatsApp groups, and told them to buy boots and black polo shirts and to prepare their passports.
Some of the men said they had been promised $2,700 a month.
Carlos Cifuentes, one of the men recruited by Mr. Capador, said he had been told that it would be a “long-term post, initially a year.” Mr. Cifuentes said he had been told he would be fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.
Others were told that they would be providing security for “dignitaries” and “important people.”
“All we know is that we were going to provide security in an exclusive area under the command of Mr. Capador,” said one recruit who asked that he not be named to protect his safety. “We weren’t interested in how long, or where, or the name of the person we were going to protect. For these types of jobs there are never any details.”
Two of the 12 people interviewed said they had been told they would be protecting a president.
Others said that they had struggled to find well-paid work after leaving the military.
“I’ve been out of the military for four years and I’ve looked for work,” said Leodan Bolaños, 45, one of the recruits. What he had found paid too little, he said.
Mr. Capador started one of the WhatsApp groups, called “First Flight,” on May 26. By early June, the first wave of men had arrived in Haiti, several of the ex-soldiers said.
“We’re doing well,” wrote a former soldier in Haiti to one of the recruits still in Colombia, “they’re treating us like they promised.”
But the second wave of men never arrived.
Haitian officials say that a group of assailants stormed President Jovenel Moïse’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Wednesday at about 1 a.m., shooting him and wounding his wife, Martine Moïse, in what the Haitian authorities called a well-planned operation that included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.
On Monday, the head of Colombia’s national police, Jorge Luis Vargas, said Colombian officials had determined that at least two of the Colombian ex-soldiers found in Haiti, including Mr. Capador, had contact with a Florida-based company called CTU Security, run by a Venezuelan American named Antonio Intriago. But Mr. Vargas said nothing about Mr. Capador’s motives or the motives of the many men who followed him to Haiti.
Edinson Bolaños and Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.
The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.
A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.
Even his critics were outraged.
“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted the journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”
She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.
Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister in charge of elections, said on Tuesday that the photos were of Mr. Moïse and that an autopsy had been carried out on the president’s body.
“The pictures that are circulating were taken at the laboratory by technicians during the scan,” Mr. Pierre said, referring to part of the autopsy procedure.
He did not say when the autopsy results would be made public.
Forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.
“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.
“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.
Photos of dead bodies left on the streets are sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.
The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats Haiti’s poor in clinics in Port-au-Prince’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said that for some of his staff members, the president’s brutal assassination had brought back memories of past violence.
“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.
And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.
“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.
Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
An atmosphere of unease persisted in Haiti this week as investigators tried to make sense of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, how the killing was plotted and what the motives were behind it.
Barely a week after withdrawing nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden faces a strikingly similar dilemma much closer to home, in Haiti.
In Afghanistan, Mr. Biden concluded that American forces could not be expected to prop up the country’s frail government in perpetuity. His critics argue that the withdrawal makes Washington culpable for the collapse that seems likely to follow.
There is no threat of insurgent takeover in Haiti. But with the authorities there requesting U.S. troops to help restore order and guard its assets, Mr. Biden faces a similar choice.
Past interventions in Haiti suggest that another could forestall further descent into chaos. Those occupations lasted years, did little to address (and may have worsened) the underlying causes of that chaos and left the United States responsible for what came after.
Still, after decades of involvement there, the United States is seen as a guarantor of Haiti’s fate, also much as in Afghanistan. Partly because of that involvement, both countries are afflicted with poverty, corruption and institutional weakness that leave their governments barely in control — leading to requests for more U.S. involvement to prop them up.
Refusing Haiti’s request would make Washington partly responsible for the calamity that U.S. forces likely could otherwise hold off. But agreeing would leave it responsible for managing another open-ended crisis of a sort that has long proven resistant to outside resolution.
President Biden took office with bold warnings for Russia and China about human rights as he pressed democracies around the world to stand up against autocracy. But this week he is facing a string of similar challenges in America’s neighborhood.
On Monday, a day after huge protests across Cuba, Mr. Biden accused officials there of “enriching themselves” instead of protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic, repression and economic suffering.
By early afternoon, Mr. Biden has refocused on Haiti, urging its political leaders to “come together for the good of their country,” less than a week after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his bed.
The turmoil presents a potential crisis closer to home, with a possible exodus of Haitians as the Biden administration contends with a surge of migrants at the southwestern border. It is also forcing the White House to focus on the region more broadly after years of indifference — or limited attention — from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
U.S. influence began waning in the region over the past decade as it turned toward focusing on terrorism in the Middle East and as Russia and especially China moved in to finance projects and offer political support and other incentives.
As Haitians continued to process a presidential assassination that has all the hallmarks of a sinister thriller, one baffling aspect of the killing dominated conversations in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora: How were the assassins able to so easily breach the presidential guard?
The Haitian authorities have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning this week as investigators try and understand how armed assassins could have entered a heavily guarded residence where Mr. Moïse was protected by dozens of officers.
Bedford Claude, the chief public prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, said that he had asked the police to interrogate all of the security staff close to Mr. Moïse including two key security officials, Jean Laguel Civil, who is head of the unit protecting current and former presidents, akin to the U.S. Secret Service; and Dimitri Hérard, the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, the seat of executive power in Haiti. The two were expected to be interrogated this week.
An employee at the National Palace, who is familiar with the investigation and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about it, said that the night of the assassination, Mr. Moïse was supposed to have a force of 50 security guards at his residence. Instead, he said there were fewer than 10, all of whom have been arrested. “People here are baffled as to how that could have happened,” he said.
He said the president had made several calls from the residence the night of the assassination, including to Haiti’s top police official, but the precise timing of the calls was not clear.
Haitian security experts said that, given the magnitude of the crime, it was odd that the chief security officers were being summoned so late after the killing. They said they were concerned that some among the president’s security detail could have fled or tried to flee the country.
Manel Mauvais, the Haitian-Canadian director of Production Sécurité, a Montreal-based security company with 1,000 security agents and close ties to Haiti, said the delay in questioning the senior security guards underlined how the poor Caribbean nation was ill-equipped to conduct a professional investigation. The country is buffeted by lawlessness and violence, and the courts have barely been functional.
He said many Haitians abroad and in Haiti were viewing the investigation as a farce that seemed to be “just for show.” He said the security personnel should have been summoned within 24 or 48 hours of the assassination, before some could flee, or suspects could talk with each other to concoct false stories of what had happened.
“How can you do an investigation a week later and give people time to escape after such a major crime was committed?” he asked.
Some two dozen people have been detained so far in connection with the assassination.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused people had traveled to Haiti from Bogotá in May, flying to Panama, and the Dominican Republic before arriving in Haiti. The United States and Colombian officials said they would work with Haitian law enforcement to try and untangle the plot. The Biden administration officials have said that those efforts would include sending staff from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Haiti.
Conspiracy theories about the assassination were swirling in Haiti at supermarket lines, in cafes and bars, and on social media. One unsubstantiated theory was that the president was already dead when he was attacked. Another is that the Colombians were being framed for a plot they had no part in. Still another was that it was a plot from within the president’s own ranks.