Haiti's National Police director Léon Charles said Wednesday night his officers killed four suspects in the early morning assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and captured two others. The alleged assassins have not been identified, but Charles and other Haitian officials have described them as "foreigners," "mercenaries," and "a highly trained and heavily armed group" speaking English and Spanish in the French-speaking nation and posing as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price dismissed the DEA ruse reports as "absolutely false" and said the Biden administration stands ready to help Haiti uncover a motive for Moïse's assassination and investigate who was behind the brazen attack at his private residence.
Moïse, 53, dissolved parliament in January 2020 and had been ruling by decree for 18 months. His unilateral governance made him unpopular as gangs brazenly terrorized neighborhoods in violent turf wars and inflation and high unemployment exacerbated poverty in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
"He had obviously many enemies," Robert Fatton, a politics professor and Haiti expert at the University of Virginia, tells The Washington Post. "There might have been some degree of complicity on the part of those protecting the president." There is a very long list of suspects, a leading Haitian businessman told The Wall Street Journal. "This is like an Agatha Christie novel."
In the meantime, it isn't clear who is or should be in charge in Haiti. Claude Joseph, the prime minister Moïse tried to fire on Monday, says he is running Haiti under emergency powers with help from the police and military. Arial Henry, the neurosurgeon Moïse named prime minister on Monday but had not sworn in before his death, told The Associated Press on Wednesday it's a "confusing" and "exceptional situation" but "I am the prime minister in office." According to Haiti's constitution, the president of Haiti's Supreme Court should have assumed the presidency after Moïse's death, but the chief justice recently died of COVID-19.
"So far this looks like an execution and not a coup d'état," says Jean-Max Bellerive, a former Haitian prime minister. "But it could start looking like a coup d'état if the interim prime minister starts taking charge of everything without trying to achieve consensus."