Florida doctor arrested as alleged ‘middleman’ in Haiti president assassination

Police claim key suspect flew into the Caribbean country with ‘political motives’

Protests in Port-au-Prince following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise
Protests in Port-au-Prince following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise
(Image credit: Richard Pierrin/Getty Images)

Police in Haiti have arrested a doctor from Florida suspected of having played a key role in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 63-year-old Haitian national, flew into the Caribbean country on a private jet in early June with “political motives”, police said during a briefing late last night in the capital Port-au-Prince. Police chief Leon Charles said that Sanon was accompanied by hired security guards whom he had recruited to arrest Moise, but that “the mission then changed”.

Leon did not elaborate further, but said that when the police “blocked the progress” of the assassins who shot Moise dead at his Port-au-Prince early on Wednesday, the “first person that one of the assailants called” was Sanon, who “contacted two other people that we consider to be the masterminds of the assassination”.

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Suspected middleman

Little is known about Florida-based Sanon other than that he “describes himself as a doctor and has accused his homeland’s leaders of corruption”, The Guardian reports.

Investigators believe that he “acted as a middleman” between the killers and the masterminds of the assassination, the paper continues. Police said yesterday that a search of Sanon’s house in Haiti had uncovered “a hat emblazoned with the logo of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four vehicle licence plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified people”.

Police chief Charles also “said the alleged killers were protecting Mr Sanon as the supposed future president of Haiti”, reports The Independent.

Political chaos

A “delegation of senior US security and justice officials” arrived in Haiti yesterday to “assess the security situation”, reports the BBC. The group will also meet three Haitian politicians “claiming to be the country’s legitimate leader” as the assassination deepens “political and economic instability that has long plagued the nation”, the broadcaster adds.

Haiti currently has both an interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and a new appointee, Ariel Henry, who was selected by Moise but is yet to be sworn in. On Friday, a group of political parties further added to the confusion by signing a resolution proclaiming the appointment of a new president - Joseph Lambert - with Henry acting as his PM.

Meanwhile, gun battles have “raged around the upmarket suburb of Petion-Ville, as police and locals hunted the mercenaries”, The Times reports. “Two suspects were killed” in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, while “a further 11 broke into the nearby embassy of Taiwan where they were later arrested”, the paper continues.

“Two men, who had the same pale skin as the mercenaries, narrowly escaped being lynched when they were spotted by an angry crowd. Pleading innocence, they were dragged to the police, one with a bloodied rope around his neck.”

The Haitian authorities say Moise was murdered by a squad of 28 men. All but two were Colombian nationals and 13 were veterans of the Colombian armed forces, according to officials.

Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports that many of the alleged assassins had arrived in Haiti under the impression that they would be guarding high-profile individuals.

Investigators are also “interrogating members of the presidential security team”, the Financial Times reports. All of the guards escaped injury when the hit squad stormed the president’s home on Wednesday morning and shot Moise a dozen times.

Unanswered questions

Many questions remain about the motives for Moise’s assassination. His widow, Martine, who was seriously wounded in the attack, has posted a recorded message on Twitter in which she claims that political opponents “sent mercenaries to kill the president at his home with members of his family because of roads, water, electricity and the referendum, as well as elections at the end of the year, so that there is no transition in the country”.

Former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, one of Haiti’s most influential crime bosses, has also accused police and opposition politicians of being involved in “a national and international conspiracy against the Haitian people”.

During a video address, Cherizier - who was sanctioned by the US Treasury last year for allegedly staging a 2018 massacre in which at least 71 people were killed - said that “we tell all bases to mobilise, to mobilise and take to the streets for light to be shed on the president’s assassination”.

Jenny Capador, whose brother was one of the suspects killed during the arrest operation, told CNN that she was “100% sure of the innocence of my brother and his comrades”.

She said her brother, Duberney, phoned her during what he described as a “siege” on the president’s home. “He called me and told me that, sadly, they got there to protect someone important but that they arrived late,” Capador claimed. “He told me they were in a house, under siege and under fire, fighting.”

Rumours as to who masterminded the killing have so far “focused on shadowy oligarchs and criminals who still make fortunes in Haiti”, The Times says. An unnamed businessman in Port-au-Prince told the paper that Moise was not viewed as a “team player” by many powerful interests.

“They may have felt that he was not a man they could deal with,” the paper suggests.

Whatever the motives for the assassination, US journalist Michael Deibert predicts that the killing will ultimately change little in the poverty-ridden nation.

“The system that Jovenel Moise sat atop of was bigger than him,” Deibart, author of Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History, told The Times. “It predated and will outlast him.”

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