A Haitian-born doctor based in Florida has been arrested as a key suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, and the national police chief suggested at a news conference that he believed the suspect was plotting to become president.
To date, some two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, but on Sunday, Haitian officials described the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, as a central figure in the case.
Even as the Haitian authorities offered their most detailed account so far of the plot behind the brazen assassination of the president in the bedroom of his private home last week, there was widespread skepticism among the public of the official version of events.
An increasingly fraught struggle for control of the country is only adding to the general sense of unease and foreboding as an already grim situation in Haiti threatens to descend further out of control.
A majority of sitting members of Haitian Parliament, which is itself in a state of dysfunction, are calling for a new government to replace the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph.
Mr. Joseph has issued a series of desperate pleas for foreign intervention to stabilize the nation, including calling on the United States to send troops.
American officials signaled that they remained reluctant to provide military forces to Haiti to help secure order, but have sent a team of investigators to help look into last week’s assassination, which has left the country teetering.
Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, said that Dr. Sanon played a vital role in the plot, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.
Still, the arrest of Dr. Sanon added yet another element of intrigue in a rapidly moving investigation that stretched from Colombia to Miami.
“He arrived by private plane in June with political objectives and contacted a private security firm to recruit the people who committed this act,” he said. The firm, he said, was a Venezuelan security company based in the United States called CTU.
During a raid at his home, the 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.
“The initial mission that was given to these assailants was to protect the individual named Emmanuel Sanon, but afterwards the mission changed,” Mr. Charles said, implying that Mr. Sanon had meant to install himself as president.
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 the leaders of Haiti as corrupt plunderers of its resources.
“With me in power, you are going to have to tell me: ‘What are you doing with my uranium?’” the speaker says. “‘What are you going to do with the oil that we have in the country? What are you going to do with the gold?’”
CTU is run by a man named Antonio Intriago. He did not respond to messages requesting comment and CTU’s office was shut when a reporter stopped by on Saturday.
Two Americans arrested last week have said that they were not in the room when the president was killed and that they had worked only as translators for the hit squad, according to a Haitian judge who interviewed them. They met with other participants at an upscale hotel in the Pétionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, to plan the attack.
The goal was not to kill the president, the two Americans told the judge, but to bring him to the national palace.
A top security aide to President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti had traveled to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, several times in the months before the president’s assassination last week, Colombian defense officials said on Monday morning, raising the prospect that the attackers had inside help.
The Colombian officials, who are helping in a wide-ranging investigation into the president’s death, said that they were examining what connection, if any, there was between the trips by the head of the presidential palace guard, Dimitri Hérard, and the Colombian former soldiers accused by Haitian officials of having been involved in the killing.
Since January, Mr. Hérard had traveled to Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic, each time with a layover in Bogotá. On at least one occasion, he stayed for several days.
But the Colombian authorities have yet to establish a direct link between Mr. Hérard and the captured former soldiers, officials said.
At a news conference in Bogotá, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, the chief of the Colombian national police, said that the number of Colombians captured in Haiti had risen to 21, three of whom are dead.
The Colombians, Mr. Vargas said, had traveled from Colombia to the Dominican Republic and then on to Haiti after their plane tickets were purchased by a company based in Florida.
At least two of the Colombians, Duberney Capador and Germán Rivera García, were working with that company, CTU Security. Both are now dead.
Colombia has one of the best-trained militaries in Latin America, and because of this, Colombian veterans are highly sought after by global security companies. They deploy them to faraway places like Yemen and Iraq, often paying far more than they could expect to earn in Colombia.
Haitian officials have cast the Colombians as centerpieces of a well-organized plot carried out by “foreign mercenaries” to kill Mr. Moïse, but critical questions remain about what they were really in Haiti to do.
The country’s lead prosecutor has begun looking into what role Haitian security forces may have had in an operation that killed the president and wounded his wife but harmed no one else in the household or in the president’s security retinue.
In Colombia, some family members of the detained Colombians say the men went to Haiti to protect the president, not to kill him. That has only added to the many murky and often contradictory claims surrounding the assassination.
Then on Sunday, the Haitian authorities said they had arrested a Florida-based, Haitian-born doctor whom they described as a central figure in the assassination plot, and said he had hired a private security company that recruited at least some of the Colombians.
Things remain as murky as ever, but to Giovanna Romero, the widow of one of the Colombians killed in Haiti, one thing is clear: Her husband, Mauricio Javier Romero, was no assassin.
“Mauricio never would have signed up for such an operation, no matter how much money he was offered,” she said.
A team of U.S. officials newly returned from a trip to Haiti briefed President Biden on Monday about the situation on the ground in a country in upheaval, and it appears they may have come home with more questions than answers.
“What was clear from their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership,” the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said at a news conference on Monday.
Haiti has a presidency left vacant after an assassination, two competing prime ministers and a Parliament that is not functioning. The country, overrun by gangs and hobbled by poverty, is still shaken by the death of President Jovenel Moïse, who was gunned down at his home by a team of hit men, the authorities say.
“The people of Haiti deserve peace and security,” Mr. Biden told reporters, “and Haiti’s political leaders need to come together for the good of the country.”
The American delegation met with both the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and with Ariel Henry, the man Mr. Moïse named to succeed Mr. Joseph as prime minister only days before he was assassinated.
“This is just the beginning of our conversations,” Ms. Psaki said, “and we will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with individuals in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward.”
Ms. Psaki said the White House was still reviewing Haiti’s request that it send troops to help stabilize the county. “But as of right now,” she said, “the U.S. has not committed to having any sort of presence on the ground.”
The U.S. team included an F.B.I. agent and Department of Homeland Security officials, as well a representatives from the State Department and the National Security Council.
“The delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, who are leading the investigation into the assassination,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Emily Horne, said in a statement on Monday.
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. focus was on “helping Haitian authorities “get their arms around investigating this incident and figuring out who’s culpable.”
In the wake of the assassination, there has been a sense of chaos in some parts of Haiti, with some people gathering at the U.S. Embassy there hoping to leave, and competing political factions vying for control of the government.
Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed Mr. Kirby on whether conditions in Haiti were a matter of national security. While the United States is watching the situation closely, Mr. Kirby said, the American investigative team would be “the best way forward.”
“I don’t know that we’re at a point now where we can say definitively that our national security is being put at risk by what’s happening there,” Mr. Kirby said. “But clearly we value our Haitian partners. We value stability and security in that country.”
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.
The authenticity of the pictures could not be independently confirmed, but 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.
Orlando Barria/EPA, via Shutterstock
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Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press
Haitians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, hoping to be granted visas to leave the country as the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last week heightened an uncertain and volatile situation in the country.
Just days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, a high-stakes battle for control of the country is heating up, and the president of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, is among those jockeying for power.
Although the Haitian Parliament is in a state of dysfunction — with only 10 sitting senators out of 30 because the terms of the other 20 have expired — a majority of the remaining lawmakers on Friday signed a resolution calling for a new government to replace the current interim prime minister, Claude Joseph. They declared that Mr. Lambert, who also has the support of several political parties, should become provisional president.
“He seems to be quite intelligent politically,” Laënnec Hurbon, a Haitian sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, said of Mr. Lambert.
Mr. Lambert, 60, is from the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti. An agronomist by training, he is a seasoned politician who was elected to the lower house of Parliament in 1995, before winning a seat in the Senate in 2006. He is currently in his third term as president of the Senate.
Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had initially been close to the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, whose name means “Bald Headed,” which supported Mr. Moïse as well as his predecessor Michel Martelly. But Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had always managed to ingratiate himself with other parties.
In 2019, Mr. Lambert, who had been passed over for the position of prime minister, announced that he was joining the opposition to Mr. Moïse, according to the newspaper Nouvelliste. As Mr. Lambert rose to the Senate’s presidency in January, he criticized Mr. Moïse’s policies but also said that he wanted to cooperate closely with the president to devise solutions to the country’s problems.
On Friday, a dozen parties from all political stripes signed a “protocol of national accord” backing the Senate’s decision and calling for the installation of Mr. Lambert as interim president within the next 48 hours.
“He always knows in perilous, difficult situations like this one, to make the right speech and therefore to seduce the people,” Mr. Hurbon said of Mr. Lambert, adding that he had been surprised to see such a large coalition of opposition parties backing Mr. Lambert’s bid for power.
The Senate’s resolution on Friday said that Mr. Lambert should become provisional president until January, when a new parliament would be elected. It also said that Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, should replace Mr. Joseph, the current interim prime minister.
Mr. Lambert wrote on Twitter that the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for Saturday afternoon but had been delayed because all senators wanted to be “present to actively participate in the inauguration.”
Lilas Desquiron, culture minister in Haiti from 2001 to 2004, said that Mr. Lambert was “a skilled politician” who was very popular among civil servants.
“He is someone who plays for himself but plays with a lot of intelligence,” she said.
The Haitian government’s extraordinary request for U.S. forces to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of the assassination of its president last week carries haunting vestiges from American military interventions that happened more than a century ago.
Back then, 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 a mob assassinated Haiti’s president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. 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 the 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.