Two Americans are among 28 foreign mercenaries responsible for the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, police in Haiti have claimed.
James Solages, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Joseph Vincent, both Haitian Americans, are in custody, according to Haitian police.
Police said 19 members of the alleged foreign assassination squad were in custody, three had been killed in a gun battle, and eight were still at large. The remainder of the alleged assassins are from Colombia, some of whom formerly served in the Colombian military, Haitian police said.
Photos and videos of the arrests and shootouts have spread through Haitian media — a stream of men handcuffed, bent forward at the waist, each escorted by a soldier, and several shots of dead bodies, one of them stripped naked, pants around the ankles.
Moïse was assassinated in the early hours of Wednesday. Since his death Haiti has been rife with rumors about who ordered the hit. The fact – according to police – that the alleged assassins were all foreigners has led to increased scrutiny on high-profile figures in Haiti, including two businessmen – both political rivals of Moïse – as well as the interim President Claude Joseph, and even Leon Charles the Chief of Police who is running the investigation into the assassination.
The suspects being paraded in front of the media, has also led to a fevered atmosphere in the country. Mobs of Moïse supporters dragged Latino men through the streets in citizen’s arrests, suspecting them to be mercenaries, and set several cars on fire that may have been involved in the plot. Some even targeted Cuban doctors sent to Haiti to help with the COVID crisis, mistaking them for members of the assassin squad. Charles, the chief of police, announced that the investigation into the murder had transitioned to identifying the people responsible for orchestrating the attack by hiring the foreign mercenaries. He urged the public to refrain from getting involved, as the burned cars may have contained evidence.
Immediately after Solages’s identity was revealed, rumors popcorned on WhatsApp and Twitter that he had previously worked as a private security guard for two of Moïse’s fiercest political opponents, businessmen Reginald Boulos and Dimitri Vorbe.
Boulos’s communications team quickly denied the accusation that Solages ever worked for his company. Boulos told local media that he and Moïse were “fierce enemies politically, but also friends”, and said the political opposition to Moïse did not have the means to orchestrate this type of attack. Another detail that has raised suspicion is the fact that the assassins used brand new Nissan cars, and Boulos owns a Nissan dealership. In March, Boulos accused President Moïse of hiring a gang to set fire to the dealership.
Solages also worked as a security guard for the Canadian Embassy in Port-Au-Prince. According to Journal La Diaspora, a Haitian journal operating out of Canada, Solages told a Haitian judge on Thursday that the mercenaries entered the country three months ago through the Dominican Republic. Jake Johnston, a Haiti researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research told VICE World News on July 7 that hiring foreign mercenaries as private security guards is commonplace in Haiti for wealthy businessmen, criminal organizations, and government institutions.
It remains unclear how the group bypassed thick personal security structures and police presence to kill the President, yet could not manage to survive on the run for more than a few hours. Rumors have spread implicating the police in the crimes, as well as declaring that those arrested are not the assassins, but part of a cover-up. “The execution of Jovenel was planned and the mercenaries are long gone,” Chantal Elie, Communications Director for the Haitian Center for Planning and Development Research wrote on Twitter.
The top prosecutor in Port-Au-Prince, Me Bed-Ford Claude, declared his intention to interview two of the police officers responsible for the personal security of the President. "They are responsible for the security of the president. With the justice of the peace, I spent a day in the residence of the president. I did not see any victims except the president and his wife. If you are responsible for the security of the president, where were you? What did you do to avoid this fate for the President?” he said to Le Nouvelliste, a Haitian newspaper, on Thursday.
"Yesterday, I asked Civil Commissioner Jean Laguel for the list of all the security agents present in the president's residence. Even today he has not sent it to me yet. They must tell me where they were,” he said.
Despite an obvious failure in police operations, the masthead of the police force has not changed, with Charles remaining the Chief of Police, despite claims from Haitian journalists that he gave the order to allow the caravan of assassins into the President’s neighborhood. In February, the Haitian National Police began a partnership with Colombian police forces, but it is unknown if any of the mercenaries arrested participated in this arrangement.
In the two days since the attack, former Prime Minister turned interim President Joseph has consolidated power. In 2004, Joseph was a member of the group Grenn Nan Bouda (GNB) which means “balls up your ass” in Haitian Creole. GNB participated in the coup to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that same year.
Joseph was not elected to his position, but was appointed in April by Moïse, and served only three months as Prime Minister. After declaring himself interim President, he has been breezily accepted by the international community, including the United States. The United Nations recognized Joseph as the leader of Haiti until elections can be held, scheduled for September 26. On Thursday evening, the USS Billings, one of the fastest warships in the US fleet, was spotted in the Dominican Republic, and two US military C-20 aircrafts landed in Haiti, despite repeated, increasingly desperate statements from Haitian human rights activists that sending in foreign troops could only make the situation worse, citing the failures of past US and UN interventions.
Joseph has also placed the country in a “state of siege”, which gives him, through the military, more complete control over the country. In conversations with local media, Ariel Henry, the man who was supposed to become Prime Minister just hours after the assassination, said he hopes to retain the title, claimed Joseph is part of his government, rather than the other way around, and criticised Joseph’s choice to call a state of siege. “We must not believe that the climate has suddenly become a peaceful climate, ” he said.