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Haitian Police Say Four Presidential Assassination Suspects Killed, Two Arrested; Shootouts Continue

 Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles in Port-au-Prince Wednesday night
Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles in Port-au-Prince Wednesday night

Updated 7/8 at 5:45 pm

Haitian authorities overnight said they killed four suspects and arrested two others in connection with the assassination early Wednesday morning of President Jovenel Moïse at his home in Port-au-Prince. The president’s wife, Martine Moïse, was wounded in the attack and airlifted to Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center in Miami.

WLRN's Christine DiMattei spoke with Americas editor Tim Padgett about these new developments — and why Moïse was a target for assassination.

Excerpts from their conversation edited for clarity:

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DIMATTEI: Tim, tell us what Haiti’s National Police Chief León Charles announced late Wednesday night.

PADGETT: Charles said those four assassin suspects were killed in a shootout with Haitian police in Pelerin — that’s the same neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where the assassination was carried out at Moïse’s home at about 1 am Wednesday. Charles also said two suspects were arrested — and that three Haitian police who’d been taken hostage by the alleged assassins had been released. He added that the police were engaged in shootouts with other suspects throughout the night — so as far as we know, this manhunt is still going on this morning.

UPDATE: By late Thursday afternoon, Haitian police said seven suspects had been killed in shootouts and six had been arrested. They said they believe most if not all are foreign nationals — and the Miami Herald reportstwo of those arrested are Haitian-Americans from South Florida.

Do we know anything more about who these alleged assassins are and whom they might be connected to?

Unfortunately no. Charles did not give any more details. He and Prime Minister Claude Joseph — who under Haiti’s Constitution is now the country’s acting president — did remind people that the assassins apparently spoke English and Spanish during their commando-style assassination operation, some of which was captured on video by neighbors in Pelerin. But other than that, we don’t yet know who these guys are.

READ MORE: President Jovenel Moise's Assassination Stuns Haitians Already Reeling From Violence

Did the police chief offer any explanation as to how the killers could have breached President Moïse’s security detail?

He did not — and that has to be an embarrassing question for him because Moïse’s security detail was part of the Haitian National Police. But this is also a crucial question because, if you watch that videoI just referred to, these assassins seem to have entered Moïse’s private residence astonishingly easily.

Another disturbing facet of this crime was its brutality. Haitian officials say Moïse’s was murdered with at least a dozen large-caliber bullets and that he may have been tortured. I received a police photo of Moïse’s body as they found him at the scene, and I can confirm it’s ghastly.

Why would President Moïse have been targeted for assassination?

That’s what Haitian authorities are going to have to determine from these suspects they’ve arrested. We know that Moïse was a widely unpopular president. He presided over an economic collapse in Haiti and also a public security collapse: Armed street gangs now seem to rule much of Port-au-Prince if not the country — and for all we know could be behind this assassination.

He was also an authoritarian leader: He blocked parliamentary elections and he’d been ruling by decree for more than a year. The U.N. also accused Haiti’s police under Moïse of deadly human rights violations. Moïse’s opponents also say under the Constitution he should have stepped down as president in February; Moïse ignored that and insisted he still had another year left in his 5-year term.

Wasn't Moïse also something of a political outsider in Haiti?

Yes. At the same time, we have to remember Moïse was not part of Haiti’s traditional elite — and that elite saw him as a threat to their entrenched and often very corrupt power. So there’s bound to be some focus on the enemies he made in that part of Haitian society too.

What has been the reaction of the Haitian diaspora here in South Florida to this tragedy?

Dismay, as you can imagine. But I think it’s also going to lead them to put more pressure on the Biden Administration to do more in Haiti than just demand that a new presidential election be held. I spoke with Marie Guerda Nicolas; she’s a Haitian-American psychology professor at the University of Miami and very involved in Haitian affairs. Like a lot of Haitian expats, she said the U.S and the diaspora have to work together now to build institutions that can rein in Haiti’s awful violence:

"Infrastructure. Building the police force, along with working to ensure that there is a transitional team in place, to help the people see that chaos is not coming now."

That’s the diaspora’s big concern now: how can they help keep Moïse’s assassination from bringing even more chaos on their families back in Haiti?

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.
Years ago, after racking her brains trying to find a fun, engaging, creative night gig to subsidize her acting habit, Chris decided to ride her commercial voiceover experience into the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting. She started out with traffic reporting, moved on to news -- and never looked back. Since then, Chris has worked in newsrooms throughout South Florida, producing stories for radio broadcasts and the web.