Two American citizens are among the 17 suspects being held by police after the assassination of Haitian president Jovenal Moîse. One is said to be a former bodyguard at the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, according to the Associated Press.
James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both of whom are U.S. citizens from Florida, CBS News reports, were detained in the aftermath of the early Wednesday shooting that killed Moîse and critically wounded his wife, Martine at their residence. Solage once worked as a bodyguard for a security company hired in 2010 by the foreign affairs ministry, according to The New York Times.
The slaying threw Haiti into further political and social turmoil with Prime Minister Claude Joseph leading the country for the time being, but no clear determination as to who would replace Moîse as president.
The two men were part of a group of individuals that are in custody, and 15 of them are from Colombia, Léon Charles, Haiti’s national police chief, told reporters. At least seven others were killed in a shootout with police and a manhunt is on for the remaining suspects.
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An increasing number of people monitoring the situation believe that the killing was an orchestrated hit. Although Solages and Vincent are Americans, there is no evidence of and U.S. government involvement. A viral video posted by a Haitian media outlet shows an individual claiming to be with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but that is seen as unsubstantiated rumor.
"This was a contracted hit to go ahead and kill the president, silence the president," Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, told CBS News, while calling for an international investigation. "The world cannot wait. It's important for every nation's security and for the country's stability to get to those who have financed this assassination of the president."
What the Colombian connection might be is also a mystery. Colombian drug cartels have been known to use Caribbean nations as launching points for shipping cocaine to other parts of the world. But it is not known for sure if that has anything to do with it.
Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, who leads the Colombian national police said President Iván Duque has given instructions to that nation’s military leaders to cooperate with the investigation, according to the AP
“A team was formed with the best investigators ... they are going to send dates, flight times, financial information that is already being collected to be sent to Port-au-Prince,” said Vargas.
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However, as the crisis threatens to worsen, there is still no determination of who orchestrated the assassination or why it happened. Moîse maintained that he was still president until February 2022, but his opposition argued that his term expired last February, causing massive protests and violence. Legislative elections were supposed to take place last year, but did not and a new parliament has not been installed, so Moîse has been ruling by decree throughout 2021.
Gang violence has also been pervasive in Port-au-Prince, with much of the capital city being run by them. Making matters worse, a spike in coronavirus cases is plaguing the nation, already beset by rampant poverty. This comes as Haitians are still trying to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed 250,000 people. Order could have been better established by the interim replacement of the president by René Sylvestre, the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court. But he died of COVID-19 last month. Since there is technically no parliament, there is nobody to legally succeed him.
Haitians themselves have been waiting through the intense situation to see what happens next. It is not known if Joseph will hand over power to Dr. Ariel Henry. Moîse appointed the physician Prime Minister to take over for Joseph, who was only placed in the position in the interim in April.
"What is going on? Because we do not understand the game on the ground. We do not know who the players are. We do not know what the purpose is," said Port-au-Prince resident Magalie Noel Dresse told CBS News. "We do not know what, how it's going to influence the future of us now, here, today and my children, because what we are living today is going to be dictating the future of my children."