Haiti’s struggle worsened in year since slaying of president

“Even though we have a prime min­is­ter, no one is gov­ern­ing the coun­try right now,” Ralf Jean-Pierre, a busi­ness­man from Les Cayes who lives in Port-au-Prince, said as he scanned the street while talk­ing, fear­ful he might be kid­napped at any mo­ment



PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A year has passed since Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moïse was as­sas­si­nat­ed at his pri­vate home where an elite se­cu­ri­ty team was sup­posed to pro­tect him. Not on­ly have au­thor­i­ties failed to iden­ti­fy and ar­rest all those who mas­ter­mind­ed and fi­nanced the killing, but Haiti has gone in­to a freefall as vi­o­lence soars and the econ­o­my tum­bles.

Many have fled Haiti in the past year, mak­ing po­ten­tial­ly dead­ly voy­ages aboard rick­ety boats filled with hun­dreds of Haitians that have re­peat­ed­ly turned up on the shores of near­by na­tions. They chose to face that risk rather than go hun­gry and fear for their lives, as do many peo­ple who have stayed be­hind.

“Every day is a fight. It’s a fight to stay alive. It’s a fight to eat. It’s a fight to sur­vive,” said Hec­tor Du­val, a plumber who now dri­ves a mo­tor­cy­cle taxi to make more mon­ey since Haitians are afraid to board slow-mov­ing bus­es and chance be­ing killed by war­ring gangs.

Killings have soared and thou­sands of fam­i­lies have been dri­ven from their homes by gangs bat­tling over ter­ri­to­ry ever since Moïse was shot to death shot last Ju­ly 7 at his home near the cap­i­tal, Port-au-Prince.

An over­whelmed gov­ern­ment is strug­gling to crack down on the gangs and re­duce a spike in kid­nap­pings linked to them. At the same time, at­tempts to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment have fal­tered in re­cent weeks and ef­forts to hold gen­er­al elec­tions have stalled, leav­ing many won­der­ing where Haiti is head­ed.

Prime Min­is­ter Ariel Hen­ry has promised to cre­ate a new pro­vi­sion­al elec­toral coun­cil, which is re­spon­si­ble for or­ga­niz­ing gen­er­al elec­tions, but that hasn’t hap­pened. There hasn’t been a Par­lia­ment be­cause the gov­ern­ment failed to or­ga­nize elec­tions in 2019, and Moïse dis­missed most law­mak­ers in ear­ly 2020 and ruled by de­cree for more than a year be­fore he was killed.

Mean­while, hopes for a tri­al for those ar­rest­ed in the killing of the pres­i­dent have been de­railed by the res­ig­na­tion of four judges ap­point­ed to over­see the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with some say­ing they feared for their lives.

Hen­ry him­self has rec­og­nized the un­cer­tain­ty hov­er­ing over the case. Last month, he tweet­ed: “I have the un­pleas­ant feel­ing that those who con­ceived and fi­nanced this macabre plan are still run­ning the streets and are still es­cap­ing our ju­di­cial sys­tem.”

More than 40 peo­ple have been ar­rest­ed in Haiti, in­clud­ing high-rank­ing po­lice of­fi­cers and a group of for­mer Colom­bian sol­diers. At least two of three sus­pects de­tained out­side Haiti were ex­tra­dit­ed to the U.S., where they face charges in­clud­ing con­spir­ing to com­mit mur­der or kid­nap­ping out­side the Unit­ed States.

Many of the sol­diers’ rel­a­tives in Colom­bia are de­mand­ing a prop­er ju­di­cial process and an im­prove­ment in dire prison con­di­tions.

“A lot of time there is no food, no potable wa­ter,” Na­taly An­drade, wife of re­tired Col. Gio­van­ny Guer­rero, told The As­so­ci­at­ed Press. She vis­it­ed him in prison in May and was alarmed at how much weight he had lost. In re­cent weeks, at least eight in­mates in south­ern Haiti, not con­nect­ed to the Moïse case, have died from heat and mal­nu­tri­tion.

The Unit­ed Na­tions In­te­grat­ed Of­fice in Haiti not­ed that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion seems to have stalled and called on au­thor­i­ties to bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice as soon as pos­si­ble.

“Since this crime was com­mit­ted, grow­ing in­se­cu­ri­ty, linked to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of acts of vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by armed gangs, has ter­ror­ized Hait­ian cit­i­zens and mo­nop­o­lized pub­lic de­bate in a con­text where the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try are in­creas­ing day by day,” it said.

Moïse’s wid­ow, Mar­tine, con­tin­ues to de­mand jus­tice. She is­sued a state­ment this month say­ing she would not at­tend any of Thurs­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tions or­ga­nized by the Hait­ian state, “whose head of gov­ern­ment is the sub­ject of se­ri­ous sus­pi­cions of (in­volve­ment in) the as­sas­si­na­tion of the Pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic.”

Hen­ry has brushed away those al­le­ga­tions, fir­ing a chief pros­e­cu­tor last year who asked a judge to charge the prime min­is­ter in the killing and bar him from leav­ing the coun­try. The pros­e­cu­tor had not­ed that Hen­ry spoke twice with a key sus­pect hours af­ter the killing.

Hen­ry’s of­fice has said the prime min­is­ter is un­able to iden­ti­fy every­one who called him that day or de­ter­mine the na­ture of the con­ver­sa­tions since he couldn’t take all the calls. The sus­pect re­mains at large.

Hen­ry is urg­ing Haitians to fo­cus on turn­ing around their coun­try.

“It is im­per­a­tive that Haitians work to­geth­er to rec­on­cile seg­ments of our so­ci­ety that are too di­vid­ed,” he said. “This is a must if we want to re­store se­cu­ri­ty, deal with armed gangs and their spon­sors, cre­ate a cli­mate con­ducive to the hold­ing of elec­tions with a high turnout, in or­der to re­build our de­mo­c­ra­t­ic in­sti­tu­tions.”

But a grow­ing num­ber of Haitians blame Hen­ry for the grow­ing in­se­cu­ri­ty.

The Unit­ed Na­tions says that al­most sev­en kid­nap­pings are re­port­ed a day and that in May alone more than 200 killings and 198 ab­duc­tions were re­port­ed in the coun­try of more than 11 mil­lion peo­ple. Those kid­nap­pings in­clud­ed two bus­loads of chil­dren and three U.N. em­ploy­ees and their de­pen­dents. In ad­di­tion, one gang re­cent­ly seized con­trol of part of Haiti’s Court of First In­stance, loot­ing and burn­ing case files and ev­i­dence.

“Even though we have a prime min­is­ter, no one is gov­ern­ing the coun­try right now,” Ralf Jean-Pierre, a busi­ness­man from Les Cayes who lives in Port-au-Prince, said as he scanned the street while talk­ing, fear­ful he might be kid­napped at any mo­ment.

He said life for him and his fam­i­ly has be­come ex­treme­ly dif­fi­cult be­cause he can’t fer­ry goods such as ba­nanas, yams and toma­toes that grow in south­ern Haiti to the cap­i­tal since war­ring gangs have tak­en over the main road con­nect­ing the two re­gions.

The lack of ac­cess al­so means that not enough aid is reach­ing those af­fect­ed by a mag­ni­tude 7.2 earth­quake that struck the south al­most a year ago, killing more than 2,200 peo­ple and de­stroy­ing or dam­ag­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes and oth­er build­ings.

Thou­sand have fled Haiti. The largest sin­gle in­ci­dent came in late May, when 842 Haitians were strand­ed on the Cuban coast af­ter their cap­tain aban­doned the boat. Hun­dreds of oth­ers have land­ed in Flori­da, while dozens have died at sea in re­cent months.

Clau­dia Jul­miste, a nurs­ing stu­dent, said she is try­ing to make ends meet by re­selling un­der­wear, bras and wigs that she buys in the neigh­bour­ing Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, al­though Haiti’s dou­ble-dig­it in­fla­tion has hit her and many oth­ers hard.

“I’m try­ing to make the best of it here,” she said. “I don’t want to be one of those kids get­ting on a boat at sea to die, but Haiti is not of­fer­ing any­thing.”


Dáni­ca Co­to re­port­ed from San Juan, Puer­to Ri­co. As­so­ci­at­ed Press writer Astrid Suárez in Bo­go­ta, Colom­bia, con­tributed to this re­port.