On June 7th, President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was assassinated after refusing to give up his grip on power in a timely manner. This did not come out of nowhere, there has been civil unrest for months in Haiti. Clashes between protestors and security forces were increasingly common following Moïse’s refusal to allow peaceful transition of power in February. At that time, Moïse jailed opposition leader Ivickel Dabresil. Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, a supreme court justice, was named interim leader in his stead. According to one Haitian media source, this led to a country with “two presidents.” Moïse’s regime has had a well-documented history of human rights abuses and has utterly failed to reverse a falling standard of living in Haiti.
Unsurprisingly, this was and continues to be an untenable situation. Yet in the face of mounting opposition, Moïse refused to leave office at the end of his five year term. He claimed that his term began not when his predecessor stepped down, but upon his inauguration, extending his term to 2022. However, such details have faded into the background following his shocking assassination. According to the Haitian government, 26 Colombian mercenaries and two Haitian-Americans were directly responsible for shooting the president in his home, injuring first lady Martine Moïse in the process.
In the resulting chaos, it has become obvious that in light of the foreign source of this political violence, Jovenel Moïse’s death and the turmoil it has so inflamed is largely a failure of the international community. This was made abundantly clear after authorities in the United States detained a Haitian-American man, Dr. Christian Sanon. Sanon was living in Florida when he allegedly hired mercenaries to kill and replace the late leader of the nation, possibly with himself. Apparently, this hiring was conducted via a Venezuelan firm based in Florida, and Sanon had flown to Haiti in June with a private security detail.
Further, it seems Sanon has connections in the United States that go beyond the norms of long-term residency. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) badge was found in his Haitian residence, along with weapons, bullets, and Dominican license plates. Indeed, it seems that Sanon was a DEA source for some time. Sanon and the mercenaries in Haiti may have used this connection to disguise their operation, even shouting “DEA” as they stormed the presidential palace. The DEA has denied any involvement with the plot.
While Sanon, the seeming ringleader of this plot, has been arrested alongside 18 mercenaries, at least five assassins are believed to be at large. Given the lack of clarity or information surrounding this plot, it is difficult to know whether these five are the only remaining conspirators. It seems unlikely. In fact, there may have been help from within the administration itself. So while the direct perpetrators may be discovered and punished, the murkiness of this series of events may allow larger figures to go unknown.
And while the particulars of Moïse’s assassination are quite spectacular in their utter disregard for decor and seeming sloppiness, they hold a great deal of relevance to political violence and geopolitical stability worldwide. There is clearly a thriving market for mercenaries and killers-for-hire, and that market enables private actors to destabilize already weak nations. While Moïse certainly was not a perfect leader, this unilateral and bizarre violence was clearly an unacceptable solution. Further, the financing and ultimate staging site for this assassination occurred in the United States, which is meant to be a supposed peacemaker in the Caribbean. Indeed, its name and government, as well as its financial system, were utilized to damage the Haitian government.
If the United States and the broader international community cannot clamp down on the market for murderers, no matter the best efforts of states and international organizations, there will always be actors willing and able to destabilize, causing more violence and ultimately damaging society. However, this is easier said than done for one reason; the United States, and many large powers, rely on military contractors and mercenaries to perform more disreputable work. For every American troop in the Middle-East in the last 20 years there were multiple contractors, many mercenaries, who enabled the United States to project its power and inflict untold misery without facing publicity or its repercussions.
It is imperative that international leaders hold all the appropriate offenders accountable to set a proper example on such matters of conflict. When they fail to do so, it enables and encourages corrupt and damaging behaviour from various actors. The assassination of Jovenel Moïse is just the latest event to feature such unprincipled and violent action and it demands a proportional response.
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