Former Haitian first lady Martine Moïse says she is now seriously considering running for president after her husband, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at their home, leaving her wounded in the attack earlier this month.
“President Jovenel had a vision,” Moïse told The New York Times in a report published Friday, adding, “and we Haitians are not going to let that die.”
A band of armed gunmen stormed into the couple’s private residence in Haiti on July 7 and assassinated the president, critically wounding his wife.
“I would like people who did this to be caught, otherwise they will kill every single president who takes power,” the first lady told the Times in her first interview since her husband’s brutal murder.
“They did it once. They will do it again,” she said.
Moïse’s assassination by a hit squad of foreign mercenaries in early July pushed an already struggling country into further chaos. Haiti was facing ongoing political turmoil, on top of rampant gang violence and poverty, when he was killed. Shortly before the assassination, the United Nations Security Council in a statement expressed “deep concern regarding deteriorating political, security, and humanitarian conditions in Haiti.”
He came to power in 2017 after a prolonged and rocky election cycle. Prior to his killing, there was a contentious consistutional dispute over the length of his presidential term.
Moïse’s opponents claimed that he stayed in power past his term limit, but he refused to step down. This prompted protests against his rule. Compounding the matter was the fact Moïse had been ruling by decree since January 2020 after dissolving parliament and failing to hold legislative elections.
Back in February, Haitian officials arrested nearly two dozen people in what was described as an attempted coup. At the time, Moïse said, “The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life.”
Haiti continues to be gripped by political uncertainty and unrest.
A new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was sworn-in last Tuesday after a brief power struggle between him and Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.
At Moïse’s funeral last week, protestors clashed with police and gunfire prompted President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the UN to leave early.
The Biden administration has offerred assistance to Haiti as it investigates Moïse’s assassination, but rebuffed a request for the US to send in troops to help quell the unrest.
US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield last week said Haiti took a “positive step” forming a new government under Henry, but underscored that a key task facing Haitian leaders “will be to create the conditions for free and fair legislative and presidential elections as soon as feasible.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, abruptly departed a funeral for Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Friday after gunfire was reportedly heard.
Thomas-Greenfield and the rest of the US delegation left the funeral after less than 30 minutes, per the New York Times.
“The presidential delegation is safe and accounted for in light of the reported shootings outside of the funeral,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.
“We are deeply concerned about unrest in Haiti,” Psaki said.
Protestors clashed with police outside of the ceremony on Friday, per Reuters, prompting riot gas to be deployed.
Moïse was assassinated by a hit squad of foreign mercenaries in early July, pushing an already embattled, struggling nation into an even deeper crisis. There are still many open questions surrounding his shocking killing, though Haitian authorities have arrested over two dozen people in connection to the assassination – including two US citizens.
The situation in Haiti has presented a new foreign policy challenge for the Biden administration, which has so far rebuffed a request from the Haitian government for US troops to be sent in to help quell the unrest. The administration did, however, bolster security at the US embassy after Moïse’s killing.
“We’re only sending American Marines to our embassy,” President Joe Biden said earlier this month. “The idea of sending American forces to Haiti is not on the agenda.”
A new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was sworn-in on Tuesday. Henry had been tapped to be the new prime minister only days before Moïse was killed. In the initial aftermath of the killing, Henry and then-Prime Minister Claude Joseph both claimed to be the legitimate prime minister. Joseph ultimately agreed to step down, and the US has applauded Haiti over the transition.
“Our delegation is here to bring a message to the Haitian people: You deserve democracy, stability, security, and prosperity, and we stand with you in this time of crisis,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement on Friday. “The formation of a new government is a positive step, and it is a necessary first step as part of a broad and inclusive dialogue that responds to the needs of the Haitian people and begins the work of restoring Haiti’s democratic institutions.”
Thomas-Greenfield went on to emphasize that one key task before the new government “will be to create the conditions for free and fair legislative and presidential elections as soon as feasible.”
National security advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement on Friday urged Haiti’s leaders to “be clear that their supporters must refrain from violence.”
“The United States will continue to provide requested assistance, including equipment and training, to the Haitian National Police and the Government of Haiti amid ongoing security challenges,” Sullivan added, going on to say that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are assisting Haitian authorities in the investigation into Moïse’s killing and that the US will continue to collaborate with international partners to bring those responsible to justice.
BOGOTA, Colombia – Carlos Martinez joined the Colombian military at the age of 17, a minor who had to obtain his parents’ written permission to enlist.
“I didn’t have many options. There aren’t a lot of opportunities in this country for someone like me who grew up poor,” he said, “but war will always be profitable.”
Martinez spent almost 10 years on active duty in the army, eventually joining an elite special forces unit that fought armed groups and drug traffickers in the Andean countryside.
Colombia, which currently boasts some 250,000 active-duty armed forces personnel, produced millions of soldiers like Martínez during its five-decade conflict with guerilla groups, as well as its ongoing campaign on the front lines of the so-called War on Drugs – both efforts heavily subsidized by the United States.
“We are trained to kill,” Martinez told WPR. “There is no other way to describe it.”
The problem for Colombia, though, is where do these trained killers go when they leave the military? Lacking the skills necessary to readapt to civilian life, many become private security contractors, a euphemism for mercenaries that became widely used during the US war in Iraq.
Colombian mercenaries have been spotted in nearly every conflict-stricken corner of the world, working legally as contractors in Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, or training cartels in Mexico. They are in high demand because of their reputation as well-trained and battle-tested fighters, with considerable combat experience in guerrilla warfare and other complex security environments.
In addition to its large and capable military, Colombia has a long history with more informal paramilitary groups from across the political spectrum. Rebel groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – better known as the FARC – and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, battled not only against the Colombian armed forces, but against private militia groups organized by government supporters as well.
All of these entities have been guilty of grave human rights violations, but that has not stopped some of them from marketing their battlefield experience. Some paramilitary veterans drawn from groups that supported the Colombian government during the civil war were even hired to help defend Honduran landowners in the aftermath of the country’s 2009 coup.
US military involvement in Colombia has only enabled the growth of its private security contractors. Under a joint operation known as Plan Colombia, which began in 2000, the American and Colombian governments funded and trained both the Colombian military and paramilitary groups to fight drug traffickers and rebel groups like the FARC.
“The US military pioneered this trend [of using private contractors] in Colombia even before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars made the issue well-known globally,” said Adam Isacson, director of the Defense Oversight Program at the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO that specializes in human rights issues in the region. “As part of the drug wars in Colombia, they began hiring outsiders and private companies to fulfill military roles.”
The private security industry took a big reputational hit in 2007, when armed guards working for Blackwater, founded by Erik Prince, massacred 17 Iraqi civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad. But Prince continued to expand his empire, reaching an agreement to build a private standing army in partnership with Saudi Arabia in 2011.
The corporate mercenary industry had gone global, and some of its most attractive recruits were Colombian veterans and ex-paramilitary members.
“The selling point was not only that Colombian soldiers were ‘battle tested,'” said Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a research and consultancy firm in Bogota. “They had worked with US special forces. They had been trained by US advisers.”
Another factor adding to the appeal of Colombian veterans to the private security industry, Guzman added, was that “they were cheaper than their North American counterparts.”
And that attraction was mutual. Colombians with battlefield experience found that as foreign security contractors, they were able to earn 10 times what they could at home, and former fighters flocked to the industry.
The economic draw of private contractors created a “brain drain” for the Colombian military, with Washington footing the sizeable bill.
“The US was effectively paying three times to train these contractors,” said Guzman. “They paid to train someone, who would then leave to work for a US company in the private sector, also paid for by the US, and the absence of the soldier meant [the Colombian military] had to immediately train someone else.”
The turnover became so bad that the US insisted the Colombian military modify its contract, so that soldiers had to fulfill a minimum period of service before leaving for the private sector.
Not all soldiers dream of becoming mercenaries, however. “I would never work as a contractor,” said Martinez. “To me that’s just more paramilitarism, which is something that has torn my country apart. But many of my colleagues couldn’t retire fast enough to take military jobs abroad in the private sector.”
According to one Colombian veteran, who worked for years as a security contractor in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, there is a culture surrounding paramilitary fighters in Colombia – known locally as paracos – that enables the growth of the private security industry.
“Paraco culture, sadly, has become a national culture,” he told WPR. The veteran asked that his name be withheld to avoid potential issues with his current employer.
“We all grew up in it. After more than half a century of conflict, it has become normalized,” he continued. “And unfortunately, some of those who are part of that culture have less scruples than others when it comes to deciding which jobs to take.”
The phenomenon is likely to continue. With Washington’s backing, the current Colombian government led by President Ivan Duque has ramped up the military’s anti-drug trafficking efforts.
Duque has also slow-rolled the implementation of the government’s landmark 2016 peace agreement with the FARC, which was signed by his predecessor, and the promise of peace remains a mirage for large parts of the country.
In the FARC’s absence, other armed factions, including offshoots of some of the same paramilitary groups that received US funding in the past, simply moved into the vacuum.
“There will always be an economic impetus for more Colombian fighters,” said the Colombian veteran who currently works as a contractor. “We have become very good at what we do.”
And due to an extreme lack of transparency in the industry, as well as varying legal frameworks in the countries in which they operate, there will always be a gray area where unethical private entities hire these soldiers of fortune.
They include the shadowy firm that calls itself the Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy. Run by a Venezuelan exile from a small warehouse in Miami, it hired the Colombians awaiting trial in Haiti for allegedly killing the president.
“The armed forces in Colombia are made up of people who didn’t start with advantages,” said Martinez, who is now a reservist. He said his current salary from the government is about twice the minimum wage, which is roughly $264 a month.
“Some of us feel we have no choice [but to work as mercenaries], but we do,” he added. “There are other options.”
However, the continued expansion of the private sector seems to confirm Martinez’s sentiment. War is profitable.
Joshua Collins is a freelance journalist based in Bogota, focused on migration and violence. Follow him on Twitter @InvisiblesMuros.
Parker Asmann is a journalist who writes about human rights, security policy and organized crime across Latin America and the Caribbean. Follow him on Twitter @PJAsmann.
Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph is stepping down from his role so his successor, who President Jovenel Moïse named one day before his assassination earlier this month, can take over, the nation’s minister for elections told The New York Times.
Minister of Elections Mathias Pierre told The Times that Joseph is stepping down “in favor of Ariel Henry.”
Henry was scheduled to replace Joseph, but was not sworn in before Moïse was killed.
The widow was photographed arriving at Port-au-Prince airport with bodyguards, wearing an arm sling and a bulletproof vest. She was greeted by Haiti’s interim Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, and other top officials.
Moïse was with her husband, Jovenel Moïse, on July 7 when a group of assassins broke into their private residence and killed him. She survived the attack but had to be flown to a hospital in Miami, Florida, for treatment.
A “small number” of Colombians detained in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had previously received US military training, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
“A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman told The Washington Post.
It’s unclear how many Colombians had the training as well as when the training to place, though Colombia is a US military partner and its military members have received training and education for decades, The Post reported.
Hoffman told The Post that the Pentagon is reviewing its training databases.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A Florida-based doctor accused of being the mastermind of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has told the police that he knew nothing about the attack, CNN reported, citing an anonymous source close to the investigation.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, an evangelical pastor and doctor licensed to practice in Haiti, was arrested over the weekend in connection to Moïse’s killing.
“He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. This is what he said since the day authorities interviewed him,” the CNN source said.
Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, said Sunday that Sanon was the mastermind behind Moïse’s killing, saying he flew to Haiti in June with a plan to steal the presidency.
But the source who spoke to CNN said that Sanon maintains his innocence.
Sanon was arrested at a complex with a sign outside reading “International Medical Village,” but inside police found boxes of ammunition and holsters for rifles and pistols, the CNN source said.
Sanon told the police he didn’t know anything about the items seized from the building where he was staying, and that it was neither his home nor his property, CNN reported.
Sanon’s statements continue to raise questions about the quickness to which Haitian authorities labeled him as a leader of the plot. Charles said there were two other masterminds in the plot, but did not name them.
The New York Times reported that Sanon filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2013, suggesting that it’s unclear if he even had the money to pay for the hit on Moïse.
The National Association of Haitian Clerks said Monday that two of its members, Marcelin Valentin and Waky Philostène, clerks of the Pétion-Ville peace court, have gotten the threats, according to French-language newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
In a note Monday, the president of the association called on Haiti’s Justice and Public Security Minister Rockefeller Vincent to “pass the necessary instructions in order to guarantee the security of these aforementioned clerks, so that they can carry out their task in peace,” the news outlet reported.
Moïse was assassinated by a group of armed assailants who stormed into his home at around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
“It wasn’t our commandos. There has to have been a conspiracy,” Gutierrez told Reuters. “Their extraction was total chaos. Why? Because they weren’t going on an assault, they went in support of a request by the security forces of the president.”
Gutierrez said he was not with the group last week because he tested positive for COVID-19.
Moise was killed in his home in the early morning of July 7. A motive for the president’s killing remains unclear.
The suspects in the killing of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse got into an protracted and bloody siege in the aftermath of the assassination, according to a CNN report.
Much is still unclear about the July 7 attack, which left the president dead, riddled with bullets, and Haitian security forces scrambling to catch the perpetrators.
Citing a source with knowledge of the operation, CNN reported on the multi-day chase between security forces and at least 25 suspects.
Among them were two Haitian-American suspects, taken alive, and two hostages who were members of the presidential guard, CNN reported.
In the early hours, after Moïse had been shot in his home outside Port-au-Prince, police set up a blockade on a narrow route and intercepted a convoy of five cars, the source said.
Trapped, the suspected assailants fled, abandoning guns and water supplies in their vehicles, per CNN.
The group headed up a steep hill, some scattering but most taking shelter along with the hostages in a two-story concrete building, which CNN visited.
“We could hear them talking and shouting in Spanish,” the source told the network. “They were talking, and they knew exactly what they were facing.” Fifteen of the suspects eventually captured were Colombian.
In the afternoon heat, the standoff lasted until 4 p.m. local time, when Haitian forces threw tear gas into the building, prompting a negotiation, CNN reported.
Two Haitian-Americans were the first to surrender, saying they were interpreters, CNN reported.
A shootout began, with Haitian security forces advancing and the heavily-armed suspects throwing a grenade out towards them – which didn’t explode, per CNN.
Three suspects were killed in the exchange of fire, which went on for two hours, CNN’s source said. But when the security forces reached the building, most of their assailants had fled, having quietly escaped uphill during the shooting, CNN reported.
The group ended up at the Taiwanese embassy, which was left empty. CNN noted that Haitian forces were suspicious that the men knew how to reach such a perfect hideaway nearby,
Diplomatic properties have special rules and are not easily accessible by the police, buying the men some time.
A spokeswoman for the embassy said staff were kept home after hearing of the previous day’s assassination. She confirmed that the grounds were breached by armed men, and said that Taiwan gave Haitian security forces permission to enter as soon as they were asked.
Eleven suspects were eventually captured there, according to CNN’s source, with others swept up from the surrounding area.