Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed in his home last week as part of a brutal assassination plot. The assassination comes amid rising tensions in a country enduring political instability and gang violence. The first lady was airlifted to a hospital in Miami, where she is still recovering from her wounds. Authorities have already arrested almost two dozen people in connection to the killing, and on Sunday, a new name was added to the list.
National police say Haitian-born Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, based in Florida, played a central role in the killing. He may have been plotting to become president himself.
Grasping for Power
The assassination took place during the wee hours of the morning last Wednesday when armed militants broke into President Moïse’s home in the middle of the night. The president was found dead at the scene with 12 bullet wounds and other injuries.
On Sunday, the case took a new turn when Haitian Police Chief Léon Charles announced that Dr. Sanon had been arrested. Charles said the doctor played a central role in plotting the murder, but didn’t elaborate on how he planned on taking control of the country.
“He arrived by private plane in June with political objectives and contacted a private security firm to recruit the people who committed this act,” Charles said of the doctor. The firm he was referring to is called CTU, a Venezuelan security company based in the U.S.
When the police raided Sanon’s home, they found a DEA cap. Officials believe the assassins disguised themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents. They also found six holsters, 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets, and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.
“The initial mission that was given to these assailants was to protect the individual named Emmanuel Sanon, but afterwards the mission changed,” Charles added, believing the doctor eventually set his sights on becoming president of Haiti.
Of the almost two dozen individuals arrested, most of the hired assassins seem to be veterans of the Columbian military. Three others were Haitian Americans, including Sanon. The two Haitian Americans (other than Sanon) told a judge that they weren’t in the room when the president was shot and that they only worked as translators for the suspected killers. They met the other participants at a hotel in Port-au-Prince to plan the attack. They also added that the goal was not to kill the president, but rather take him to the national palace.
Police say the attackers were originally supposed to arrest the president and then install Sanon as president, but things didn’t go as planned.
“I would say that the Haitian (doctor) recruited the men, who in turn signed up a group of Colombian nationals for the operations,” Charles said.
Dr. Sanon wasn’t shy about his political ambitions. A 2011 video on YouTube called “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” shows him accusing the current leaders of Haiti of corruption.
Filling the Void
Officials in the country are still trying to piece together the official version of events that led to the president’s death. The killing has left ordinary citizens wondering who is in control of their country. Multiple parties are vying to fill the void in leadership. There is no existing line of succession in place, which has led to widespread confusion.
Interim prime minister Claude Joseph has declared himself the temporary head of Haiti. He recently declared martial law, while asking the U.S. to send troops to help stabilize the country. The U.S. declined the request, but offered to send a team to help investigate the murder.
Meanwhile, Moïse’s preferred successor, Ariel Henry, who was promised the job days before the president’s death, is also vying for power.
The U.S. says it continues to monitor the situation in Haiti.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Sunday, “I don’t know that we’re at a point now where we can say definitively that our national security is being put at risk by what’s happening there. But clearly, we value our Haitian partners. We value stability and security in that country.”
Political instability will likely haunt Haiti for months to come until the government can elect a replacement.