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2 Haitian Americans among 6 held in assassination of Haiti’s president, officials say

Men sit lined up against a wall, hands behind their backs.
Suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise are shown to the media in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.
(Joseph Odelyn / Associated Press)

Two men believed to be Haitian Americans — one of them purportedly a former bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince — have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s president, a senior Haitian official said Thursday.

Officials identified the two U.S. citizens as James Solages and Joseph Vincent, who were among six people arrested in the brazen killing of President Jovenel Moise by gunmen at his home in the predawn hours Wednesday. Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections, said the four others are from Colombia. The oldest suspect is 55 and the youngest, Solages, is 35, he said.

Seven other suspected assailants were killed in a gun battle with police, according to Léon Charles, Haiti’s director of national police.

Colombia’s government said it had been asked about six of the suspects in Haiti, including two of those killed, and had determined they were retired members of its army. It didn’t release their identities.

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The head of the Colombian national police, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, said President Iván Duque had ordered the high command of Colombia’s army and police to cooperate in the investigation.

“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,” Vargas said.

Controversial Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed early Wednesday by unknown assailants. Who will take control of the country now?

Pierre would not provide additional details about Solages’ background. The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that Haitian Americans were in custody but could not confirm or comment.

Solages describes himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,” an advocate for children and a budding politician on a website for a charity he established in South Florida in 2019 to assist residents. Calls to the charity and Solages’ associates there either did not go through or weren’t answered.

On his bio page for the charity, Solages said he previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. Canada’s foreign relation department released a statement that did not refer to Solages by name but that said one of the men detained in Moise’s killing had been “briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard” at its embassy by a private contractor. The statement gave no other details.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Haitian police had arrested 11 armed suspects who tried to break into the Taiwanese Embassy early Thursday. Haiti is one of a handful of countries worldwide that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of the rival mainland Chinese government in Beijing. The Taiwanese foreign ministry gave no details of the suspects’ identities or a reason for the break-in.

“As for whether the suspects were involved in the assassination of the president of Haiti, that will need to be investigated by the Haitian police,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told the Associated Press in Taipei.

Police were alerted by embassy security guards while Taiwanese diplomats were working from home. The ministry said some doors and windows were broken, but there was no other damage.

Witnesses said two suspects in Moise’s slaying were discovered hiding in bushes in Port-au-Prince on Thursday by a crowd, some of whom grabbed the men by their shirts and pants, pushing them and occasionally slapping them.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is the Caribbean nation’s latest tumultuous chapter.

Police arrived shortly afterward to arrest the men, who were sweating heavily and wearing clothes that seemed to be smeared with mud, an Associated Press journalist at the scene said. Officers placed them in the back of a pickup truck and drove away as the crowd ran after them to the nearby police station.

Once there, some in the crowd chanted: “They killed the president! Give them to us. We’re going to burn them!”

One man was overheard saying that it was unacceptable for foreigners to come to Haiti to kill the country’s leader, referring to reports from Haitian officials that the perpetrators spoke Spanish or English.

The crowd later set fire to several abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes that they believed belonged to the suspects. The cars didn’t have license plates, and inside one of them was an empty box of bullets and some water.

At a news conference Thursday, Charles, the police chief, asked people to stay calm, go home and let police do their work as he warned that authorities needed evidence they were destroying, including the burned cars.

Officials did not address a motive for the slaying, saying only that the attack, condemned by Haiti’s main opposition parties and the international community, was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group.”

Until now, the U.S., along with international partners, has backed Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s claim to his extra year of rule.

Not everyone was buying the government’s description of the attack. When Haitian journalist Robenson Geffrard, who writes for a local newspaper and has a radio show, tweeted a report on the police chief’s comments, he drew a flood of responses expressing skepticism. Many wondered how the sophisticated attackers described by police could breach Moise’s home, security detail and panic room and then escape unharmed, but were then caught without planning a successful getaway.

Meanwhile, a Haitian judge involved in the investigation said that Moise was shot a dozen times and his office and bedroom were ransacked, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. It quoted Judge Carl Henry Destin as saying investigators found 5.56- and 7.62-millimeter cartridges between the gatehouse and inside the house.

Moise’s daughter, Jomarlie Jovenel, hid in her brother’s bedroom during the attack, he said, and a maid and another worker were tied up by the attackers.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who assumed leadership of Haiti with the backing of police and the military, asked people to reopen businesses and go back to work as he ordered the reopening of the international airport.

On Wednesday, Joseph decreed a two-week state of siege after the assassination, which stunned a nation grappling with some of the Western Hemisphere’s highest rates of poverty, violence and political instability.

Inflation and gang violence have spiraled upward as food and fuel have grown scarcer in a country where 60% of the people earn less than $2 a day. The increasingly dire situation comes as Haiti is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 after a history of dictatorship and political upheaval.

“There is this void now, and they are scared about what will happen to their loved ones,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network Movement, a group that helps people in Miami’s Little Haiti community.

She called on the Biden administration to take a much more active role in supporting attempts at national dialogue in Haiti with the aim of holding free, fair and credible elections.

Haiti fights a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and waits for vaccines after having avoided a crisis in the pandemic’s early days.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council met Thursday to discuss the situation in Haiti, and U.N. special envoy Helen La Lime, speaking from Port-au-Prince to reporters at U.N. headquarters, said Haiti made a request for additional security assistance.

The island nation had grown increasingly unstable under Moise, who had been ruling by decree for more than a year and faced violent protests amid accusations he was trying to amass more power and opposition demands that he step down.

Moise had faced large protests in recent months that turned violent as opposition leaders and their supporters rejected his plans to hold a constitutional referendum with proposals that would strengthen the presidency.

According to Haiti’s Constitution, Moise should be replaced by the president of the Supreme Court, but the chief justice died in recent days of COVID-19, leaving open the question of who might rightfully succeed the slain leader.

Joseph, meanwhile, was supposed to be replaced by Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who had been named prime minister by Moise a day before the assassination.

Henry told the AP that he is the prime minister, calling it an exceptional and confusing situation. “I am the prime minister in office,” he said.

On Thursday, public transportation and street vendors remained scarce, an unusual sight for the normally bustling streets of Port-au-Prince.

Marco Destin, 39, was walking to see his family since no buses, known as tap taps, were available. He was carrying a loaf of bread for them because they had not left their house since the president’s killing out of fear for their lives.

“Everyone at home is sleeping with one eye open and one eye closed,” he said. “If the head of state is not protected, I don’t have any protection whatsoever.”

Gunfire rang out intermittently across the city hours after the killing, a grim reminder of the growing power of gangs that displaced more than 14,700 people last month alone as they torched and ransacked homes in a fight over territory.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia, said gangs were a force to contend with and that it wasn’t certain Haiti’s security forces could enforce a state of siege.

“It’s a really explosive situation,” he said, adding that foreign intervention with a U.N.-type military presence is a possibility. “Whether Claude Joseph manages to stay in power is a huge question. It will be very difficult to do so if he doesn’t create a government of national unity.”

Sanon reported from Port-au-Prince; Coto from San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Goodman from Miami. AP videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.


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