One year after Haiti president assassinated, still no answers

Moise was assassinated in the early hours of July 7, 2021, when a commando group entered the president's private home and shot him 12 times, killing him. PHOTO | AFP

Haiti on Thursday marked one year since president Jovenel Moise was shot dead in his private residence, with no mastermind or motive for the attack yet identified, and the investigation stalled.

Moise was assassinated in the early hours of July 7, 2021, when a commando group entered his bedroom at the house in Port-au-Prince and shot him 12 times.

Haitian police arrested about 20 people within hours, including 18 former Colombian soldiers presumed to be hired as mercenaries.

But that initial speed has been followed by a glacial legal process in Haiti and the United States.

The challenges have deepened in recent weeks as the prosecutor's offices in the Haitian capital have been invaded by one of the gangs plaguing the country.

The United Nations office in Haiti issued a statement on the anniversary, expressing concern over "lack of tangible progress" in the search for justice.

"The investigation and prosecution of the case in Haiti appears to be at a standstill," it said.

"Since this crime was committed, growing insecurity, linked to violence committed by armed gangs, terrorizes Haitian citizens and monopolizes public debate when challenges facing the country are increasing day by day."

The inquiry's delays have also been further complicated by Haiti's rolling political crisis. 

The Caribbean island nation's presidency has been vacant since Moise's death, with no date set for a vote to fill the office. 

No fewer than five successive judges have been in charge of the case, but none of them have issued any charges for the 40 people currently imprisoned.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was named to his post two days before Moise's death, is suspected of speaking with one of the prime suspects via telephone just hours after the attack -- a line of investigation which he calls a "distraction."

Henry is due to speak at a ceremony on Thursday marking Moise's death.

Haiti's parliament has not functioned properly in two years, as Moise had not organized elections since he himself took office in 2017. And without a head of state to appoint judges, the country's judicial system has also flagged.

- Suspects charged in US -

With confidence in their own government all but gone, many Haitians have instead placed their hopes on the American judicial system.

Three suspects have been charged in Miami, Florida, where Haitian police also say the plot originated.

Those suspects are Colombian Mario Palacios, who is believed to be one of the five armed men in the room when Moise was killed, Colombian-Haitian citizen Rodolphe Jaar and former Haitian senator John Joel Joseph.

A fourth man was arrested at an airport in Istanbul in November, though Turkish courts rejected Haiti's extradition request for him just this week.

Despite the case's progress in the United States, a judge in April ruled to seal the evidence, citing two of the suspects' previous involvement as informants for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.

A Haitian judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, lamented the US move, telling AFP: "A whole section of this story will remain unknown."