Friday, July 9, 2021

Haiti's deepening legitimacy crisis (July 9, 2021)

 At least 17 people, including two US citizens, have been arrested in Haiti, in relation to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse Wednesday. Haitian authorities described several of the suspects as “foreigners.” The president was killed by a heavily armed commando unit composed of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, authorities have said.

Seven people were reportedly killed as Haitian security forces pursued the gunmen responsible for the killing. Two of the suspects, allegedly foreign, were reportedly caught by citizens, who turned them over to police. Angry citizens also set fire to vehicles thought to have been used in the attack. Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, called on citizens not to lynch suspects, as a mob surrounded a police station where some of the detainees were held. 

Authorities tracked the suspected assassins on Wednesday to a house near the scene of the crime in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, told reporters that a group of suspects had “taken refuge in two buildings in the city and are now surrounded by police.” A firefight lasted late into the night.

Police chief Charles Leon presented 17 men before journalists late yesterday, some showing signs of physical injuries, along with a number of Colombian passports plus assault rifles, machetes, walkie-talkies and materials including bolt cutters and hammers. As of yesterday evening officials had not given a motive for the killing, nor provided evidence of the detainees alleged involvement.

In videos filmed from nearby buildings and synchronized by the New York Times, the group of commandos who appeared to be arriving to assassinate Moïse shouted that they were part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation.

Colombia’s defense minister, Diego Molano, said that preliminary information indicated that six Colombians involved in the attack, two of whom died, were retired members of the country’s military, and that the country would collaborate in the investigation.

The Embassy of Taiwan in Port-au-Prince said that Haitian police had entered its embassy grounds and seized 11 suspects holed up there.

Joseph, the prime minister who recently resigned his post, said he is in charge and has declared martial law throughout the country. But Ariel Henry, a politician and neurosurgeon who was newly appointed last week by Moïse to be prime minister, claims he’s in charge, even though he has not been sworn in.

Joseph told the Associated Press he had spoken three times with Henry and that there was agreement he was in charge for now. “He was actually designated but never took office,” Joseph said of Henry. “ However, in a separate AP interview, Henry appeared to contradict Joseph. “It’s an exceptional situation. There is a bit of confusion,” he said. “I am the prime minister in office.”

It’s not clear if Joseph holds power or if he has a power base, Haitian journalist Monique Clesca told Americas Quarterly.

The U.S. sided with Joseph, motivated by fear of a mass refugee situation like that which followed the 1991 coup in Haiti, according to the New York Times. The top United Nations official in Haiti also backed Joseph’s claim as the rightful prime minister.

The main concern now is to avoid clashes between armed groups defending rival claims to authority.

More Haiti
  • Haiti's twin epidemics of violence and coronavirus are entering a critical phase in the wake of Moïse's assassination, report the Washington Post.
  • "The United States’ options for action to help the country out of its spiraling crisis are limited, and Biden’s likely appetite for substantively engaging the troubled nation even smaller," writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post.
  • "Haiti’s failures have not occurred in a vacuum; they have been assisted by the international community, which has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country over the last decade," reports the New York Times. "But instead of the nation-building the money was supposed to achieve, Haiti’s institutions have become further hollowed out in recent years."
News Briefs

El Salvador
  • El Salvador's government expelled Daniel Lizárraga, an editor of El Faro, an escalation of attacks on the country’s most prominent digital news publication. Authorities denied Lizárraga his work permit and temporary residence “due to his inability to prove he is an editor or journalist,” despite the journalist’s long and successful career. Carlos Dada, founder and director of El Faro, said in an interview that the decision came as part of a “serious escalation” of government attacks against the online newspaper and other Salvadoran media outlets. (El FaroWashington Post)
  • The head of Brazil's Senate Inquiry Commission into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic ordered the arrest of Roberto Dias, a former health ministry official on Wednesday. Senator Oscar Aziz said Dias committed perjury in his testimony, in regard to allegations that he sought a bribe in relation to a coronavirus vaccine purchase. (Reuters)
  • Arthur Lira, head of Brazil's lower house, said this week that alleged irregularities regarding the government's vaccine procurement efforts do not justify the opening of impeachment proceedings against President Jair Bolsonaro, reports Reuters.
  • Nonetheless, pressure is growing on Bolsonaro -- from both the left and the right, notes the Economist.
  • Bolsonaro's approval ratings are suffering ahead of next year's presidential election: 52% of respondents said Bolsonaro’s government is doing a “bad/terrible” job in a poll released Thursday. (Reuters)
  • Bolsonaro's main rival for the 2022 elections, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is pulling ahead: a Poder 360 poll this week put Lula at 43% in a first round, against 29% for the incumbent.
  • It is one of several polls in recent weeks that predict Lula could win next year's election outright. Which Lula would govern in that case, asks Thomas Traumann in Americas Quarterly. For now Lula is looking to build as big a tent as possible, say advisors, who frame the campaign as one to save democracy.
  • This week Bolsonaro was accused of forcing aides to give kickbacks on their salary to him, during the nearly three decades he served as a federal lawmaker. InSight Crime looks back at how these allegations have grown over the years.
  • Brazilian cities are pushing back against the latest affliction to the country's Covid-19 inoculation campaign: “vaccine sommeliers,” people who seek to cherry pick their coronavirus shots for a variety of reasons, reports the Guardian. Experts warn such pickiness could hinder a campaign already affected by lack of jabs and Bolsonaro's personal opposition to vaccination.
Regional Relations
  • After contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in Central America through deportations, the United States is now attempting to, at least partially, contain its spread in the region through vaccines, according to El Faro English, which details donation details for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. "As vaccines trickle in as gifts from countries — the United States, China, Russia — seemingly wanting to outdo each other in a game of diplomatic one-upmanship, the people of Central America continue to contract the virus, spread it, suffer, and die."
  • A US investigation has shed light on the alleged participation of Guatemalan soldiers in a cocaine smuggling network linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, a reminder of the pivotal role the armed forces can play in the international drug trade, reports InSight Crime.
  • The Chinese Sinovac coronavirus vaccine was less potent than Pfizer’s shot at stopping Covid-19 in Chile where the two shots were used simultaneously, the first real-world analysis comparing a China-made inoculation against an mRNA has found. (Bloomberg)
  • Organized crime gangs and security forces are battling in the streets of Caracas -- firefights have broken out in at least five neighborhoods over the past 24 hours, reports the Guardian. Human rights activists in the area have said at least four civilians were killed on Wednesday and half a dozen have been wounded.
  • The future of a controversial highway in Honduras, thought to be a conduit for drug trafficking, remains uncertain as the government and local associations remain at loggerheads, reports InSight Crime.
  • The U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement to give workers at a General Motors plant in Mexico the ability to vote on a collective bargaining agreement in “free and democratic conditions.” (New York Times)
  • Brazil's biggest futbol teams are plotting a breakaway league that they argue will unleash billions in revenue, reports the New York Times.
I'll be taking a break for two weeks starting today -- my esteemed colleague Eduardo Romero will take over the daily in my absence. 

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