Following the Wednesday assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the U.S. is sending senior federal law enforcement officials to the island nation, which has requested American troops to help maintain order. Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and FBI will leave for Haiti’s capital city Port Au Prince “as soon as possible,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a Friday briefing.
“The United States remains engaged and in close consultation with our Haitian and international partners to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination of the president,” Psaki said.
According to CNN, citing Haitian Elections Minister Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s government has asked the U.S. to send approximately 500 soldiers to guard important infrastructure and transportation hubs from “potential mercenaries.” The Pentagon told CNN it had received the request and was in “regular contact with Haitian officials to discuss how the United States can assist.” The U.S. government is also sending $5 million to the Haitian National Police to “strengthen [its] capacity to work with communities to resist gangs,” Psaki said.
The last time the U.S. sent its military into Haiti was in 1915, following the assassination of then-president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, and it resulted in a nearly two-decades-long occupation. But in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Pierre defended the request for troops, saying that the local police do not have the ability or resources to maintain order. “What do we do? Do we let the country fall into chaos? Private properties destroyed? People killed after the assassination of the president? Or, as a government, do we prevent?” he said. “We’re not asking for the occupation of the country. We’re asking for small troops to assist and help us… As long as we are weak, I think we will need our neighbors.”
President Moïse was killed by gunmen who attacked his Port Au Prince residence, and his wife, Martine Moïse, has been brought to a Miami hospital to receive treatment for her injuries. So far 17 people have been arrested in connection with the killing, including two American citizens of Haitian descent and 15 people from Colombia, according to Haiti’s National Police chief, the AP reported.
Moïse’s death sent the country into chaos as rival leaders compete to assume the presidential vacancy. Just days before his death, Moïse had appointed Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, as Haiti’s next prime minister. Henry told Reuters he believes he is the highest-ranking authority in the country, but so far interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who took office in April, has been leading the government in the wake of the assassination.
Elections Minister Pierre has said that Joseph will stay in power until after the next set of presidential and legislative elections are held on September 26th. Meanwhile, Haiti’s Senate, which is only one-third occupied, nominated its leader, Joseph Lambert, to become interim president, Reuters reported.
The country’s constitution states that the president’s successor should be the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court, but the chief justice died of Covid-19 just days before Moïse’s assassination. Haiti has struggled to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Although it was not overwhelmed with Covid-19 early on, cases have been rising in recent months, and with inadequate testing, it’s difficult to know just how many people in Haiti are ill. To assist with vaccination efforts, the U.S. has promised to send vaccine supply “hopefully as early as next week,” Psaki said on Friday — as long as the airport is functioning and can receive them.