‘We need help’: Haiti’s interim leader requests US troops

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Haiti’s interim government has asked the US and UN to deploy troops to protect key infrastructure as it tries to stabilise the country and prepare for elections in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination.

The stunning request for U.S. military support recalled the tumult following Haiti‘s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation — which lasted nearly two decades — as a way to avert anarchy.

Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s elections minister, defended the government’s request for military assistance, saying in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press that the local police force is weak and lacks resources.

“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 neighbours.”

On Saturday, a senior Biden administration official said the U.S. has no plans to provide military assistance at this time. The administration will send senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to assess the situation and how the U.S. may be able to assist, said the official, who wasn’t authorised to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Haiti also sent a letter to the United Nations requesting assistance, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Saturday. The letter asked for troops and security at key installations, according to a U.N. source speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the letter are private.

“We definitely need assistance and we’ve asked our international partners for help,” Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told the AP in a phone interview late Friday. “We believe our partners can assist the national police in resolving the situation.” On Friday, a group of lawmakers announced they had recognized Joseph Lambert, the head of Haiti’s dismantled Senate, as provisional president in a direct challenge to the interim government’s authority. They also recognised as prime minister Ariel Henry, whom Moïse had selected to replace Joseph a day before he was killed but who had not yet taken office or formed a government.

One of those lawmakers, Rosemond Pradel, told the AP that Joseph “is neither qualified nor has the legal right” to lead the country.

Joseph, who assumed leadership with the backing of police and the military, said he was “not interested in a power struggle.”

“There’s only one way people can become president in Haiti. And that’s through elections,” he said Meanwhile, more details emerged about what increasingly resembled a murky, international conspiracy: a shootout with gunmen holed up in a foreign embassy, a private security firm operating out of a warehouse in Miami and a cameo sighting of a Hollywood star.

Among the arrested are two Haitian Americans, including one who worked alongside Sean Penn following the nation’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Police have also detained or killed more than a dozen former members of Colombia’s military.

Some of the suspects were seized in a raid on Taiwan’s Embassy where they are believed to have sought refuge. National Police Chief Léon Charles said another eight suspects were still at large and being sought.

The attack at Moise’s home before dawn Wednesday also seriously wounded his wife, who was flown to Miami for surgery. She issued a statement Saturday implying the president was killed for trying to develop the country.

“The mercenaries who assassinated the president are currently behind bars,” she said in Creole, “but other mercenaries currently want to kill his dream, his vision, his ideology.”

Colombian officials said the men were recruited by four companies and traveled to Haiti via the Dominican Republic. U.S.-trained Colombian soldiers are often recruited by security firms and mercenary armies in conflict zones because of their experience in a decades-long war against leftist rebels and drug cartels.

The sister of one of the dead suspects, Duberney Capador, told the AP that she last spoke to her brother late Wednesday — hours after Moise’s murder — when the men, holed up in a home and surrounded, were desperately trying to negotiate their way out of a shootout.

“He told me not to tell our mother, so she wouldn’t worry,” said Yenny Capador, fighting back tears.

Colombia’s government said they’re seeking to repatriate the bodies of those killed by police following the attack: “they have the right to a dignified burial.” “We express our solidarity with the families of the ex-military personnel who died in confusing circumstances that should be clarified for the good of Haitian democracy,” the foreign ministry said.

It’s not known who masterminded the attack. And questions remain about how the perpetrators were able to penetrate the president’s residence posing as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, meeting little resistance from those charged with protecting the president.

Capador said her brother, who retired from the Colombian army in 2019 with the rank of sergeant, was hired by a private security firm with the understanding he would be providing protection for powerful individuals in Haiti.

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