The FBI will help Haiti investigate president’s assassination. But U.S. needs to do more | Editorial

·3 min read

The situation in Haiti has only gotten murkier and more alarming since we heard the shocking news Wednesday that Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated in a ruthless, middle-of-the-night assault at his home.

The United States said Friday it is sending senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials to Haiti — at that country’s request — to assess the situation and assist in the investigation. That will help with the immediate crisis.

But it won’t be enough. An international presence in Haiti — whether it’s a new, UN peacekeeping mission or some other coalition — will also be required to stabilize the situation and prevent a new humanitarian crisis in the coming weeks and months. This is not a crisis that can be fixed by a small strike team, no matter how skilled.

Washington has largely ignored the ominous signs coming from Haiti in recent months, including a constitutional crisis, gang kidnappings and a deteriorating security situation. After the assassination, President Biden called the killing “heinous” and ”horrific.” His administration can’t, in good conscience, look away any longer.

And for Miami, this is personal. Haiti is our backyard. What happens there has enormous influence here.

Power vacuum

It remains unclear who killed the president and why. More than a dozen Colombian nationals and two Haitian Americans from South Florida have been arrested so far, according to Haitian officials. At least three others were killed and more suspects are still being sought. Officials have characterized the men as mercenaries.

The links to South Florida have shed little light so far: James J. Solages was a maintenance man from Broward County who ran a local charity and once worked for a company that contracted to provide security for the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. Less is known so far about Vincent Joseph, except that he lived or lives in Miami. How they became international assassins, if that is indeed what happened, is a mystery.

It’s also unclear who’s running the country, with two men claiming to be prime minister: Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who has resigned, and Ariel Henry, appointed by Moïse to take over but not yet sworn in. A third politician is also apparently vying for the job: Joseph Lambert, the head of the Senate, which has been reduced to 10 members.

There’s no functioning parliament — because Moïse declared the chamber dysfunctional in 2020 — and the president of the Supreme Court, René Sylvestre, died last week from COVID-19. Vaccines are still not available in Haiti, though international organizations have tried to send some.

And elections, which were supposed to take place in two months, are now up in the air.

Helping now

“The U.S. remains engaged,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. She noted other continuing assistance to Haiti from the State Department, which is helping the Haitian National Police address gang violence, and the 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals already in the U.S.

Those are all important moves but there are other ways the United States can and should help Haiti secure its democracy and stand on its own. As the Washington Post noted this week, Haiti’s fate has been intertwined with the U.S. for more than a century. Haiti was the first Black republic, but we have invaded and intervened there going back more than a century. The U.S. influence in Haiti remains enormous. We need to use it carefully.

The FBI and Homeland Security officials heading to Haiti should be the first wave of international help. We’re glad that Haiti requested assistance. Perhaps that can be the start of a new kind of relationship. Going forward, whatever help the U.S. gives Haiti — and it must take the leading role internationally — it must be sure to do so in full partnership with the Haitian people and with the near-term goal of helping the country stand on its own.