One month after the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the killing remains unresolved. The investigation has stalled, the timing of new presidential elections is uncertain, and the political landscape is hard to read. Investigating magistrates refuse to lead the murder probe, out of fear for their lives. Yet a prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for an array of public figures, including a former Haitian Supreme Court judge, the leader of Moïse’s political party, a former justice minister, and two evangelical pastors—while these men say the warrants are an attempt to silence critics of the country’s interim leadership. Meanwhile, most of the 26 members of the mercenary commando unit that killed Moïse remain in jail, including 18 retired Colombian military officers and two U.S. citizens of Haitian descent. As for U.S. involvement in the country, some Haitian leaders have requested the U.S. military provide security in Haiti, though the Biden administration has agreed only to help with the investigation. What’s going on here?

Laurent Dubois is the co-director of the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia and the author of two books on Haiti. To Dubois, it will almost certainly be a long time before the public knows who was behind Moïse’s assassination. Long before the murder, the country’s political dynamics were complicated by the clashing interests of the Haitian people, local political elites, and foreign actors such as the United States. As Dubois sees it, the U.S. has exerted a powerful influence in Haiti for decades, often determining who rules the country, even as the U.S. agenda in Haiti has often been muddled by the competing goals of different government institutions—while many Haitian leaders have angled for U.S. support as a means to further their personal ambitions. In the end, Dubois says, this history of high-level intrigue has left Haiti’s state so weak that it chronically fails to serve or even represent the needs of most Haitian people.


Michael Bluhm: It’s one month after the president was gunned down, and most of the killers have been captured. Why don’t we know the story?

Laurent Dubois: It’s a great question. People watching Haitian politics understood that it would probably be a very long time before we knew what happened. There were complicated factors behind it, and what seemed to be one thing was actually something else.

All these pieces that can seem odd are part of a larger stream—and consistent with a larger history. The last time a Haitian president was assassinated was in 1915. Immediately afterward, a U.S. formal occupation began that lasted almost 20 years.

As calls for U.S. involvement ramp up, it’s important to be clear that it’s not really Haiti calling for U.S. involvement. It’s a specific group among its political leadership. But that group doesn’t necessarily have a legitimate claim that they were chosen by a fair election or represent the will of the Haitian people. That configuration was put in place with strong encouragement from international actors and the U.S.

Who speaks for the people of Haiti? It’s difficult to answer that question, and it’s difficult to know what that voice would say.

Bluhm: Does the assassination represent a turning point?

Dubois: After 1994, when the U.S. invaded to put [former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide back in power, as the democratically elected leader who had been overthrown, you’ve had very troubled elections. But after 2004, there’s been a series of transfers of power that, while not without problems, had all happened peacefully. That was significant.

This is a break. Not only does it leave a clear vacuum, but it’s come on the heels of a couple of years of hollowing out state institutions—in particular the Senate, where Moïse had let terms expire without new elections.

Parliament has always been a counterpoint to Moïse. There was a dispute about whether he had finished his mandate or had one more year—a dispute arising from the circumstances of the election and different readings of the Constitution. It’s a legalistic dispute, but a dispute that had crystallized the opposition to him.

[Former Haitian President Francois] Duvalier was elected and then gradually moved to change the Constitution to allow himself, and then his son, to be president for life. So there’s always this worry that if a president begins to maneuver to change the Constitution, that’s a move toward dictatorial rule. Moïse had been talking about a change to the Constitution, and he’d also claimed an extra year of his mandate.

Who speaks for the people of Haiti? It’s difficult to answer that question, and it’s difficult to know what that voice would say.

But now the question is a different one. With Moïse gone, do the new people just continue along the same path, or is there an opening for a different process? What’s the process that would lead to a democratic outcome in Haiti? That’s the fundamental question.

Bluhm: The U.S. has been deeply involved in Haiti since the anti-slavery revolution that led to Haiti’s independence in 1804. Today Haitian leaders pay K Street lobbyists to win the U.S. government’s backing. What is the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti after the assassination?

Dubois: In some ways, the U.S. presence has never ended since 1915.

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