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Haiti in Chaos After President’s Assassination as Activists in U.S. Urge Biden to Stop Deportations

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The interim prime minister of Haiti has declared a state of siege and imposed martial law following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who died in an armed attack on his home. The first lady of Haiti was injured in the attack and airlifted to a hospital in Miami, where she is reportedly in stable but critical condition. Haitian authorities say police have killed four suspects and detained two others, but the individuals have not been identified. No evidence linking them to the assassination has been made public. It is unclear who is now in charge of Haiti, which was already facing a political, security and economic crisis prior to the assassination of the president. Haitians are “in mourning,” whether they supported Moïse or not, says Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Today the streets of Haiti are empty because people are trying to make sense of what just happened.” She calls on the Biden administration to stop deporting Haitians and to allow more people who fled to the U.S. to apply for temporary protected status.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to begin today in Haiti. The interim prime minister there has declared a state of siege and imposed martial law following the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, who died in an armed attack on his home early Wednesday. The first lady of Haiti, Martine Moïse, was injured in the attack and was airlifted to a Miami hospital in Miami. She’s reportedly in stable but critical condition.

Haitian authorities say police have killed four suspects and detained two others, but the individuals haven’t been identified. Haiti’s ambassador to the United States said the assassination was carried out by, quote, “foreign mercenaries and professional killers.” Video shot from outside the president’s home shows the heavily armed attackers claimed to be from the U.S. DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration. Listen carefully.

ARMED ATTACKER: This is a operation. This is a operation. DEA. Everybody, go, go, go. [inaudible] Everybody, do not shoot. This is a DEA operation. This is a DEA operation.

AMY GOODMAN: “This is a DEA operation,” you hear them saying, the person speaking with an American accent, but this video hasn’t been verified. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked if the DEA was involved in the assassination.

HÜMEYRA PAMUK: Can you speak to the DEA element of all of this? You’ve — the ambassador also talked about this footage where they’re identifying themselves as DEA agents, and he said that he doesn’t believe in it. I mean, can you say that that’s not the case, that you have an assessment that those are not DEA officials? Can you sort of, you know, set the record straight on that?

NED PRICE: Well, as you said, the Haitian ambassador himself has dismissed these allegations. These reports are absolutely false. The United States condemns this heinous act. These false reports are nothing more than that, just false reports.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s unclear who’s now in charge of Haiti. Under Haiti’s Constitution, the president of the Supreme Court would normally take power, but the judge recently died of COVID-19. Haiti’s Parliament was dissolved last year. Haiti now has two men claiming to be prime minister. Last week, President Moïse appointed Ariel Henry to become his seventh prime minister in four years, but Henry has not yet been sworn in. Meanwhile, Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has assumed power following Moïse’s assassination. On Wednesday, Joseph addressed the nation.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER CLAUDE JOSEPH: [translated] The first elements of information we have at our disposal make us understand it happens to be a group of English- and Spanish-speaking persons. They were carrying huge-caliber weapons and killed the president. As the incumbent chief of government, I gathered this morning a special Supreme Council of the National Police. In strict accordance with Article 149 of the Constitution, I just presided an extraordinary council of ministers, where we decided to declare a state of siege on the whole territory.

AMY GOODMAN: Haiti was already facing a political, security and economic crisis prior to the assassination of the president. Earlier this year, opponents of Moïse accused him of orchestrating a coup to stay in power beyond February 7th, when his term officially ended.

We go now by Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, that works with Haitian immigrants in the United States.

As all of this unfolds, Guerline, if you can give your assessment of what took place? I mean, you’ve got this video with an American voice saying, “This is the DEA,” the Drug Enforcement Administration. This hasn’t been verified. Apparently people were speaking in Spanish — of course, not the language of Haiti. How is it that even this group of people could get to the president’s house without the acquiescence of the police or the military, which would suggest a kind of coup going on? What do you understand at this point, as you talk to people around Haiti?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Good morning, Amy, and thank you for having me.

As all of this are developing on the ground in Haiti, actually, after we received the call yesterday morning, in the middle of the night at 2:45, my first question was: What happened? Where are the guards? Where are the extreme security that the head of state is supposed to be having? As we’ve heard from the video, allegedly — we do not know exactly who those people are. I understand that people on the ground are still looking into those allegations. So we are hoping to get a light on those.

But what I can tell you is that today, as of yesterday, Haiti is in mourning. Whether you are, you know, for the Jovenel government or against his ideologies, today the people are in mourning. Today the people are in fear. Today the streets of Haiti are empty because people are trying to make sense of what just happened.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Guerline, could you talk about the significance of the assailants allegedly claiming to be from the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, of the U.S.? To your knowledge, has the DEA operated in Haiti in the past? And if so, would the invoking the DEA overcome, as you said, the extreme security that the president’s residence has?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Well, I am not a person who deals with those specific issues. You know, our main issue is dealing with immigration and what’s happening on the ground when it affects people that are being forced to leave the country. So, as those investigations continue, I do hope that we get clarifications of what’s happening, and whomever are involved in this extremely, extremely disturbing and inhuman act in the country of Haiti will be brought to justice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Guerline, could you talk a little bit — of course, we reported earlier, and there have been widespread reports of this, of the political violence and security situation in Haiti prior to this assassination, the government accused of using gangs to crush the opposition, many hundreds who have been detained, arrested or killed in the last several years. And you deal, of course, with migrants coming to the U.S. What do you know of that situation and how many people who come to the U.S. are fleeing that violence?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Yes. So, as you just mentioned, what we are witnessing is a result of a long and bloody, you know, acts that have been happening. As a matter of fact, last week alone, we have an estimated 15 young men and women who were massacred, including journalists, including a young woman who was leading the fight on behalf of the Haitian community on the ground. We are seeing that, you know, the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, as part of a long strike of bloody massacres on the people on the ground, and now to the highest level of office in Haiti. So, we have to understand that this didn’t just happen yesterday in the middle of the night. This has been a product of both internal violence and external violence that have been plunging Haiti into the darkness, what I said is into a new abyss. What we are seeing right now, we do not know what the next move will be, but please understand that this is part of a long history of bloody murders that have been happening in the country.

And now we are seeing — we at a level where Haiti is in mourning. Haiti is in pain. Our soul, our hearts are crying for justice. Our hearts are crying for peace. Our hearts are crying for protections, because we do understand, as we serve migrants in the United States, they do not want to leave home. But what do people have to do when home is in the mouth of a shark? As we look at what’s happening in the country, we are also seeing, you know, the effect of that in migration, forced migration, forced displacement. And the majority of the people leaving their home countries are because of abuse, because of political unrest, because of the type of issues we are seeing in Haiti right now. So, our heart goes to Jovenel Moïse’s family. The first lady, Martine, we are praying for her recovery. But we are also praying for those who have lost their lives without cause for the past week, the past year, the past month, as you have mentioned before.

AMY GOODMAN: And before we end, Guerline, you live here in the United States. You are a part of what many call Haiti’s 10th department: Haitians who live in the United States. When we spoke to you last, then-President Moïse, who’s now been assassinated, was supposed to leave office. The Biden administration has supported Moïse. And even this week, there was a deportation flight to Haiti. And you deal with immigrants all the time. Can you talk about what you’re calling on the Biden administration to do in this time of this unprecedented assassination?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Absolutely. Again, as you mentioned, you know, as of February 7th — depends on which way you interpret the Constitution — President Jovenel was supposed to leave, from the opposition understanding, you know, how they interpret the Constitution. And at the same time, the government of President Jovenel Moïse, the way they interpret the Constitution said that they were supposed to stay until 2022nd.

But what what we are asking President Biden to do is, one, to quickly release the Federal Register notice, so that Haitians who are currently in the United States are able to apply for TPS, that we have fought so long to be able to win that battle for over 150,000 Haitians who are already in the United States as of May 21st, 2021. And at the same time, we are asking for protection for asylum seekers who have been at the U.S.-Mexico border for between a year to five years, who have been waiting for a chance to apply for asylum. And we are asking President Biden to immediately rescind Title 42, which has been used as a vehicle not only to destroy lives, but to create that pipeline for expulsion and deportation to Haiti.

And, Amy, as you just mentioned, the eve of this assassination, there were a deportation to Haiti. So, it is absolutely unbelievable for us to see, as we just received TPS on the ground of the insecurity that’s on the ground, at the same time, for the United States to be deporting people to Haiti. So we are asking for a complete halt for all deportations to Haiti. We are asking for the release of all the Haitian asylum seekers who are currently caged in immigration prisons in the United States. We are asking the President Biden and his administration to provide protection, security for those asylum seekers and immigrants who have come to our shores asking for protection, as we see what’s happening on the ground today.

AMY GOODMAN: Guerline Jozef, we want to thank you for being with us, co-founder, executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance.

Coming up, as the U.S. military says its withdrawal from Afghanistan is 90% complete, the Taliban escalates its offensive by seizing more districts. We’ll speak to a longtime Afghan women’s rights defender and an Afghan journalist in Kabul. Stay with us.

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