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Investigators From The U.S. Will Help Probe Haiti's Presidential Assassination


A team of U.S. security officials has landed in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince - this after Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated by a hit squad in his home last Wednesday. Haiti's interim prime minister asked the U.S. for help with the investigation into the murder. He's also asking for U.S. troops to help protect the country's ports, airports and key infrastructure.

Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said that request is being reviewed. Here he is on "Fox News Sunday."


JOHN KIRBY: I don't know that we're at a point now where we can say definitively that our national security is being put at risk by what's happening there. But clearly, we value our Haitian partners. We value stability and security in that country. And that's why we want to send a team down there, to help them get their arms around exactly what happened and what's the best way forward.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Jackie Northam has been following developments as they unfold. She joins us now. And Jackie, Haitian authorities have arrested a third person with U.S. ties as a suspect in the assassination. Could you tell us more about that?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Sure. Yes. Haiti's national police chief held a press conference last night. And he said the man they've arrested is a Haitian-born doctor who's based in Florida. The police chief said the man arrived in Haiti on a private plane in June and had arranged to hire some of the mercenaries who were involved in the president's killing and that this was all part of a broader plot for this doctor to become president.

But, Sacha, this is one of the things that this team of U.S. investigators who's in Haiti now is going to look at while they're there.

PFEIFFER: And tell us more about those American security officials in Haiti you just referenced. What exactly are they doing?

NORTHAM: Well, they're a mix of FBI agents and officials with the Department of Homeland Security. And they arrived on Sunday. And they're there to assess how the U.S. can help the Haitians with the investigation. You know, this is not some random shooting. It was a well-orchestrated operation. And it's still not known who was behind the assassination of President Moise or who bankrolled it.

The team of investigators, when it returns to the U.S., will brief President Biden. And a senior administration official said he will, quote, "make decisions about the way forward" after that.

PFEIFFER: The prime minister, Claude Joseph, surprised many people in Haiti and the U.S. when he asked for American military intervention. What is the Biden administration saying about that?

NORTHAM: Well, so far, administration officials saying there are no plans to send in U.S. troops - and you don't get a sense that there's any real enthusiasm for that either. You know, the administration is in the midst of shifting its resources worldwide. It's pulling out of Afghanistan and focusing more on Russia and certainly China.

I spoke with Kevin Edmonds, who's a Haiti specialist at the University of Toronto. And he thinks it's unlikely the U.S. will become embroiled in Haiti. He compared it to the situation, you know, when the U.S. intervened in Somalia in the 1990s.

KEVIN EDMONDS: It's a no-win situation for them because it's kind of like a Somalia, where people would say, why are we there? And if there was to be any loss of life from the U.S., that it would reflect badly on Biden.

NORTHAM: And Sacha, Edmonds says Biden will have to make a calculation about what is possible to help with the situation in Haiti, short of sending in troops.

PFEIFFER: And as you know, Jackie, historically, the U.S. has intervened in Haiti in the past.

NORTHAM: Oh, yes. For more than a hundred (laughter) years, there have been U.S. interventions in Haiti and even occupation, with very mixed results. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent in the Marines after another Haitian president was murdered and ended up staying there for 20 years.

Here's Edmonds again.

EDMONDS: The U.S. rewrote the Haitian constitution and allowed a lot of U.S. companies to just grab a lot of land. And they set up the modern Haitian military there, which basically worked against the Haitian people.

NORTHAM: And then, you know, more recently was the U.S. intervention in Haiti in 1994, when President Bill Clinton sent in troops. You know, Sacha, the U.S. has also meddled in Haiti's politics, including backing dictators who are blamed for widespread atrocities and corruption.

PFEIFFER: Have you been able to talk to any local Haitians about how they feel?

NORTHAM: Yes, definitely. There's a lot of criticism.

You know, I spoke with a Haitian businessman, Duquesne Fednard. And he said he doesn't think troops should go in.

DUQUESNE FEDNARD: I do not think any country - the U.S. or any other country - will be able to come and fix what has happened in Haiti. So we have to be the one to fix it. And the only way I think that can be done is by us working together as a people.

NORTHAM: And Fednard says, if the U.S. wants to help, it should encourage fruitful dialogue.

PFEIFFER: Jackie Northam, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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