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The Latest From Haiti In The Wake Of President Jovenel Moise's Assassination

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Lots of questions that swirl around the assassination of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, including who is in charge of the country now. Two men claim to be the rightful prime minister. There's no clear way to settle that dispute. Mr. Moise had been running the country by decree since no parliamentary elections had been held in more than two years. And the head of the country's Supreme Court died last month of COVID.

NPR's Carrie Kahn covers Haiti and joins us now from her base in Mexico City. Carrie, thanks for being with us.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: I gather Haitian police have arrested more than a dozen suspects. They say that they killed three more. Officials say that two of the people arrested are Haitian Americans. The rest are Colombians. What are we beginning to know about the suspects?

KAHN: This has turned into quite an international story. We have more than a dozen gunmen, retired Colombian army veterans who traveled over the last month and weeks, many through Panama and the Dominican Republic into Haiti. In the early hours on Wednesday morning, they breached the president's residence and riddled him with bullets and severely injured his wife. Police in Haiti say the men then retreated and were engaged in a gun battle. Three were killed, and at least 17 were arrested - among them, like you said, two Haitian Americans. But no one is saying anything about a motive. Who paid these Colombians? In Colombia, the police chief did say the men were hired by Colombian security firms but didn't say which ones or why. And one thing, Scott, that just stands out to me is, we haven't heard anything about the presidential guards charged with protecting the president. You know, where were they? We haven't heard about - were they injured? The head of the presidential guard unit has been asked to present himself to give information. But if he has, that information hasn't been released. So who organized this international assassination plot? Who paid for it? We just, you know, don't have a lot of answers.

SIMON: What do we know about the Haitian Americans said to be involved?

KAHN: They're telling a Haitian investigator they had no idea they were part of an assassination plot. They thought they were just working as interpreters. Both men live in South Florida and travel back and forth to Haiti and work there. There were these videos circulating of people speaking in English, yelling at the president's residence at the time of the assassination. They were yelling, you know, they were U.S. DEA agents. And apparently, that was the voice of one of these men. Haitian police paraded all the suspects before reporters and photographers, but there still just are so many more questions about this assassination that we don't know,

SIMON: Including who's in charge of the government in Haiti, right?

KAHN: Exactly. That's a tough one, too. There may be an agreement in the works to appoint an interim president and put the appointed prime minister in office. But here's the confusion. The acting prime minister was scheduled to leave office the day Moise was killed. He says he's still in charge. And the man who was supposed to replace him is also claiming to be the rightful head of government. And it looks like he and some other politicians have come up with a plan to install an interim government. But so far, no official agreement or announcement has been made.

SIMON: Carrie, reporting from the area, what can you tell us about the reaction of Haitian citizens to these extraordinary events?

KAHN: You know, Moise wasn't a very popular president. The situation in the country has just been deteriorating in the last couple months. Gangs are controlling so much of the country, especially large parts of the capital. Kidnappings are on the rise. COVID cases are spiking, and there's no vaccination program underway. Food and fuel is scarce. And many people blame Moise for the political stalemate. You know, like he said, parliament hasn't been functioning for more than a year. But the idea that foreigners would enter the country and kill their president has left many people just so angry and shocked. One friend was texting me last night that she just can't stop crying for the dead president and his injured wife. And how could people have come to their country and do this? And with this power vacuum at the top, the sadness and anger over is growing, as well as conspiracy theories about who did this.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.