The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been shrouded in mystery ever since assailants broke into his home in July and shot him in his bedroom.
On Tuesday, former Colombian military officer Mario Antonio Palacios appeared at a US District Court in Miami. A Justice Department statement revealed that he gave “voluntary statements” to US law enforcement officials during an October interview in Jamaica. Palacios has been charged by the Department of Justice with conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death.
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But Ambassador Daniel Foote, the former US special envoy for Haiti, told The World's host Carol Hills that the US, though moving in the right direction now, hasn't been doing right by Haiti. And he's calling on Washington to tone down its support for Ariel Henry, the acting prime minister of the country.
Foote had resigned in September, describing US policy in the country as deeply flawed.
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Carol Hills: What does the appearance in a US courtroom of the former Colombian soldier, Mario Antonio Palacios, tell us?
Ambassador Daniel Foote: I find it to be quite encouraging. It is proof that the United States has a federal investigation going into the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. It's unclear the magnitude this could be. Before, it was unclear whether US law enforcement was fully engaged in an investigation. Now, they are. And this makes me feel as if we will eventually get to the bottom of this crime. The Haitians have been running an investigation. They don't have the resources or, frankly, the political will to get to the end. So, I'm encouraged to see the FBI indictment of Palacios and his appearance in Miami.
US authorities say Palacios spoke to them voluntarily. What has he said?
I can't tell you. You know, the FBI won't comment on an ongoing investigation. The background that I can give you on Palacios is, I believe he was an officer as opposed to a noncommissioned officer in the Colombian army. I think what he said is he had no idea what was going on. And while he was present at the site of the assassination, he did not see who killed Moïse, and he does not know who did it.
You said that you don't think there's the political will in Haiti to really carry out an investigation. Do you think there is political will in the US?
Well, the indictment is evidence that there's some political will, right? And that they have indictable evidence that they think is prosecutable on one individual. I hope that's the case. Obviously, it's in the United States' interest to help solve a crime of a close neighbor that 600 miles from Miami with an enormous diaspora in the United States.
Do you have any sense, yourself, of what went down in July?
My experience with Haiti tells me that if we ever find out the truth, and as I said, I'm encouraged much more today than I was two days ago, I believe it is going to be far more bizarre than anything that we've seen come out now. And I'll leave it at that.
Your resignation last July made big waves. Remind us why you stepped down.
I stepped down, one, because I was brought into the job under certain circumstances. "Go figure out what's going on and a way forward." And after I had been doing that for a while, I found that no one was really listening to me and they were backing the current acting de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, which I think is a mistake. The second reason was the deportations out of Del Rio, Texas. And I learned about it, saw it on the evening news. And I had not talked to anybody before. I talked to people in the State Department. It was clear to me that they were planning to deport all of those people, and I just couldn't be part of that.
Well, let's go with one of the first reasons you cited just now, which is the US support for the current Haitian president, Ariel Henry. Why do you think it's wrong for the US to support him?
He has no mandate. He's completely illegitimate. There's no parliament to swear in a prime minister. The acting prime minister, at the time of Moïse's death, Claude Joseph, stepped forward and said, "OK, I got things under control. I'll be in charge until we find a transition plan." And then, out of the blue, the US and the UN and other international embassies issue a statement anointing Ariel Henry as the acting prime minister. And I'll tell you what, Haitians don't take kindly to other countries telling them who should lead their country. Whether Ariel Henry is the greatest leader in the world or not, they see him as completely illegitimate.
Are you saying that Prime Minister Ariel Henry is really basically handpicked by the US?
I believe he's hand-picked by the US and a handful of other internationals, and generally, they do follow what the US says. But I was not in any of the core group meetings in Port-au-Prince that led to that decision.
The other thing you cited in your reason for stepping down was the US deporting Haitian migrants. Those deportations are continuing, aren't they?
They sure are, every day, like clockwork. And most of the deportees, when asked what they're going to do, they say, "We're going to try to go back." So, they're put in a place where Americans have been told to leave and not to visit, our Embassy is locked down and our personnel are unable to leave our compounds without massive security. And we're deporting desperate people with no resources back into these circumstances. There are 30,000 refugees, at least, in Port-au-Prince from gang violence.
The State Department said it would provide support to people who were deported back to Haiti. Is that happening?
My understanding is the International Organization for Migration gives him a hundred bucks and a pat on the back when they arrive to Haiti, and that's probably an oversimplification, but I don't think they're getting a lot of support.
Your resignation came after a lot of soul-searching. What impact were you hoping to have with the way you stepped down?
I believe Haitians deserve a chance to determine their own future and their own leaders for once. And they rarely, if ever, have been given that opportunity by the international community. So, that's what I'm looking for, is for my Haitian brothers and sisters to have the opportunity and the dignity to set their own course. And, unfortunately, it became clear to me that I had a better chance doing that from the outside than I did from the inside, just because I couldn't get their attention that way.
What do you want to see happen? What do you want to see the Biden administration do next?
I would like them to hold Ariel Henry accountable before supporting him. He is implicated in the assassination of President Moïse by having spoken 12 times, by phone records, with one of the major suspects who is still at large. And he has not answered what he was doing. These were not butt dials. He talked to this suspect twice after the assassination, including one for several minutes. He needs to answer these questions, or the US might be backing a guy who is part of this crime.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.