Haitians face a ‘very dire climate’ one year after Moïse's assassination, journalist says
A year since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti has descended into further violence, and efforts to hold people accountable have proven to be fruitless. Widlore Merancourt, editor with news outlet AyiboPost in Port-au-Prince, discussed with The World's host Marco Werman what the anniversary means for Haitians.
Supporters of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse protest to demand justice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2022.
Haiti marked one year since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on Thursday.
Gunmen in the capital of Port-au-Prince broke down the door to Moïse's home in 2021, and then shot and killed him in his bedroom.
Today, Haitians are nowhere near closure. Efforts to find those responsible and hold them accountable have been fruitless, and Moïse's death has created a power vacuum.
Meanwhile, Haiti's acting president, Ariel Henry, has an ever-weakening grip on power. The US-backed government is facing political paralysis and an economic meltdown. And armed gangs still control much of everyday life in the country.
Widlore Merancourt, editor with the news outlet AyiboPost in Port-au-Prince, spoke with The World's host Marco Werman about what this somber anniversary means for Haitians.
Marco Werman: How has the country changed since the killing of President Jovenel Moïse?
Widlore Merancourt: The country was already in deep trouble before the assassination of the president. He was a very unpopular president. He was trying to change the constitution in an unconstitutional manner. The country further plunged into insecurity during his term. So, when he's killed in this brutal fashion, it's a step further in the wrong direction for most Haitians.
From your perspective, Widlore, have efforts to identify, locate and punish the assassins, has that made any progress?
I'm not certain we've made any progress. Right after the assassination, dozens of people were arrested. We now have a fifth judge that is going to be in charge of the investigation. We had four judges consecutively having the case, then they dropped it for different reasons. One of them did not [even] receive the file for the case. So, [there are] a lot of questions, but not many answers one year later.
Yeah. Well, now on to investigating judge number five. That speaks to the political gridlock you mentioned earlier. Who do Haitians blame for why the investigations have not gone further?
There are accusations against the prime minister himself. Remember, he fired a prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice because they were trying to interview him regarding his role in the assassination.
Widlore, you also mentioned the desperate lack of security in Haiti. Armed criminal gangs are becoming more prominent. Port-au-Prince alone has more than 200 gangs. In the course of your day, or your work, do you encounter the gangs? Do they impact your life?
Just [last] Friday, I was going into a retreat with my team, a team of journalists, who spent some time as a group, [to] relax a little bit, because the past year has been very tough. But when we reached a slum very close to the capital, we encountered bandits fighting with the police. And we could not cross to go to the north of the country. And this is just one example of what Haitians have to go through. You have the north of the country increasingly cut off from the capital, and you have, effectively, the south of the country that you also cannot reach, because bandits close the roads and you have to pay fees to cross with your car. And sometimes the car is attacked. And regularly, we have kids being killed, pregnant women being killed. So, it's a very dire climate where you have thousands and thousands of people being displaced, because bandits are taking over more and more swaths of territory.
So, what happens when Haitian police try to confront the gangs? Does that ever happen?
There were allegations also that some police officers are corrupt. ... And they [don't have enough arms]. And another problem is that some of these gangs have connections with powerful people in politics and in business.
Yeah, our listeners might wonder how gangs can accumulate so much power. Tell us, if you would, about the group called "5 Secondes" or "5 Seconds." They took over one of the country's largest courthouses last month. What happened?
The 5 Secondes guys are specialized in kidnapings, mass kidnapings in the south of the capital. The 5 Secondes gang is run by a young gentleman named Izo. He's a wannabe artist who is using social media to terrorize people and also to make fun of his victims. ... Recently, his Instagram page was verified. ... Recently, I was talking to a woman. She has one family member who was kidnaped and they gave $100,000. So, they kidnap poor people, they kidnap rich people. They use this money to buy more guns. Most of the guns that were retrieved by the police in Haiti come from the United States.
You also said these gangs were using Instagram. There are other platforms I know, like TikTok and Twitter, to recruit, but also to scheme. Do you have any idea whether any of those platforms are aware of what's going on or have tried to shut down how the gangs that were using them?
TikTok actually took down one of the most popular pages of Izo, this gang that we just talked about. But these gangs still have accounts on these platforms, and these gangs are speaking [Haitian] Creole. And it's unclear how many Creole-speaking moderators, for instance, a company like Meta or TikTok, would have. And it's very difficult for these companies to moderate in a language that they do not understand.
Everyday life just sounds so on edge in Haiti, Widlore, and for a journalist who has to cover that insecurity, I'm just wondering, when do you find moments to exhale? I mean, you spoke about going to that retreat with some of your colleagues and that was scuppered.
Yes, I mean, being a journalist in Haiti is learning to live with fear and to continue anyway, every day. I meditate, and we did not go to the north like we planned, but we went to another quiet base up in the capital to spend two days with the team. But, at the same time, we know, as leaders in these newsrooms, how hard it is for our teams to concentrate when, sometimes coming to work, they are encountering bodies in the streets or they have family members who were kidnaped. You have families, many are reporting a story that is not just a story for a foreigner to tell. It's your story and you are embedded in it. You have to be patient. You have to take time for yourself and reflect when you can. And sometimes, like most Haitians, especially living in the capital, you don't go out. You don't go to parties. You don't spend time outside in restaurants, etc., because you have to take precautions, especially when you have so many enemies in high and powerful positions.