The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Drug trafficking and an assassination have deepened Haiti’s chaos

People pay their respects outside the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince on July 14, a week after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. (Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the assassination in July of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, the muddled explanations that dribbled out of the country made little sense. Now a sweeping investigation by the New York Times into his intensifying efforts to challenge the powerful criminal drug-trafficking networks that permeate Haiti’s government, security forces and business elite has shed light on the killing and the likely reasons behind it.

Moïse was elevated from obscurity to the presidency mainly by his predecessor, former president Michel Martelly — himself suspected of close ties to some of Haiti’s biggest trafficking kingpins. According to the Times account, Moïse was compiling a dossier of traffickers’ names that he planned to share with the U.S. government. Among the most prominent names was Mr. Martelly’s brother-in-law, who retained enormous influence over Moïse’s government. Moïse was shot to death in his bedroom by a team of Colombian mercenaries who, according to the Times and its sources, were searching for that list of names.

Mr. Martelly, barred by Haiti’s constitution from seeking a third consecutive presidential term, is now living in Miami; he is widely regarded as planning another bid for the presidency. One question that arises from the Times report is how, given the allegations of corruption and trafficking ties against him, he retains a visa enabling him to live in the United States and, for that matter, why he has not been arrested.

Haiti is a long-standing narco-state whose police and government institutions have often been in cahoots with traffickers. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it is a major trans-shipment point for cocaine, heroin and other contraband headed to the United States from South America.

It has been a focal point of intense efforts, and intense frustration, for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, whose investigative efforts have often been stymied by the top-to-bottom corruption in Haiti’s government and security apparatus. The DEA itself has come under suspicion that some of its personnel in Haiti might have been co-opted by traffickers.

Among the targets of past DEA investigations is Dimitri Hérard, who was detained in connection with Moïse’s murder. Mr. Hérard, formerly a key security official forMr. Martelly, was also a close associate of Mr. Martelly’s brother-in-law, Charles Saint-Rémy, widely suspected of being a trafficking kingpin. It was Mr. Hérard who was in charge of the presidential security detail that stood aside on the night of the assassination, allowing the hit men unfettered access to Moïse’s home.

Impunity is the rule in Haiti, not the exception; hardly anyone in the country has been convicted of trafficking offenses, and top officials, including the current justice minister, have been implicated in protecting traffickers from anti-corruption investigations.

Haiti is now in chaos, its government unelected, its streets controlled by criminal gangs and its economy in shambles. In other words, it is a paradise for drug traffickers. The Biden administration, by averting its gaze, enables the pandemonium that has enveloped the country. Americans might imagine that Haiti’s problems are not of their concern, but those troubles have a way of washing up on American shores, as refugees — and as contraband.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).