Haiti: Suspected assassins trained by US, linked to pro-coup oligarchy

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Colombian mercenaries captured following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Photo: Haiti Liberte

As shock grips the Caribbean island nation of Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the Haitian government carried out a campaign to arrest suspects it alleges are responsible for the murder.

Haitian Director of National Police Leon Charles told a media conference that the assassination squad that killed Moise is comprised of 28 foreigners, including two Haitian-Americans and 26 Colombian nationals. Fifteen of those Colombians have been detained while three were killed in a gun battle and eight remain fugitives.

Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano has that some of the Colombians are retired military personnel. Among them are at least one highly decorated soldier who received training from the United States and another who has been implicated in the murder of Colombian civilians.

Ties to oligarchs

The Haitian-Americans have been identified as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55. Solages lives in Florida where he is the CEO of EJS Maintenance and Repair and runs a nonprofit group, the of which has since been scrubbed of information. Prior to relocating to Florida, he lived in the southern Haitian coastal city of Jacmel.

to The Washington Post, Solages’ Facebook profile, which has since been removed, listed him as the chief commander of bodyguards for the Canadian embassy in Haiti. The Canadian embassy that Solages previously worked as a security guard. While in Florida, Solages was an “avid and vocal supporter of former President Michel Martelly,” the founder of Moïse’s Haitian Baldheaded Party (PHTK), according to Tony Jean-Thénor, leader of the Veye Yo popular organisation in Miami, founded by the late Father Gérard Jean-Juste.

The Haitian Times that, according to social media posts, Solages also worked as a security guard for both Reginald Boulos and Dimitri Vorbe, two prominent members of Haiti’s tiny bourgeoisie. Although initially friendly to him, they both became bitter opponents of Moïse. Boulos was also a prominent supporter of previous coups in 1991 and 2004 against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Boulos family is one of the wealthiest in Haiti and owns a pharmaceutical company that, in 1996, was responsible for scores of children with its tainted fever medicine, some fatally. Since the July 6–8, 2018, national uprising against the IMF-dictated fuel price hike, Boulos has attempted to recast himself as a popular and progressive figure (after one of his stores was burned and looted), heading a political party called the Third Way Movement (MTV).

Vorbe is the executive director and vice president of Société Générale d’Énergie SA, one of the largest private energy companies in Haiti, which had a sweet-heart deal providing power to the energy grid that Moïse sought to renegotiate after the collapse of the PetroCaribe program, under which Venezuela provided Haiti with cheap oil and credit from 2008–18.

Many believe Boulos is the intellectual author and financial backer of Moïse’s murder.

“Solage’s [apparent] employment by Boulos and centrality to the operation appears to confirm the growing popular consensus in Haiti that this controversial merchant-turned-politician was the principal backer of Moïse’s assassination,” journalist Kim Ives.

“A lot of factors have been pointing to his involvement: The arrival of the mercenaries in nine brand new Nissan Patrol vehicles without license plates suggests that they were vehicles coming from the Nissan dealership owned by Reginald Boulos. The Haitian people have already concluded that Boulous was behind the assassination…”

Colombian assassin trained by the US

While the Haitian-Americans reportedly served as translators, the muscle of the assassination squad came from Colombia, the US’s top regional ally, which serves as a platform for destabilisation and regime change plots in the region, from Venezuela to Ecuador — and now, apparently, Haiti.

The most prominent member of the hit squad is Manuel Antonio Grosso Guarín, a 41-year-old former special operations commando who retired from the military as a of the Simón Bolívar No 1 infantry battalion on December 31, 2019. According to the Colombian newspaper La Semana, Grosso “had several special combat courses, had been a member of the special forces and anti-guerrilla squads, and was known for being a skilled paratrooper who flew through the air without fear.”

In 2013, Grosso was assigned to the , a secretive elite military detachment dedicated to counter-terrorism operations and carrying out kidnappings and assassinations — euphemistically known as “high value target acquisition and elimination”. This branch of the military is also tasked with providing security to VIPs from the Colombian president to US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.

“He was one of the most prepared,” a source told La Semana.

Among Grosso’s preparations was special command from the US military, which supplies training and weapons to the Colombia military, one of the most repressive armed forces in the region and one that works to secure international corporate interests and drug trafficking routes.

Grosso was joined by Francisco Eladio Uribe Ochoa, who had retired from the Colombian Army in 2019, to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. Eladio Uribe’s wife told the newspaper that he had been investigated for participation in the execution of civilians — a practice known as “false positives”, in which the Colombian military lured at least 6402 civilians, murdered them, and dressed them in guerrilla fatigues in order to inflate their kill numbers. This gruesome practice helped military commanders reach lofty kill-count quotas set by the US and was incentivised with bonus pay and vacation time for soldiers who carried out the killings.

Though Eladio Uribe’s wife said that he had been exonerated, his name appeared in a file of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a court formed out of the 2016 peace accord, which investigated several thousand cases of false positives that the Colombian government had not previously admitted to. Eladio Uribe is one of two soldiers accused of the 2008 murder of Luis Carlos Cárdenas in the village of Chorros Blancos in Antioquia region.

Other alleged members of the hit squad alleged to have killed Moïse include: , a retired Deputy First Sergeant (killed in a gun battle in Haiti); Alejandro Giraldo Zapata; John Jairo Ramírez Gómez; and Víctor Albeiro Piñera.

Of the 28 people who allegedly participated in the assassination, four of the Colombians arrived in Haiti on June 6. Grosso arrived in the Dominican city of Punta Cana and crossed the land border into Haiti two days later. Photos show him and other suspects at popular tourist sites in the Dominican Republic.

Unanswered questions and a growing consensus

While the Haitian government has identified what appear to be Moïse’s assassins, there is still no hard evidence — just circumstantial — linking them to Boulos and possibly even Vorbe. Nonetheless, “there is a growing consensus that Reginald Boulous, for whom an arrest warrant [was] issued last week, paid for the mercenaries,” according to Ives. “It appears to be becoming more and more evident that the sector of the Haitian bourgeois, with whom Jovenel Moïse was at war, are intimately linked to his assassination.”

As the investigation into Moïse’s murder unfolds, the US appears to be preparing the groundwork to deploy troops to Haiti at the request of a figure whom it has spent decades grooming. According to The New York Times, Claude Joseph, who is in a struggle against Dr Ariel Henry to head the Haitian state in the wake of Moïse’s assassination, requested the US send military forces to guard key infrastructure, including the port, airport, and gasoline reserves. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki announced that the US would reinforce US personnel in Haiti with FBI and Department of Homeland Security deployments.

Joseph is an asset of the US and its regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). WikiLeaks cables that he first came to prominence in 2003 as the leader of a NED-spawned student front called GRAFNEH in the lead up to the coup against Aristide. He also founded another NED-funded anti-Aristide group, Initiative Citoyenne (Citizens’ Initiative). He is reported by Haitian radio stations to have been, along with prominent Haitian ex-Deputy Gary Bodeau, one of the principal assailants who severely beat the late Father Gérard Jean-Juste in a Pétionville church in 2005.

Jean-Juste, perhaps the most prominent supporter and surrogate of the then-exiled-in-South-Africa President Aristide, had been falsely accused of involvement in the killing of his own cousin, Jacques Roche, a writer.

“Essentially, we have a US puppet asking his puppeteer to invade Haiti for the fourth time in just over a century,” Ives concluded. “But both the region and, above all, the Haitian people are sick and tired of US military interventions, which are largely responsible for the nation’s current debilitated, critical state both economically and politically.

“Much of the most oppressed neighbourhoods are now heavily armed and have already announced a revolution against the likes of Boulos, so the US-led invaders of 2021 are likely to face a resistance similar to that which emerged against the US Marines in 1915 and UN ‘peace-keepers’ in 2004, only more ferocious.”

[Abridged from . Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines and tweets at @.]