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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US prosecutors detail plot to kill Haitian president

By JOHN PACENTI and CHRIS CAMERON


Chief suspects in the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti made their first appearances in a federal courtroom in Miami earlier this week, agreeing to detention as the government accused the men of a sprawling conspiracy to seize power.


On Tuesday, the Justice Department charged four men in connection with the assassination and detailed a scheme that prosecutors said involved a yet-unnamed former Supreme Court judge in the country, Colombian mercenaries and an illegal arms shipment from the United States.


Three of the men are accused of conspiracy in the killing of Moïse: James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, both of whom are dual Haitian American citizens, and Germán Rivera García, 44, a Colombian accused of leading the group of mercenaries operating in Haiti. The fourth, Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 65, also a dual Haitian American citizen, was charged with counts related to smuggling.


The suspects told Magistrate Judge Alicia M. Otazo Reyes of the Southern District of Florida on Wednesday that they were destitute and in need of counsel, prompting her to assign a lawyer to each. Prosecutors said all four men, who appeared in court in tan jumpsuits and surgical masks, were a flight risk.


If convicted, Solages, Vincent and Rivera face up to life in prison. Sanon faces up to 20 years.

On July 7, 2021, a group of assailants stormed Moïse’s residence near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, early in the morning, shooting him 12 times and wounding his wife. Since then, Haiti has descended into chaos, with roving gangs carrying out violence and government institutions in disarray. The case in Haiti has ground to a halt, with yet another judge in the case assigned after others had resigned or been dismissed.


According to prosecutors, Solages and Sanon met in April 2021 in South Florida to discuss “regime change in Haiti” as well as backing Sanon, a pastor, doctor and aspiring Haitian political candidate. The next month, prosecutors said, Sanon contracted equipment needed to support his own military force in Haiti, including 20 Colombian citizens.


Rivera is accused of leading the Colombian group.


The purported plot against Moïse evolved over time: from an audacious plan to kidnap the Haitian president and escape the country via airplane to the assassination that was ultimately carried out, according to a court filing.


On July 6, 2021, the day before Moïse was killed, Solages, Vincent and Rivera met with other conspirators in a house close to Moïse’s residence, the filing said. Firearms and other equipment were distributed, and Solages announced that their mission was a “CIA operation” to kill the Haitian president.


The assassins drove in a convoy to Moïse’s residence the next day, falsely claiming that they were U.S. law enforcement to ensure compliance as they stormed the residence.


Three others also have been charged in the U.S. in connection with Moïse’s death: a government informant and Haitian businessman, Rodolphe Jaar, 49; a former Colombian soldier, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios; and a former senator of Haiti, John Joël Joseph.


Prosecutors in court Wednesday said all seven men will be tried under the same case.


Three of the lawyers declined to address the allegations, with one saying he knew only of the case from reading the newspaper.


Another, Ken Swartz, who represents Vincent, said, “The charges are serious and we want to know what evidence that the government has.”


The men are set for arraignment Feb. 15, when they will enter pleas.

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