Assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse Clashed With Some Business Magnates

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Before he was gunned down, Haitian President

Jovenel Moïse

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regularly assailed what he called powerful oligarchs, blaming them for the impoverished nation’s woes.

“After decades of systematic plundering of state property by corrupt oligarchs,” Mr. Moïse said in a March speech, “the country needs a collective awakening.”

It was a common political strategy in a deeply unequal nation where Haitian politicians rally the poor against the so-called bourgeoisie, say historians and political analysts. It also fueled resentment among some in the business elite against Mr. Moïse, who became increasingly isolated and turned more autocratic, including against rivals in the business world as Haiti’s political and economic crises worsened, according to political analysts, Haitian rights activists and U.S. lawmakers.

His fractious relationship with the business community sheds light on the internal turmoil that buffeted the country in the months before his July 7 death. Two small security business owners in Haiti have been singled out publicly as suspects in an investigation that has, so far, implicated an assortment of some 40 Haitian politicians, Miami businessmen and former Colombian soldiers. Still, there is no motive in the case, which is being handled by Haiti’s police, with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A security guard stood outside Haiti’s National Pantheon Museum before Tuesday’s commemoration for the late president.



Photo:

Matias Delacroix/Associated Press

Under Mr. Moïse, some business magnates paid a steep cost, saying he used his political power to go after them for backing other political parties. Others won lucrative perks, business executives and analysts say, benefiting from political ties to the government in a nation the World Economic Forum ranks as 138th out of 141 countries in terms of economic competitiveness.

In 2019, amid worsening power blackouts, Haiti voided a multimillion-dollar contract to produce electric power by an important family business group with close ties to a political party opposed to Mr. Moïse, business people familiar with the case and former government officials say. Police raided the homes of company executives, and a judge issued an order seizing the group’s power plants. At the time, the company accused Mr. Moïse of launching “an all-out campaign of political persecution.” The company is currently seeking a resolution from an arbitration court in Paris.

Earlier this month, an anticorruption unit run by the Finance Ministry issued a summons to the owner of car dealerships and supermarkets for questioning in an investigation of an alleged pension-fund fraud. The businessman is a former ally of Mr. Moïse who had turned against him.

Etzer Emile, an economist at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, said Mr. Moïse didn’t oppose big business leaders in theory. “He was just against people who were not his friends or in his political group,” Mr. Emile said.

Haiti’s economy began to unravel in recent years because of growing political instability and corruption. Street vendors in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, in 2019.



Photo:

Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

People protest against corruption and inflation in Port-au-Prince in October 2019.



Photo:

Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

A spokesman for the slain president said he didn’t use his power to go after business people for political reasons.

Laurent Lamothe, a former prime minister and close ally of the late president, said Mr. Moïse was adamant about fighting corruption and implementing much-needed economic reforms against the interests of big business families. He said that most businessmen supported him, but that opponents besmirched him.

“He was the first to fight corruption,” he said of Mr….



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