Melissa Harris-Perry: The country of Haiti is under a state of emergency tonight after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated early this morning.
Speaker 2: [unintelligible 00:00:14] underway now in Haiti to capture or kill the assassins who gunned down Haiti's president.
Speaker 3: Police say they have arrested one of the masterminds behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Melissa Harris-Perry.: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. This is The Takeaway. You're listening to recent headlines reporting the assassination of Haiti's president. Now, let me take a moment to read something to you. "The only thing that I saw before they killed him were their boots." These are the words of Martine Moïse, the first lady of Haiti. Last week, she gave her first public interview since her husband's assassination.
Haitians, still reeling from the assassination, they've had mixed responses to the first lady's account. It's been three weeks since her husband of 25 years, President Jovenel Moïse, was murdered and she was left for dead. Police have arrested more than two dozen people in connection with the killing, including citizens of Columbia, Haiti, and the United States. Their arrest have done little to reveal just who is responsible for, and what motivated the assassination.
Mrs. Moïse shared her harrowing experience with Francis Robles of The New York Times.
Francis, welcome back to the Takeaway.
Francis Robles: Thanks so much for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's just begin. Who does Mrs. Moïse think killed her husband?
Francis Robles: She believes that, she has a broad word for it, the oligarchs, the rich people that her husband had battled. She came very, very, very close to accusing one particular person. She went just as far as to the edge of the murder accusation that you could go in an interview without actually accusing someone of murder. I asked her, "You're saying so-and-so killed your husband?" "I didn't say that." There's a particular business person who she says I had the most benefit from her husband's death, and he denies it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As we've been covering the story here on The Takeaway over the past three weeks, we've had some of these conversations about the oligarchy, about the powerful ruling classes, and about the fact that President Moïse, when he first came in, was certainly positioned himself as a champion of the people over and against these oligarchs. Yet we've also had conversations telling us that maybe as much as that was his early position, that in fact, these oligarchs had done just fine under his governance.
I'm wondering if there was anything in particular that the first lady believed may have set off or caused something to move that group of people who she is zeroing in on to move against her husband in this way.
Francis Robles: What I've heard the most from people is that, sure, he did go against a couple of oligarchs. There's no question about that. I don't think you could say intellectually honestly that he went after everybody. If you look at the ones that he went after, okay, so who did he initiate investigations? Who did he cancel their contracts? There's a particular company that had an electric contract that he canceled. They were forced into exile. There is a man named Reginald Boulos who was under investigation for an investment with the pension deal. He had summons to appear in court, and they had frozen some of his bank accounts.
She's really honing in on him because of the frozen bank accounts, and saying, oh, look, see right after he died, he got his money back. That proves that he had something to gain. Mr. Boulos says, "You know what? The bank account had less than $30,000 in it, and I got the account unfrozen by taking it to court and getting a judge to rule on it. I did this legally, and this is preposterous. Let's get to the bottom of who killed Mr. Moïse."
The thing that's so fascinating to me is that we now have, I think it's like 44 people, if not in custody, accused, and then other people in the United States who were also accused, and we really don't know who was behind that murder.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Whatever the politics of her husband, obviously the first lady had an extremely harrowing, painful, difficult experience here. Can you talk to us a little bit about what your experience was interviewing her, how she seemed, what her posture, her voice, that sort of thing was like?
Francis Robles: Oh, Melissa, it was such an interesting interview. I've been a journalist for over 30 years, without dating myself here. I have to say that it was one of the hardest I've ever done. There's a sense from the Haitian social media universe, that this was like a homicide investigation, that I'm going to go in there and interrogate her and be like, "Okay, well, you're looking this way. Well, how many guns did he have? What were you wearing?" You can't do that in a situation like that. You have this lady that's just dressed in her and morning clothes. She has this big brace on her arm. She talks very, very low. She was afraid to have a translator of mine present just because she didn't trust anyone. I had a translator tuning in on speakerphone.
If you can imagine that, sitting there next to each other with a phone on the table, and she's talking like this, very low. She was also with a large number of people. She had an entourage with her, which made the whole situation extremely tense. In addition to the fact that you have this person who is in mourning, who's injured, and then you have like 10 or 15 people watching, watching you if you say something stupid, or if you are maybe a little too pushy or rude. I'm a New Yorker, I'm pushy, I'm rude. I was nervous. I was like, oh no, at any moment, I'm going to say something, and this lady is going to take her arm brace and walk out of this room.
Melissa Harris-Perry: In this conversation where all of these emotions are running high, nonetheless, there is an undercurrent of courage, maybe even of resistance, at least that I've read that coming through. Particularly the first lady said her husband had a vision. The Haitian people will not let it die, and maybe even the possibility that she would run for president herself. Can you talk about how you saw the nature of her courage and resistance as well?
Francis Robles: I see it through the lens of a person who's in mourning. I don't know if I was in her situation if I would be hiding in a cabin in Montana, but you have to figure, in addition to being very, very sad, I think she's really angry. I think she feels like, "Wait a second, am I going to let these people get away with it? Not only, not get arrested, but also get what they wanted, which was to not have him in power?"
I think there's a part of her who feels like, "You know what, maybe somebody has to finish what he started, and maybe that's going to be me." She was very careful not to say for sure whether that was something that she had decided. We know that she has a number of surgeries still, that she has to undergo. In fact, she might even be going to the hospital this week. I wonder if that's going to stick. I just think what are the logistics of that. Security-wise, how is she going to be president? How would she be president of Haiti? How does she go to an event? How does she go to the shantytowns? How many security officers does she have to have? Whose guards her presidential home? I think that that's an enormous, enormous task, but it sounds like she's saying that she's not going to let them scare her out of it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's really helpful to hear you frame it that way, that it didn't sound as though this was a big power grab that she had definitely decided on, but rather that this is part of that process of grieving, of mourning, undoubtedly of shock, as she is still processing what it means to have had her. Again, whoever he is politically, he was her partner, and her husband for 25 years. Did she talk at all about other members of the family? I know that you write that by the time the assassins had entered their room, she believed that everyone else in the family must already be dead. That all of the security must already be dead because how else could these assassins have breached the private chamber? Yet we know of course that not only were the other members of the family not dead, but that in fact only she and her husband sustained these kinds of injuries. Did she talk about the family, about how others are doing in this moment?
Francis Robles: They had a pretty strict don't talk about the kids, don't ask them to speak policy for this interview, even though they were present, and they're not babies, they're not [unintelligible 00:08:58]. She said they're doing as well as you would think that somebody would be doing going through a night like that, with the dad that they had been talking to that whole day, and then all of a sudden he's gone.
The other thing that she mentioned, and she shared an interesting anecdote, that one of the reasons that she thought that everybody was dead was because she thought that she was dead. She didn't call it an out-of-body experience, but she said that she could hear the voices, the voices that were right there in the room, they sounded really far away, the distance. She thought that she must be far away. She's like, "Well, I'm laying here, dead, watching this from somewhere else," and then realized, "Wait a second. No, I'm not dead. I'm still alive," as she listened to these people rummaging through her house and through her room.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk about that rummaging. She says that they were looking for something. Can you tell us more?
Francis Robles: She doesn't know what it was. One thing that's important, she says that none of the people that were in the house-- She said she sensed about a dozen people. Nobody was speaking French and nobody was speaking Creole, but they were speaking Spanish, and they were not like Haitian people speaking Spanish, they were Spanish without accents, and they were on the phone, or at least one person was on the phone. They were speaking to each other and they were saying, she said, and this part she actually said in Spanish [Spanish language] that's not it, that's not it. That's not it.
Then she heard [Spanish language], that's it. She said, "They came looking for something and they found it." I said, "Well, was it?" She said, "I don't know." That it was found on a shelf where her husband kept his files. There's some degree of the things that she tells me that you have to wonder. I'm not saying that she's lying to me, but if she knows what it was, if she saw the killers, I don't know the security-wise, it's the wisest thing to tell The New York Times--
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's right.
Francis Robles: I saw the guy and this is what he looks like. Let me draw a picture of him for you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I know just what he was looking for, where he found it, and we're on the way. Yes, maybe not The New York Times. Yes.
Francis Robles: Right. Exactly. You save that for the police or for the FBI. Again, I'm not calling her a liar. I'm just saying if I were her and I knew the answer to those questions, I would not have answered that. She said, she doesn't know.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You mentioned the FBI just now. What is the FBI's role in this investigation? Maybe even more broadly, the role of the US government, in general, going forward in Haiti?
Francis Robles: Well, the one of the things that's really important in all of this is that several of the people who have been implicated and who are in custody are actually United States citizens. They live in South Florida. We know that last week, there was a number of search warrants that were executed on those people's homes. I know that the first lady was interviewed by the FBI herself. They have a sort of standard, "We're providing our assistance, and we will neither confirm nor deny," you don't have to confirm it or deny it.
You turn on the local news and there they were in these people's houses.
The big question here is, you have these people in South Florida who were having committee meetings about what to do if the government fell, what kind of interim government could be held. Those meetings are being characterized by the police as murder plotting meetings. If that's the case, then you have crimes that were committed in the United States, and then you're going to see the FBI's role probably increase.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Frances Robles is a National and Foreign Correspondent for The New York Times.
Frances, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Francis Robles: Thanks so much for having me, Melisa.
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