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Key suspect in Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s murder remains in legal limbo in Jamaica

·4 min read

The Haitian government is working to extradite a former Colombian military officer who is a key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse from Jamaica to Haiti, where 18 former soldiers are currently jailed in connection with the killing.

Mario Palacios Palacios was arrested in Kingston earlier this month after surrendering. The arrest had remained secret until multiple Haitian and Jamaica sources, speaking to the Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that he had been taken into custody.

“We are working on getting him transferred to Haiti,” Haiti Foreign Minister Claude Joseph said as he left Italy Wednesday, where he says he discussed the extradition with Jamaica Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith and Colombia Vice President Marta Lucia Ramírez. Ramírez is also the South American nation’s foreign minister.

There was chatter in Haiti that Palacios might be extradited to the U.S., which has been working with Haitian authorities to bring the assassins to justice. But because Palacios is not wanted on charges of committing a crime in the U.S. or Jamaica, where he’s being held on an immigration violation, his fate remained uncertain.

The same is true for Colombia.

“He doesn’t have any criminal notice in Colombia,” Defense Minister Diego Molano Aponte told the McClatchy Washington Bureau and Miami Herald.

Molano said Colombian Foreign Minister Ramírez is checking to see what laws, if any, apply to Palacios. “Of course the position of the government of Colombia is to cooperate with the Haitian authorities,” he said.

According to information gathered with Interpol, Molano said, the ex-Colombian military members “were involved in the full homicide process; they knew the reason they were hired, and all of them were involved until a certain point.”

It is unclear how long Palacios had been in Jamaica and why he chose the country when he became a fugitive from Haitian police after the July 7 slaying, in which former first lady Martine Moïse was seriously injured. In an interview from hiding, Palacios told the Colombian publication Semana that he would rather throw himself into the sea than give himself up to Haitian justice “because there are no guarantees of anything.”

“Here the police are all crooked. There is nothing here. This is no man’s land,” he said.

The investigation into Moïse’s middle-of-the-night slaying has been stymied by allegations of political interference and Haitian police handling of the evidence. The Colombians in custody have accused Haitian police of using force and pressure to get them to confess their roles, and the government of Colombia has written to Haiti officials expressing concerns about the treatment of its nationals and respect for human rights.

In all, 44 suspects have been arrested, including three Haitian Americans who lived in South Florida and members of the president’s security detail. An investigative judge is currently assigned to the case and is carrying out questioning similar to a grand jury’s work in the U.S.

On the same day that Palacios’ arrest was made public, Haiti’s police director, Léon Charles, resigned. His replacement, Frantz Elbé, who was named the same day, is now facing questions about his own human rights record while in the force. Shortly after being named, Elbé sought to replace the head of the investigative police unit, who had been leading the investigation and evidence-gathering in the case.

Adding to the challenges is the current state of affairs in the battered country, where the interim prime minister and justice minister both face calls to resign amid a cascade of crises. There’s an upsurge in gang violence, which led to the kidnapping of 16 American missionaries and a Canadian. A week later they are still being held along with their five children.

Meanwhile, a worsening fuel crisis is threatening to shut down hospitals because gangs have been preventing trucks from transporting fuel to pumps.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration would be helping the Haiti National Police secure transportation corridors to allow for fuel deliveries.

“There are parts of Haiti where it is hard to get to. That’s why — because of threats of crime on the ground and challenging circumstances on the ground. So these transportation corridors are meant to help enable these fuel deliveries, to get fuel out to communities that need it,” she said.

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