Two U.S. citizens with ties to Florida have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
James Solages, 35, an American of Haitian descent, and Joseph Vincent, 55, another Haitian-American, were brought before journalists at a press conference late Thursday where authorities presented 17 suspects to the public, all of them seated on a floor in handcuffs.
“We are going to bring them to justice,” said Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police.
Apart from Solages and Vincent, whose alleged role in the assassination was not immediately clear, Charles said 15 of the suspects were from Colombia. Three other suspects were killed by police, and eight were on the lam.
Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections and interparty relations, released the names of Solages and Vincent late Thursday. Haitian authorities have not provided any information on what led them to arrest the two U.S. citizens.
The Le Nouvelliste newspaper cited authorities as saying the two Haitian-Americans identified themselves as translators for the suspected assassins.
“They said they were translators. The mission was to arrest President Jovenel Moïse, within the framework of a mandate from an investigating judge, and not to kill him,” Judge Clément Noël was quoted as telling the paper.
A Facebook account for a James Solages, which lists him as based in Florida, was taken down shortly after news of his detainment broke. A James Solages is also listed as a board president for the nonprofit FWA SA A JACMEL AVAN, INC., a charity aimed at providing “growth and development of underprivileged people in Haiti.” According to a LinkedIn page that appears to belong to the same user, Solages attended FCC Career College in Florida and has “Military Police” listed under the skills section.
A biography for Solages on the NGO website describes him as “a Building Engineer specialized in the field of infrastructure development” who was “the chief commander of body-guards for The Canadian embassy in Haiti.”
The Miami Herald quoted a government official confirming Solages’ past work at the Canadian Embassy late Thursday.
“We are aware of allegations implicating an individual who was briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard by a security company hired by Global Affairs Canada in 2010,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Victorie Dorisme, Solages’ aunt, told the Herald she was baffled by the allegations against him.
“I’ve never heard of him in any trouble like this,” she was quoted saying.
Details about Vince were harder to find. Haitian media reports said he was in the country for about six months, and authorities said he had previously lived in Miami.
The Daily Beast previously reported that a man with an American accent can be heard shouting: “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down,” in videos from the attack on the Haitian president. Multiple sources alleged to The Daily Beast that "foreign mercenaries" were behind the assassination.
According to Pierre, the detainees are being held at a Port-au-Prince police station and special agents are protecting the station against an angry mob.
Moïse, a businessman who took office in 2017, had ruled by decree after parliament was dissolved in January last year and opponents called on him to step down after the country failed to hold elections for more than a year.
In the wake of the assassination, it remains unclear who heads up the government as two men jockey to be prime minister. A neurologist, Ariel Henry, was set to replace acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph on Wednesday. After announcing Moise’s death, Joseph said he led the nation’s government. But in an interview with the Associated Press, Henry suggested otherwise. “It’s an exceptional situation. There is a bit of confusion,” he said. “I am the prime minister in office.”
Port-au-Prince airport has since been shut to commercial traffic and the Dominican Republic has closed border crossings.
President Joe Biden expressed his shock and condolences in a statement Wednesday.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on First Lady Martine Moïse of Haiti,” Biden said. “We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”