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What Haiti looks like a year after its president was assassinated

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last July 7, gunmen burst into the bedroom of Haiti's president, killing him and unleashing a chaotic year in the Caribbean nation. Despite having arrested more than 40 people in the case, officials in Haiti are no closer to determining who was responsible. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Creole).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A lone shoe shiner rings a small bell as he walks past small souvenir stands near downtown Port au Prince's Champs de Mars plaza.

ANTOINE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Antoine sells bracelets and leather sandals to support his three children. He doesn't want to give his last name. He says it's too risky. He's skeptical Haitians will ever know why President Jovenel Moise was killed.

ANTOINE: (Through interpreter) For me in Haiti, the word justice doesn't exist in my vocabulary. I don't think he will ever find justice. I don't know any family who has found justice for their dead. It's very difficult.

KAHN: Difficult is an understatement. Gangs, which were already powerful before the assassination, have increased their control. As many as 150 people have been killed and thousands displaced in recent months. One gang has even taken control of the Palace of Justice.

PIERRE ESPERANCE: What we have in Haiti today - we have impunity. We don't have a rule of law.

KAHN: Pierre Esperance, a longtime human rights advocate, says despite the initial arrests, including 18 former Colombian soldiers and several Haitian Americans, no charges have been brought. And he says judges in the case - five so far - aren't given the independence to do their job. Four stepped down due to harassment and threats.

ESPERANCE: It will be very difficult for them to conduct independent investigation because of the current government who don't want justice for Jovenel Moise.

KAHN: The current acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, has been implicated in the crime after phone records show he spoke to a key suspect before and after the murder. Henry denies any wrongdoing. He didn't respond to NPR's request for comment. Many in Haiti are hoping a U.S. investigation will get to the bottom of the assassination, part of which was caught on tape by a neighbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is a DEA operation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This is a DEA operation.

KAHN: U.S. agencies denied any involvement, although several suspects have been identified as past DEA informants. Three men are awaiting trial in the U.S., including Mario Palacios, one of the Colombian soldiers. His Miami lawyer, Alfredo Izaguirre, says Palacios was a pawn.

ALFREDO IZAGUIRRE: He didn't sign up for this. And other people higher up in the country use him and these other soldiers as sheep to further their own benefit.

KAHN: Izaguirre wouldn't elaborate further. Adding to the mystery, the U.S. Justice Department has request to monitor for Palacios' trial so no classified information is made public, a move usually taken when the defendant has ties to a U.S. intelligence agency.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: Meanwhile, Port au Prince taxi driver Alfred Sylvestre says justice for Moise is far off. He worries about what future Haiti has if its president is assassinated and no one is held accountable.

ALFRED SYLVESTRE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "If they really wanted to solve the crime, they could have," he says. He says hopefully the Americans can figure this out. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

SUMMERS: This story was reported with help from Andre Paltre in Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAHALIA SONG, "IN THE CLUB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.