Prime Minister Ariel Henry says he believes that none of the more than 40 people detained in the killing of President Jovenel Moïse have the capacity to organize the complex plot.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The mastermind behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti is most likely still at large, the country’s caretaker leader says. He remains baffled by the motive, he says, and he doubts that the conspirators accused of plotting the killing had the ability to pull it off on their own.
“I think there were a lot of people involved; there were people with access to a lot of money,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said in an interview on Tuesday at his residence in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “The people they have accused up until now, I don’t see that they have the capacity, the web, to do it.”
More than 40 people have been detained after Mr. Moïse was shot 12 times and his wife seriously injured on July 7 by a group of assailants who stormed into their bedroom. The police and the prosecutor’s office continue to issue warrants for new suspects on a near daily basis. Some of the detainees have been charged, but none have been brought to court.
Few in Haiti believe the authorities have yet closed in on the people who organized and financed the complex plot. It appears to have been planned for months in Florida and Haiti and involved flying in two dozen Colombian ex-commandos to the country.
Although the president had many enemies, Mr. Henry, who was appointed by Mr. Moïse shortly before his death, said he remained baffled by the crime’s ultimate motive.
“Maybe I’m at risk, too, from the people who killed him,” Mr. Henry said. “Could they do it again? I don’t know.”
The opposition had said that Mr. Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. But Mr. Moïse had clung to power, ruling by decree. He argued that an interim government had occupied the first year of his term. Protesters took to the streets of Haiti demanding his removal.
But Mr. Moïse had said he would not seek another term in the general elections scheduled for Sept. 26 and had been expected to step down seven months before the killing.
Claude Joseph, then the prime minister, took control of Haiti’s government immediately after the assassination, but pressure from foreign powers led to an agreement to let Mr. Henry, 71, take office on July 21.
On Monday, Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor began issuing the first charges in the assassination investigation. The arrested suspects — who include Mr. Moïse’s security chiefs, the Colombian ex-commandos and Haitian businessmen — have been moved to a jail in preparation for trial. But despite some progress, the investigation has been mired from the start in irregularities and attempts at subversion.
At least three judicial officials who compiled evidence and conducted initial interviews with key suspects are now in hiding after receiving numerous death threats.
Mr. Henry said his main goal now was to hold free and fair elections to stabilize the country. He said he was in talks with political parties and civil leaders to appoint a new electoral board and draft a new Constitution that will be presented to voters for approval.
He promised to improve Haiti’s dire security crisis before the vote; swaths of the capital remain in the control of the gangs. He also ruled out requesting troop assistance in preparation for the vote from allies, including the United States, saying that the task would be handed by the national police.
Mr. Henry said he would not run for office in the elections. Despite the challenges of guiding the country through a political and security crisis, he said, he continues to practice his main profession, as a neurosurgeon. He will perform his next surgery on Thursday.
“My mission is to set an environment for elections with a large participation,” he said, adding that he hoped the vote would help to break Haiti’s chronic political instability. “If we can have one, two democratic transfers of power, Haiti will be fine.”
But, raising a note of uncertainty, the caretaker prime minister said Haiti’s security and political challenges made the expected election date, Sept. 26, unlikely. He declined to provide a new time frame.
His ambivalence on keeping the election date has been criticized by some Haitian politicians, who say the country needs a road map to a new government to avoid mass unrest in the aftermath of Mr. Moïse’s murder.
“If they don’t hold the elections before 2022, this country will explode,” said Mathias Pierre, Mr. Moïse’s former minister of elections, who had organized this year’s vote until the president’s death. “It’s a volcano burning inside.”
Richard Miguel contributed reporting.
The government has imposed lockdowns and is testing and tracing aggressively to fight a new outbreak. Experts say it is time for the country to rethink its approach to the virus.
In the battle against the coronavirus, few places seemed as confident of victory as China.
The country of 1.4 billion people had eradicated the virus so quickly that it was one of the first in the world to open up in spring last year. People removed their masks and gathered for pool parties. In recent months, the government has contended with sporadic outbreaks in various provinces, but stamped them out swiftly by mobilizing thousands of people to test and trace infections, as well as locking down communities.
That model is now looking increasingly fragile.
China is facing its biggest challenge since the virus first erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year: the highly transmissible Delta variant that is rapidly spreading throughout the country. Chinese officials have acknowledged that curbing this outbreak will be much harder than the others, owing to the fast and asymptomatic spread of the variant.
While the number of cases are still relatively low compared to the United States and elsewhere, these new outbreaks — happening in cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan, Yangzhou and Zhangjiajie — are showcasing the limitations of China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid. They may also undermine the ruling Communist Party’s argument that its authoritarian style has been an unquestionable success in the pandemic.
Although the government had to stamp out a Delta flare-up in June in Guangdong Province, authorities this time are dealing with a much larger spread. Since the current Delta outbreak started on July 21, the number of cases has risen to 483, more than the sum total of infections from the first five months of the year. By Tuesday afternoon, the virus had spread to 15 of the 31 provinces and autonomous regions in China.
“Once it reaches so many provinces, it’s very hard to mitigate,” said Chen Xi, an associate professor of public health at Yale University. “I think this would be surprising and shocking to the rest of the world. Such a powerful government has been breached by Delta. This will be a very important lesson — we cannot let our guard down.”
Last week, Sun Chunlan, a vice premier of China, blamed “ideological laxity” for the Delta outbreaks and urged officials to step up their prevention efforts. “We cannot relax for a moment,” Ms. Sun said.
Some public health experts in the country say it is time for China to rethink its Covid strategy. In a recent essay, Zhang Wenhong, who advises the Chinese government on dealing with Covid-19, floated the idea of following a model similar to that of Israel and Britain, in which vaccination rates are high and people are willing to live with infections.
For now, China has stuck to the same strict playbook. Across the country, the government has instructed people not to travel unless necessary. In the cities of Zhangjiajie and Zhuzhou, 5.4 million people have been barred from leaving their homes. Roughly 13 million residents in the city of Zhengzhou, the site of deadly floods in July, had to stand in line for virus testing starting last weekend.
In Nanjing, where the recent Delta cases first appeared, millions of residents have had to participate in four rounds of testing.
“It’s just torturing the masses,” said Jiang Ruoling, a resident in Nanjing, who has been tested four times in the last three weeks. Ms. Jiang, who works in real estate, said she understood the need for testing, but was still critical of officials for failing to control the latest outbreak. “The leaders are actually wasting resources and everyone’s time,” she said.
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said China’s “containment-based” strategy would not work in the long run, particularly as new variants continue to emerge. “It will become extremely costly to sustain such an approach,” he said.
And yet China appears unwilling to take any chances. In Wuhan, the authorities on Tuesday started testing all 12 million residents after only three cases of the Delta variant were discovered. The cities of Sanmenxia and Zhuhai have also begun mass testing. In Beijing, where there are five infections, train service from 23 cities has been canceled.
Jennifer Huang Bouey, a senior China policy expert and an epidemiologist at the RAND Corporation, said that even with strict controls, it may not be realistic for officials in China to get these latest cases down to zero. “I think they may have to prepare people for a higher tolerance of Covid,” Dr. Huang said.
Part of the challenge for Beijing is that the Chinese-made vaccines being used to immunize the country are not as effective against the Delta variant as other shots. The government says it has already administered about 1.69 billion doses. Health officials are now considering giving booster shots to people with compromised immune systems as well as older citizens.
Zhong Nanshan, a top epidemiologist, said China’s vaccines are 100 percent protective against severe disease caused by Delta, and 63.2 percent effective against asymptomatic cases. He said he was confident that the latest outbreak would be controlled in about 10 to 14 days, during which officials hope to carry out extensive contact tracing in Nanjing and several other cities in Jiangsu Province.
The current Delta cases have been linked to a flight from Moscow that landed in Nanjing on July 10. Seven passengers on the flight were infected with the variant. On July 20, nine airport cleaners tested positive. Their infections spread quickly among people who entered the airport, a major transportation hub.
A mother and daughter and a 12-year-old girl who flew to Zhangjiajie after transiting for two hours in the Nanjing airport have all tested positive. Three other tourists who traveled to Zhangjiajie have been linked to an outbreak in the central city of Changde, after they all took a river cruise. About 27 infections in at least six places have been linked to the boat ride.
Cases have also spread in Yangzhou among “chess and card” rooms — poorly ventilated spaces where many older patrons gather to play mahjong, chess and cards. Local officials are offering rewards of several thousand renminbi to whistle-blowers who find and report on people who have been in these rooms.
“The situation has not yet bottomed out,” Wu Zhenglong, the governor of Jiangsu Province, said at a news conference on Sunday. “The prevention and control situation is severe and complicated.”
Han Xiaoyi, a 23-year-old resident in Nanjing, said she was furious at the way the government had initially handled the Delta outbreak in her city. Officials have allowed people to continue going to work in crowded subways and buses, she said.
Ms. Han, who works in sales, has had to take time off to stand in line for hours to get tested four times in recent days. “When it started, I felt really depressed because at first, it felt like the pandemic was far away from me,” she said. “Then suddenly, it felt like it was back in my midst.”