PORT-AU-PRINCE (NYTIMES) - Haitian government officials said they had requested that the United States send in troops to protect Haiti's port, airport, gasoline reserves and other key infrastructure as the country has descended into turmoil in the wake of the brazen assassination of President Jovenel Moise early on Wednesday morning.
Fears have been growing that unrest in the streets and political turmoil after the attack could worsen what is already the country's worst crisis in years. Haiti is plagued by political intrigue, gang violence, a public health crisis driven by the pandemic and difficulties delivering essential international aid.
The Haitian minister of elections, Mathias Pierre, said the request was made because President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had promised to help Haiti.
A deputy State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, told a news briefing on Friday (July 9) that she could not confirm such a request.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, did say that the United States would be sending senior FBI and homeland security officials to Port-au-Prince "as soon as possible" to determine how best to assist Haiti.
Haitian authorities have said the assassination involved "foreign" forces, and the police have identified more than two dozen people involved in the assassination of the president, including 26 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent.
Pierre, the minister of elections, said the country had already been facing a large problem with "urban terrorists" who might use the opportunity to attack key infrastructure in the country while the police are focused on their manhunt.
"The group that financed the mercenaries want to create chaos in the country," he said. "Attacking the gas reserves and airport might be part of the plan."
Robenson Geffrard, a reporter for Le Nouvelliste, one of the country's leading newspapers, said a "sense of uncertainty" and the "shadow of violence" was looming over the capital, Port-au-Prince, raising fears that Friday was but a fleeting interlude before the situation spirals out of control again.
"In supermarkets and public markets, people are jostling" to stock up on basic goods such as rice and pasta, Geffrard said, and there are lines at stations selling propane gas, often used for cooking.
The country is enmeshed in a constitutional crisis, with a nonfunctioning Parliament and competing claims over leadership.
The Caribbean nation's interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, says he has taken command of the police and the army. But the president, days before his death, had appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry. Henry told a local newspaper after the assassination that he was the rightful prime minister.
The situation has been further complicated by the pandemic. While there are many legal uncertainties, in the past the country's top justice has been expected to fill any void in the political leadership. But that justice, Rene Sylvestre, died of Covid-19 in June.
Haiti, the only country in the Americas with no active Covid-19 inoculation campaign, has virtually no vaccine doses, and public health experts say that the coronavirus is far more widespread there than publicly reported.
With the prospect of greater turmoil looming, international observers worry that a growing humanitarian crisis could lead to the kind of exodus that has previously followed natural disasters, coups and other periods of deep instability.
The Pan American Health Organisation said in a statement that the crisis was "creating a perfect storm, because the population has lowered its guard, the infrastructure of Covid-19 beds has been reduced, the security situation could deteriorate even further and hurricane season has started."