MOST OF THE Americans arrived in Port-au-Prince from the U.S. by private jet early on the morning of February 16. They’d packed the eight-passenger charter plane with a stockpile of semiautomatic rifles, handguns, Kevlar bulletproof vests, and knives. Most had been paid already: $10,000 each up front, with another $20,000 promised to each man after they finished the job.
A trio of politically connected Haitians greeted the Americans when their plane landed around 5 a.m. An aide to embattled Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and two other regime-friendly Haitians whisked them through the country’s biggest airport, avoiding customs and immigration agents, who had not yet reported for work.
The American team included two former Navy SEALs, a former Blackwater-trained contractor, and two Serbian mercenaries who lived in the U.S. Their leader, a 52-year-old former Marine C-130 pilot named Kent Kroeker, had told his men that this secret operation had been requested and approved by Moïse himself. The Haitian president’s emissaries had told Kroeker that the mission would involve escorting the presidential aide, Fritz Jean-Louis, to the Haitian central bank, where he’d electronically transfer $80 million from a government oil fund to a second account controlled solely by the president. In the process, the Haitians told the Americans, they’d be preserving democracy in Haiti.
It was too good a deal for the band of semi-employed military veterans and security contractors to turn down.
But a day after the Americans landed in Haiti, they would find themselves in jail and at the center of a political uproar, with Haitians asking what a group of foreign mercenaries was doing at the central bank and who they were working for. Within three days, Kroeker and his team would be released and sent back to the U.S., having somehow managed to escape criminal charges in Haiti.
Many details of the operation remain murky, but based on interviews with Haitian law enforcement and government officials, as well as a person with direct knowledge of the plan, a picture of the clumsy effort emerges. What at first resembled a comedic plot about a group of ex-soldiers looking for a quick and easy mercenary score was in fact a poorly executed but serious effort by Moïse to consolidate his political power with American muscle.
Neither Moïse nor the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to requests for comment.
None of the Americans spoke directly with Moïse or received official paperwork from the Haitian government authorizing them to undertake the mission, according to the person with direct knowledge of the operation. Yet Jean-Louis and the plot’s other key organizer, Josué Leconte, a Haitian-American from Brooklyn and close friend of Moïse, do not appear to have been rogue operators.
The Americans arrived at a tumultuous political and economic moment in a country with a history of unrest. Since last July, when Moïse tried to raise fuel prices by as much as 50 percent, intermittent protests have paralyzed Haiti. Continue reading