Six heavily armed men attacked the Pétionville home of Joel Edouard “Pacha” Vorbe in the early morning hours of Mar. 30, 2020. Vorbe is a member of the Executive Committee of the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas), the party founded by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The assailants forcibly entered his house at Laboule 12 at about 3 a.m., searching it for Vorbe, who is a wheel-chair-bound quadriplegic. The gunmen put the house guards and servants on the ground, firing weapons close to their heads. They then shot and killed the guard dogs, demanding the whereabouts of Vorbe and his car. On leaving, they stole a pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun, saying they had two bullets left with which to kill Vorbe.
The attack comes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is now racing through Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. As of Apr. 7, some 25 people have tested positive in Haiti, and a 55-year-old man has died from the virus. The actual extent of coronavirus infection is believed to be much higher but is unverified due to lack of testing. (In the DR, 1,956 have tested positive, with 98 deaths.)
The attack also follows months of military and paramilitary violence and terror against political figures and popular neighborhoods seen as opposed to the one-man rule of Haiti’s embattled President Jovenel Moïse, who dissolved Parliament on Jan. 13 after not holding elections the year before. An unprecedented wave of kidnappings in the past three months has also traumatized the nation.
The new de facto Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe articulated what would be his government’s approach during his unratified (and hence illegal) Mar. 11 inauguration: “Gold for my friends, lead for our enemies, and billy-clubs for the undecided.”
Pacha Vorbe, a businessman and advocate for the rights of the disabled, was already the tragic victim of a home invasion. On Dec. 6, 2002, during an organized wave of violence aimed at destabilizing Aristide’s second government, two gunmen murdered Vorbe’s father-in-law, Gérald Khawly, 62, at the Vorbe family compound in the Bas-Peu-de-Chose neighborhood of downtown Port-au-Prince. As Pacha tried to fight off the assailants, they shot him, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
“I am shocked and appalled to learn of the attempted assassination of Joel Edouard ‘Pacha’ Vorbe in Haiti,” wrote U.S. representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) in a Mar. 30 press release. “It is deeply disturbing that would-be assassins would use the cover of the global coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to threaten the life of this widely respected community leader… As a longtime friend of Haiti, I have been deeply concerned about the escalation in politically motivated violence over the past two years… I warned last April  that impunity for the [November 2018] Lasalin massacre would encourage more violence, and unfortunately, I was right…. Today’s attempted assassination of Pacha Vorbe reminds us that impunity for brutality against innocent civilians enables and perpetuates politically motivated violence.”
The Lavalas Family Political Organization’s Executive Committee also put out a note stating that it “stands in solidarity with Pacha and all the people who have been the victims of the insecurity in the country.”
On Dec. 6, 2019, Pacha Vorbe represented the Lavalas Family during a meeting which Haitian opposition groups held with David Hale, the U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs. The compromise Hale sought was never achieved.
“The Lavalas Family’s position has not changed,” Vorbe said after the meeting. “We continue to demand the resignation of Jovenel Moïse. We are not in favor of a cosmetic solution. We need a definitive solution that could create a climate of stability to go to free, fair, credible and participatory elections in two or three years. We have made it clear to Mr. Hale that Jovenel Moïse must resign.”