Haitian President Jovenel Moïse murdered in a “well coordinated” attack on his home
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was murdered in his home on Wednesday by a group of unknown gunmen, said Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph. Joseph said the security situation in the country was “under the control” of Haiti’s police and military.
Haiti has suffered from political instability for years and Moïse ruled by decree. Critics had accused the 53-year-old of governing like an autocrat.
“An unidentified group of people, some of whom spoke Spanish, attacked the private residence of the President of the Republic and mortally wounded him,” Joseph said in a statement on Wednesday. “The first lady was bullet wounded and necessary action is being taken.”
“The security situation in the country is controlled by the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Armed Forces,” said Joseph. “All measures are being taken to ensure the continuity of the state and to protect the nation. Democracy and republic will win.”
Haiti’s Embassy in Washington D.C. later released a statement on behalf of the government on Wednesday morning in little further detail, but said Moïse was killed in a “well-coordinated attack by a highly skilled and heavily armed group”.
The statement praised Moïse as “a true statesman … who is committed to promoting our country’s democratic transition and fighting corruption” and said he “died in defense of democracy”.
The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince released a security warning early Wednesday morning not mentioning the killing itself but citing an “ongoing security situation” in the country and saying that the embassy would restrict some staff to embassy premises and close the embassy to all services. The warning also warned people to avoid “unnecessary travel” in Haiti for the time being.
Speaking to MSNBC Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden had been informed of a “terrible attack” but said the US government was evaluating and “collecting information from this site.”
“We stand by and by their side to provide any help they need,” Psaki later told CNN.
The assassination will only further complicate the situation for a country already grappling with a worsening economic and political crisis, reported Pamela Falk of CBS News. In Haiti, where few have been vaccinated against the disease, COVID-19 infections remain high. Food and fuel prices are high due to inflation, and more than half of the population lives in poverty.
Last week, the UN Security Council, including the US, stressed “deep concern” about deteriorating political, security and humanitarian conditions and human rights violations in Haiti and said the country’s government had primary responsibility for managing the situation, Falk reported.
According to the Miami Herald, the gunmen stormed Moïse’s house in a mountain community in the capital, Port-au-Prince, claiming to be agents of the US drug authorities.
Videos seen by the Herald showed gunmen telling the people in Moïse’s house to “lay down their guns. This is DEA”. Haitian sources told the Miami newspaper that the attackers were heard speaking English and Spanish and that they were “mercenaries” rather than DEA agents.
Prime Minister Joseph condemned what he called a “hateful, inhuman and barbaric act”.
The nation of more than 11 million people had become increasingly unstable and angry under Moïse’s rule. Its economic, political and social hardships have worsened, with gang violence rising sharply in Port-au-Prince, the spiraling inflation rate and temporary food and fuel in a country where 60% of the population earn less than US $ 2 a day become close.
These problems arise while Haiti is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.
Moïse had ruled by decree for more than two years after the country failed to hold elections, which led to the dissolution of parliament. Opposition leaders have accused him of attempting to increase his power, including approving a decree that limits the powers of a court reviewing government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency reporting only to the president.
In recent months, opposition leaders have called for his resignation, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021 to serve during a year-long hiatus.
Haiti should hold parliamentary elections later this year.