The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated this Wednesday at his residence. In the assault his wife, the first lady Martine Moïse, who is hospitalized, was injured. Following the attack, Prime Minister Claude Joseph has declared a state of siege in the country, which allows the armed forces to take control of security in the territory and establish military courts. The Port-au-Prince airport has been closed and scheduled flights to the capital have been canceled or diverted. The Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, has militarized its border and ordered the closure of all the crossings that connect its country with its neighbor. The assassination has shaken the region and some countries, such as Colombia, have requested the intervention of the Organization of American States (OAS) to safeguard democracy in the country, immersed in a spiral of violence.
The assassination of the president
A group of armed men attacked the residence of Jovenel Moïse in the Pelerin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday and assassinated the 52-year-old president. The subjects have not been identified, but “spoke in Spanish and English,” according to Prime Minister Claude Joseph. The attack occurred at one in the morning, local time when Moïse, his wife and one of their children were inside the house. The first lady has been wounded by a gunshot wound and is receiving medical attention at a hospital in the capital. The president’s son witnessed the attack but was unharmed. Joseph has assured that the attackers will be brought to justice.
A threatened president
In an interview with EL PAÍS in February, Moïse assured that he had been threatened and had been secluded for months in his residence in Port-au-Prince. The president then affirmed that there was a coup in progress organized by a group of families and businessmen “who control the main resources of the country, who have always installed and removed presidents and who use the streets to create destabilization.” Without citing them, Moïse pointed to the Vorbe, one of the most powerful families, owners of electricity in the country. “A small group of oligarchs are behind the coup and want to take over the country,” said the president. On February 7, 23 people were arrested on charges of conspiring and attempting to assassinate Moïse. The opposition branded the president a “dictator” and of remaining in power ruling by decree for the last year.
Recently, the president had also made enemies among the powerful armed gangs that control the slums of Port-au-Prince. Violence between groups has intensified since the beginning of June, especially due to the action of G9 an Fanmi e Alye, a federation of gangs that until recently was considered in the orbit of the Government and that in recent weeks declared war on Moïse.
State of siege and succession
The assassination exacerbates the uncertain situation in the country. After an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Head of Government, Claude Joseph, has announced the state of siege in Haiti. This measure places the Armed Forces as the maximum guarantors of security and implies the establishment of military courts. “I ask all the living forces of the nation to accompany us in battle, to accompany us in the continuity of the State,” said Joseph. Still, the prime minister has reiterated that the country is “under control” and has asked the population to remain calm. At the moment, the streets of Port-au-Prince are quiet, practically empty, and the police control access to the Pelerin neighborhood, where Moise’s residence is located, according to the agency Efe.
The succession after the murder of Moïse is not clear since there are currently two prime ministers in the country: Claude Joseph, who has held the position on an interim basis since April, and Ariel Henry, appointed by Moïse this Monday, but who has not yet he had officially assumed the post. The 1987 Constitution establishes that in the event of the death of the president, the Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, exercises executive power until the election of a new ruler. The presidential and legislative elections, in which Moïse could not be a candidate, are called for next September 26.
Spiral of violence
The assassination of the president is the latest milestone for a country destabilized by a deep crisis. In a year marked by political instability, the pandemic and the scourge of hurricanes, the wave of violence has worsened among a population that has more weapons than ever, according to the experts consulted by this newspaper. Recently Moïse had to ask for international support to control the situation.
A report from Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH) warns that in Haiti there is “a hegemony of crime.” In June alone, more than 150 people were killed – including 30 policemen – and another 200 were kidnapped in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. “The country is besieged by armed gangs that spread terror, assassinations, kidnappings, rapes (…) Port-au-Prince is besieged in the south, north and east,” the organization points out in a document released on Tuesday. More than 17,000 people have had to be displaced since the beginning of June due to clashes in neighborhoods such as Martissant and Delmas, at the southern entrance to the capital.
The origin of the last political crisis
The origin of the last political conflict in Haiti, a Caribbean country of 11.2 million inhabitants, is in the convulsive elections of 2015. Michel Martelly ended his term, but the chaotic elections called forced the appointment of an interim president of another party, until the electoral authority recognized Moïse’s victory a year later. “My mandate began on February 7, 2017 and ends on February 7, 2022. I will hand over power to its owner, who is the people of Haiti,” declared Moïses, who pointed out that the elections were the only way for his succession. “And I will not participate in those elections,” he declared in that same interview.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.