Haiti President assassinated at his home, wife wounded

Jovenel Moise, President of Haiti, addresses the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in 2018. Picture: Timothy A. Clary
Haiti President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and his wife wounded early Wednesday in an attack at their home, the interim prime minister announced.

It’s an act that risks further destabilizing the Caribbean nation beset by gang violence and political volatility.

Claude Joseph said he was now in charge of the country and urged the public to remain calm, while insisting the police and army would ensure the population’s safety.

The capital Port-au-prince as quiet on Wednesday morning with no extra security forces on patrol, witnesses reported.

“The president was assassinated at his home by foreigners who spoke English and Spanish,” Joseph said of the assault that took place around 1:00 am local time and left the president’s wife Martine hospitalized.

Moise had ruled Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, by decree, after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed in the wake of disputes, including on when his own term ends.

In addition to the political crisis, kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Haiti also faces chronic poverty and recurrent natural disasters.

The president faced steep opposition from swathes of the population that deemed his mandate illegitimate, and he churned through a series of seven prime ministers in four year.

Most recently, Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week after only three months in the post.

In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti was due to have a constitutional referendum in September after it was twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World reacts

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was “shocked” by the assassination and warned it could further destabilise the Caribbean nation.

“This crime poses a risk of instability and a spiral of violence. The perpetrators of this assassination must be found and brought to justice,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.

The United States condemned the killing as “horrific” and said it was ready to assist in any investigation.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “we will be helpful in any way to the people of Haiti, to the government of Haiti,” adding that President Joe Biden would be briefed on the incident shortly.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was shocked at the “abhorrent” assassination.

The Dominican Republic shuttered its border with Haiti after the assassination of the neighboring country’s president.

The countries share a 380-kilometer border on the island of Hispaniola, and defense ministry spokesman Ceinett Sanchez told AFP its closure would be “immediate.”

Dominican President Luis Abinader condemned the killing, saying on Twitter the crime “undermines the democratic order in Haiti and the region.”

He offered condolences to the family of Moise and his wife Martine.

Local media said Abinader had summoned military leaders to analyze the situation on the island.

‘Multiple crises’

Moise, a 53-year-old former entrepreneur who set up a string of businesses in the north of the country, where he hails from, burst on to the political stage in 2017 with a message of re-building the impoverished nation.

He campaigned on populist pledges, as all candidates in Haiti do, but he kept up the rhetoric even after he was elected in February 2017.

The date of his election became the source of a political standoff. Moise maintained that his term of office ran until February 7, 2022, but others claimed it ended on February 7, 2021.

The disagreement stems from the fact that Moise was elected in a vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected a year later.

Without a parliament, the country fell further into crisis in 2020, and led to Moise governing by decree, fuelling growing mistrust of him.

The constitution currently in force was written in 1987 after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and declares that “any popular consultation aimed at modifying the Constitution by referendum is formally prohibited.”

The United Nations Security Council, the United States and Europe had called for free and transparent legislative and presidential elections to be held by the end of this year.

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