Haitian Americans and immigrants are expressing alarm following the shocking midnight assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on his wife, first lady Martine Moïse at his home near Port-au-Prince.
According to reports, the president was assassinated at his private residence at around 1am in an assault by unknown gunmen dressed commando-style who spoke English and Spanish; had nine new Nissan pickup trucks; falsely identified themselves as agents of the DEA; and appeared to know the layout of the home.
First lady Martine Moïse, who survived the attack was said to be stable but in critical condition and at press, had been flown to Miami for treatment.
“People are being stressed with economic uncertainty, COVID and now this,” said a local Los Angeles man of Haitian descent who for more than two decades has been doing mission work in Haiti at a clinic he helped to build from the ground up.
“There’s so much political unrest,” he continued. “I’m told they have gangs controlling the roads so it’s not safe and if you’re a foreigner you’re subject to kidnapping.
“Our people are located in the more remote areas, but in terms of where the urban centers like Port-au-Prince are, there is a lot of concern about what will happen to people. It’s a very bleak outlook.”
“I’m just worried for my family,” said another Haitian immigrant. “I’m unable to reach them and to see what’s happening and to know that it’s a dangerous situation you can do nothing about is difficult. You just don’t know what’s next.”
“We condemn this heinous act,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
Haiti’s Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced the news—while stating that he was now in charge of the country and urged citizens to remain calm. Moise’s assassination has sparked concern for the stabilization of the country already experiencing political unrest. Earlier this year, Haitian security forces arrested nearly two dozen people in a suspected coup attempt.
Due to the ongoing security situation, the U.S. Embassy was closed and flights in and out of Haiti’s main airport in the capital Port-au-Prince were cancelled or delayed until further notice. U.S. personnel were urged to stay at home.
Moise’s death marks a horrific end to a presidency marked by controversy, bloody protests against his rule, chronic poverty, accusations of corruption and dictatorial governance, escalating gang violence and an alarming surge in murders and kidnappings. Just last month, the U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” warning to U.S. citizens for Haiti because of risk of kidnapping, crime and civil unrest.
Moise first ran for president in 2015, but following accusations of widespread fraud, his victory was annulled. New elections were delayed for more than one year and the 53-year old former entrepreneur subsequently took office in February 2017, but a dispute ensued over whether or not his term expired in 2021 or 2022 and if his stay in office beyond 2021 was even legal, leading to calls for him to step down.
For the widely unpopular president to postpone elections in the wake of widespread protests only fueled mistrust and contributed to the political turmoil that was engulfing the nation, prompting the UN Security Council, the U.S. and Europe to call for free and transparent legislative and presidential elections to be held by the end of this year.
“I extend my thoughts and prayers to the people of Haiti. The unfortunate assassination of Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, further exacerbates the ongoing political and constitutional crisis plaguing the country,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “Jovenel Moïse had been ruling Haiti by decree, and as of late, I have been very concerned about the increase in violence across the country under his rule. I am hopeful that the United States can be helpful during this critical time by cooperating with the people of Haiti to manage this crisis and assisting them as they try to move forward and establish a just, peaceful, and democratic government.”
The United Nations Security Council is moving to meet quickly to address the assassination in what is being characterized as “a critical moment” in the nation, ranked as the poorest country in the Americas. Joseph has called on the “international community to launch an investigation into the assassination”.
Ironically, while Joseph—who took office in April as Interim Prime Minister—has declared himself to be the acting president, Moise had just days ago announced the appointment of a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was scheduled to be sworn in today. Given that no official swearing in took place, it is uncertain who will take over and even greater fears that the fight to replace Moise will cast the nation deeper into crisis.
Already there are reports of armed groups calling for revolution against the system in Haiti.