Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, 53, was shot dead on Wednesday by gunmen who stormed his residence at dawn in the Pelerin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph confirmed.
In the attack, which occurred around 1:00 am (local time in Haiti), the first lady, Martine Moïse, was shot and taken to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Florida, to receive medical attention in Miami.
The interim prime minister, who described the president’s death as “a hateful, inhuman and barbarous act”He affirmed that the “security of the country is under control” and that “all measures have been taken to guarantee the continuity of the State and protect the Nation.”
Joseph declared a state of siege and asked the population to remain calm. Flights from the capital’s Port-au-Prince International Airport were canceled except for diplomats and humanitarian aid.
The attackers said they belonged to the Drug Administration and Control (DEA, for its acronym in English), as seen in videos taken by witnesses near the president’s house.
In one of these recordings, the newspaper reported Miami Herald, a man is heard speaking in English with an American accent. “Operation DEA. Everybody stay where you are. Operation DEA. Everyone back, nobody move,” he said through a megaphone.
However, government sources consulted by the aforementioned newspaper assured that the attackers were not with the DEA, but that they were mercenaries.
The streets in the capital of the poorest country on the American continent, normally full of bustle, woke up practically empty, although there was some looting.
“Democracy and the Republic will triumph,” Joseph said.
The assassination deepens the political crisis in Haiti and contributes to a power vacuum.
Joseph has not been ratified as prime minister by the country’s parliament and had decided to resign in April this year. The new prime minister that Moïse had appointed this week, Ariel Henry, still not sworn in. There is not even a president of the Supreme Court, as René Sylvestre, who held this position, died of COVID-19 last week.
In this context of political uncertainty, some members of the opposition have considered the possibility that Joseph Lambert, the president of the Senate (which is made up of 10 members), is the new interim president.
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It also takes place two months before the presidential and legislative elections called for next September 26, elections in which Moïse could not be a candidate.
The president had been in power since 2017 and ruled by decree for more than two years after the country did not hold elections in 2018 and the opposition demanded his resignation in recent months.
Moïse had called a referendum on the same day as the elections to approve a new Constitution, a project that did not have the support of the opposition or the international community.
The president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, who condemned the attack, announced the closure of the common border with Haiti and called an emergency meeting with the country’s high command, according to different media.
France denounced the “cowardly murder” of Moïse, a condemnation joined by Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Cuba.
The White House said that it was a “horrible” and “tragic” act and announced that the president, Joe Biden, would be informed throughout the day about the situation in Haiti, according to his spokesperson Jen Psaki in statements to our sister network MSNBC.
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Haiti has been going through a strong political crisis since mid-2018 and experienced its most serious moment on February 7, the date on which Moïse denounced that the opposition was plotting a coup with the support of judges.
At the same time, Haiti is going through a deep security crisis, which has been aggravated especially since the beginning of June by territorial struggles between armed gangs vying for control of the poorest neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.
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Haiti’s economic, political and social problems have recently deepened with gang violence in the capital, inflation, and food and fuel shortages in a country where 60% of the population earn less than two dollars a day. These problems come as the country is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.
Moïse was born in Trou du Nord, Northeast department of Haiti, on June 26, 1968. Son of a mechanic and farmer and a seamstress, in 1974 he moved with his family to the capital of the country, where he studied secondary school at the high school. Toussaint and in the cultural center of the Canado Haïtien school, run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
He studied Educational Sciences at the University of Quisqueya and in 1996 he moved to Port-de-Paix, capital of the department of Nordoeste, where he created the company Jomar Auto Parts and, shortly after, he exploited a 10-hectare farm dedicated to the cultivation of the banana.
After undertaking several business projects, on September 15, 2015 he launched his candidacy for the presidential elections of that year by the ruling Haitian Party Tet Kale (PHTK).
In the first round of the presidential elections in October 2015, Moïse was the most voted candidate, with 32.76% of the votes, and went on to the second round of December together with Jude Celestin, from the Alternative League for Progress and Emancipation Haitian (LAPEH), who obtained 25.29%. But, there were complaints of massive fraud in his favor that forced the electoral postponement to review the results.
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After the results were invalidated, he won the presidential election in the first round in November 2016, with 55.60% of the votes, and relieved interim Jocelerme Privert as head of the country.
Moïse had been married since 1996 to Marie Martine Etienne Joseph, a former fellow student.
With information from EFE and AP.