A group of unidentified individuals attacked the private residence of Haitian President Jovenel Moise overnight and shot him dead, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a statement released Wednesday.
At around 1am on Wednesday July 7, a group of unidentified people, including some speaking Spanish, attacked the private residence of the president, mortally wounding the head of state. The First Lady suffered bullet injuries and was in hospital, said a statement released by Joseph’s office.
Joseph said he was now in charge of the country.
The gunmen identified themselves as agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Haitian ambassador to the United States told Reuters, citing government video footage, but added he did not believe that was the case.
Condemning the “inhumane and barbaric act”, Joseph called for calm, saying the police and the country’s armed forces had taken control of the security situation.
“No way they were DEA agents,” Ambassador Bochhit Edmond told Reuters in an interview.
Edmond also said Haiti needed US security assistance and US officials had told him they were assessing the request.
With Haiti politically divided, and facing a growing humanitarian crisis and shortages of food, there are fears of widespread disorder.
The government of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday ordered the “immediate closure” of its border with Haiti after the assassination.
The border closure was effective immediately, the communications officer of the defence ministry, Ceinett Sanchez, told AFP.
Moise had been ruling 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, further reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.
Haiti also faces chronic poverty and recurrent natural disasters.
Hours after the shock news of the assassination broke, the US said it was assessing the “tragic attack” in Haiti.
“We’re still gathering information. We’re still assessing right now,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC, adding that US President Joe Biden will be briefed on the situation.
The US Embassy said in a statement it would be closed on Wednesday due to the “ongoing security situation”.
Biden said Wednesday he was “shocked” by the assassination of Haiti’s president and that “a lot” more information is needed.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the attack on First Lady Martine Moise,” Biden said in a statement.
“We condemn this heinous act and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moise’s recovery,” he added.
Speaking to reporters as he left for a trip to Chicago, Biden called the incident “very worrisome” and said “we need a lot more information”.
France on Wednesday also condemned the “cowardly assassination” of Haiti’s president, urging restraint and calm in the Caribbean nation in the wake of his killing.
“All light must be shed on this crime, which takes place in a political and security climate that has severely worsened,” said France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “I urge all those in Haitian politics to act with calm and restraint.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday expressed his shock on Twitter as news of the assassination spread, describing it as an “abhorrent act”.
I am shocked and saddened at the death of President Moïse. Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti. This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 7, 2021
Colombian President Ivan Duque called on the Organization of American States to send an urgent mission to Haiti to protect democracy. “We reject the vile assassination of the Haitian President Jovenel Moise. It is a cowardly act full of barbarity against the entire Haitian people,” he said.
Insecurity and political instability
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 years. Joseph was slated to be replaced this week after only three months in the post.
Supported by Moise, the text of the constitutional reform, aimed at strengthening the executive branch, has been overwhelmingly rejected by the opposition and many civil society organizations.
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.
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.”
Critics had also claimed it was impossible to organize a poll, given the general insecurity in the country.