The President of Haiti Jovenel Moise has been assassinated by gunmen claiming to be DEA agents in a night-time raid on his home that also left his wife seriously injured, according to reports.
A group of ‘foreigners’, some of whom spoke English and Spanish, broke into Mr Moise’s home in the hills above Port-au-Prince at around 1am on Wednesday, according to a statement by country’s prime minister.
The 53-year-old was shot dead and the First Lady Martine, 47, was wounded in what PM Claude Joseph called a ‘hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.’ Haiti’s embassy in the Dominican Republic said the First Lady has since been flown to another country for treatment.
In footage purportedly recorded by a witness, someone with an American accent shouts into a megaphone: ‘DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.’
Gunfire then erupts in the video uploaded to Instagram by someone who says they were in the Pelerin 5 neighbourhood, where the president’s house is located.
The assailants were pretending to be from the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) and were ‘mercenaries,’ a government source told The Miami Herald.
Residents reported hearing high-powered rounds and saw men dressed in black sprinting through the neighbourhood. There were also claims of a grenade going off and drones being deployed.
Further videos purportedly taken by a neighbour show men with rifles arriving outside the president’s house. It is not clear whether they are from the country’s security forces or if they are the assassins.
PM Joseph said he had taken charge of the country and the police and armed forces were taking ‘all measures to guarantee the continuity of the State and protect the Nation.’
The Biden administration called it a ‘tragic attack’ and said the White House was still ‘gathering information.’ Press Secretary Jen Psaki called it an ‘horrific crime,’ adding ‘we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was ‘shocked and saddened at the death of Mr Moise’, calling it ‘an abhorrent act’ and appealing for calm.
The President of Haiti Jovenel Moise has been assassinated in a nighttime raid by gunmen claiming to be DEA agents in a nighttime raid on his home that also left his wife seriously injured, according to reports (pictured with his wife Martine in October 2018)
Footage circulating in Haitian WhatsApp groups purports to show men with rifles arriving at the president’s home last night
Footage circulating online purportedly taken by a neighbour of the president shows men with rifles arriving outside the property
In footage purportedly recorded by a witness, someone with an American accent shouts into a megaphone: ‘DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.’ Gunfire then erupts in the footage which was uploaded to Instagram by someone who says they were in the Pelerin 5 neighbourhood, where the president’s house is located.
Military vehicles block the entrance to Petion Ville, the neighborhood where the late Haitian President Jovenel Moise lived in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday
Soldiers patrol in Petion Ville, the neighbourhood where the late Haitian President Jovenel Moise lived in Port-au-Prince, on Wednesday after the shooting
The President of Haiti Jovenel Moise, 53, (pictured at the UN in New York in 2018) has been shot dead during a raid on the presidential palace, according to the prime minister’s office
A group of gunmen, some of whom allegedly spoke in Spanish, broke into Mr Moise’s home at around 1am on Wednesday, according to a statement from Prime Minister Claude Joseph. He said that Haiti remained under the control of the police and armed forces and ‘all measures are taken to guarantee the continuity of the State and protect the Nation.’
US-based Haitian singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean tweeted about the assassination on Wednesday morning
It comes after Mr Moise claimed police had foiled an assassination plot in February amid massive protests in the country over claims the president was acting like a dictator and refusing to hold elections.
In response, the former auto parts dealer had 23 people arrested who he said were behind the plot including a top judge and a police officer.
‘There was an attempt on my life,’ Mr Moise said in a national address at the time. ‘I thank my head of security at the palace. The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life. That plan was aborted.’
World leaders condemn the assassination and warn more unrest could follow
Colombian President Ivan Duque condemned what he called a ‘cowardly act’ and expressed solidarity with Haiti. He called for an urgent mission by the Organization of American States ‘to protect democratic order.’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was ‘shocked and saddened at the death of President Moise.’
‘Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti,’ he added. ‘This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.’
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the assassination.
‘I’d like to make an appeal for political unity to get out of this terrible trauma that the country is going through,’ Sanchez said during a visit to Latvia.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the shooting risked the start of ‘instability and a spiral of violence.’
Borrell added: ‘The perpetrators of this assassination must be found and brought to justice.’
The White House described the attack as ‘horrific’ and ‘tragic.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. stands ready to assist Haiti in its time of need.
‘It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss that (the people of Haiti) are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news,’ Psaki said during a previously scheduled interview with CNN. ‘And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.’
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, who was wounded, and to the Haitian people.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered her condolences in a statement on Twitter.
‘We wish the First Lady a prompt recovery, & stand together with our ally Haiti in this difficult time,’ Tsai wrote. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world that maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Mr Moise’s death risks throwing the country into total disarray after months of violent demonstrations and claims that he had used armed gangsters to stay in power.
There are just 10 elected officials in the country and there is no legal framework for who should take power in the event of the president’s death.
Some reports suggested that the next in line of succession should be the head of the Supreme court, but the judge died recently of Covid-19.
For acting PM Joseph to formally replace Mr Moise he would need the approval of Haiti’s parliament but due to the lack of recent elections the legislature is effectively defunct.
‘There is no constitutional answer to this situation,’ Bernard Gousse, a former justice minister and legal expert, told the Herald.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the shooting risked the start of ‘instability and a spiral of violence.’ Borrell added: ‘The perpetrators of this assassination must be found and brought to justice.’
The usually busy streets of Port-au-Prince were largely empty on Wednesday morning as Haitians awoke in shock at the news.
The country’s main airport, Toussaint Louverture International Airport, was closed except for diplomatic and humanitarian flights.
Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic ordered the ‘immediate closure’ of its land border with Haiti. The countries share a 240-mile frontier on the island of Hispaniola. Dominican President Luis Abinader condemned the killing, saying on Twitter the crime ‘undermines the democratic order in Haiti and the region.’
Thousands took the streets of the capital earlier this year to demand that Mr Moise step down and hold elections amid his efforts to make sweeping changes to the constitution so that he could cling to power.
Opponents argue that the president, who took power in 2017, should have left office on February 7 after failing to hold elections the previous year as his term was ending.
Mr Moise claimed his five-year term was due to end in 2022 – the United States and the United Nations had called for a free and transparent election to be held by the end of 2021. The U.S. also disagreed with his efforts to change the country’s constitution
In an interview last year, Mr Moise defended himself against allegations of corruption and denied that he was turning the country in a dictatorship.
‘We’re trying to find a solution to this crisis. I’m not the first president to rule by decree. And I’m confident that the answer is around the corner; then the legislature will be put in place to play its role,’ he told The Telegraph.
Mr Moise had also faced accusations of financial impropriety and power-grabbing by limiting powers for auditing government contracts and creating an intelligence agency that only answers to the president.
He wanted to abolish the Senate, leaving a single legislative body, and replace the post of prime minister with a vice president who answered only to him, in a bid to streamline government.
Swathes of the population deemed his rule illegitimate, and he churned through a series of seven prime ministers in four years. Most recently, Mr Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week after only three months in the post.
A protestor moves from the fire during a demonstration on February 14, 2021 in Port-au-Prince
Haitians demonstrate during a protest to denounce the draft constitutional referendum carried by the President Jovenel Moise
People stage a demonstration demanding that President Jovenel Moise to give his resignation in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on February 14, 2021
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.
Supported by Mr Moise, the text of the constitutional reform, aimed at strengthening the executive branch, has been overwhelmingly rejected by the opposition and many civil society organisations.
Under the terms of the current constitution, written after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1987, ‘any popular consultation aimed at modifying the Constitution by referendum is formally prohibited.’
Haiti has struggled to maintain a semblance of democratic order despite the overthrow of 28 years of bloody dynastic rule at the hands of the notorious François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier.
In recent years critics of the regime said it was impossible to organise a poll due to the general insecurity in the country and gang violence, which some claimed was deliberately controlled by Mr Moise.
Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs and a general lawlessness.
The Caribbean island has suffered poverty and political instability for decades and has struggled to rebuild in the wake of a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Haiti gained independence from colonial France after an uprising by slaves in 1804.
However, democracy has never truly taken root in the republic which only held its first free and fair elections in 1990.
President Jovenel Moise, 53, and First Lady Martine, 47. The First Lady was also wounded in the assassination, according to the PM’s statement
Mr Moise and his wife Martine meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2016
President Jovenel Moise battled deadly riots as he oversaw massive inflation, food and fuel shortages as he clung onto power
President Jovenel Moise battled violent protests as he oversaw massive inflation, food and fuel shortages in Haiti since taking power in 2017.
The poorest country in the Americas has failed to establish a working democracy since overthrowing the Duvalier dictatorship in the late 1980s.
Moise, a former auto parts salesman, took office with just 600,000 votes in the country of 11 million and faced an uphill task in holding onto his mandate.
In 2019, he faced fury over fuel and food shortages amid steep currency devaluation and corruption allegations. At least 17 people were killed and hundreds were injured in the riots.
The anger rumbled on into the following year as Moise refused to hold elections, claiming that his five-year presidential term wasn’t due to run out until 2022.
Haiti has struggled to achieve political stability since a popular uprising in 1986 ended 28 years of dynastic dictatorship by Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier.
The last few decades have been marked by coups, unrest and foreign interventions.
Only two presidents have managed to serve their entire term.
Successive governments have failed to spark real development in the island nation that has to regularly contend with deadly natural disasters from hurricanes to earthquakes.
The country had received much aid in the wake of the 2010 quake that killed around 300,000, but that has tapered off of late.
Moise, however, failed to cut expenses, meaning the budget deficit deepened to record levels.
The local currency depreciated against the dollar and inflation was rampant.
More than half of the population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than 2.4 U.S. dollars a day, according to the World Bank.
Allegations in a report by the Superior Court of Auditors of the embezzlement of billions of dollars by public officials and those close to them, including Moise before he became president, have also sparked ire.
The PetroCaribe program included a fund for infrastructure and social projects in member countries. Opposition politicians say no serious projects were ever completed.
Moise, whom some opposition members accuse of buying votes in parliament for his prime minister nominees, has denied any wrongdoing, but his government has failed to investigate further.
Haiti ranked 161 from 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 global survey of corruption.
As a result, many Haitians have lost faith in politics. Only 21 percent of the electorate turned out for the last presidential election in 2016.
Opposition politicians say that fact undermines the legitimacy of the presidency of Moise, a former businessman with little prior political experience.
But they have themselves failed to get voters out to polling booths, instead resorting to disrupting parliament and calling for street protests, making Haiti hard to govern.
Moise took few public steps to address peoples’ grievances, leading to massive unrest in recent years, including riots in February.