Haitian President Jovenel Moise assassinated by gunmen, state of emergency declared

File photo of then Haitian presidential candidate Jovenel Moise taken in April 2016. Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, according to the Haiti's interim prime minister.
File photo of then Haitian presidential candidate Jovenel Moise taken in April 2016. Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, according to the Haiti's interim prime minister. AFP - ALEX WONG

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.

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  • PM Joseph said he was in charge of the country and declared a ‘state of siege’.
  • Killing of Moise was a 'barbaric act', said Joseph.
  • Haiti's First Lady is in critical condition after receiving bullet shots during the attack and is being medically evacuated to Miami, said Haiti's ambassador to US.
  • Attackers had heavy-calibre arms and spoke both English and Spanish, said Joseph.
  • Assassination came amid rampant gang violence, humanitarian crisis.
  • Attack condemned by nearby Latin American countries and the British Prime Minister. 
  • United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the assassination, says those responsible must be brought to justice.
  • Haiti’s international airport in Port-Au-Prince is closed, according to local reports. 

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.

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.

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.

"No way they were DEA agents," Ambassador Bochhit Edmond told Reuters in an interview.

The United States is standing ready to provide any assistance Haiti might need after the assassination of its president, the US State Department said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a regular news conference, department spokesman Ned Price said the United States urged Haitian authorities to bring those responsible to justice and said reports that the attackers were US Drug Enforcement Administration agents were "absolutely false".

'Immediate closure' of border with Dominican Republic

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.

US assessing ‘tragic attack’

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".

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.

European Council President Charles Michel condemned the assassination of  Moise. "We continue to monitor the situation and call for calm and stability. Only an inclusive political dialogue can ensure the organization of free and transparent elections," Michel said in a tweet.

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.

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 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.

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 organise a poll, given the general insecurity in the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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