The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, 53, was shot and killed in his private residence, the interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced Wednesday.
The president’s residence also put out a statement Wednesday saying the attack occurred around 1 am and that first lady Martine Moise was also wounded in the attack and is currently hospitalized.
The assassination was carried out by a commando group with “foreign elements,” AFP news agency reported, citing interim Prime Minister Joseph, who was due to be replaced this week after three months on the job.
“The president was assassinated at his home by foreigners who spoke English and Spanish,” Joseph told AFP, labeling the assassination a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.”
“All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the state and to protect the nation,” he added.
Joseph said police had been deployed to the National Palace as well as the upscale neighborhood of Petionville and will also be sent to other areas.
Moise’s legacy and place in Haitian politics
Moise had been ruling Haiti’s population of over 11 million by decree since the 2018 elections were delayed over a series of political disputes, including when Moise’s term was set to expire. Parliament was dissolved as a result.
Some 60 percent of the population makes less than $2 (€1.70) a day and food and fuel shortages have led to spiraling inflation.
Many in Haiti view Moise’s rule as illegitimate as his term legally ended in February 2021. He cycled through seven prime ministers in four years and faced a strong opposition protest movement.
Opposition leaders accuse him of being power-hungry and criticize his approval of a decree that limited the power of courts to perform audits on public procurement contracts and another creating an intelligence service that only answers to the president.
His supporters argue his term did not legally begin until 2017 following a chaotic election and a year-long hiatus that forced the appointment of a provisional president.
Haiti is scheduled to have a constitutional referendum in September over a much-criticized effort of Moise to strengthen the executive branch in addition to presidential, legislative and local elections.
The current constitution declares “any popular consultation aimed at modifying the Constitution by referendum is formally prohibited.” It was written in 1987 after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship
Reactions to the assassination
In Port-au-Prince Wednesday, the streets were quiet with some reports of gunfire and looting said to have taken place in one area. Recently there has been an uptick in violence and kidnappings for ransom as gangs and police vie for control of the streets.
The Dominican Republic announced it was closing the border that it shares with Haiti on the island Hispaniola. Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation but has yet to speak publicly.
The US Embassy announced it would be closed Wednesday due to the deteriorated security situation in Haiti. On June 30, the embassy had condemned human rights violations and attacks on press freedom in the country and called on the government to act against armed gangs.