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Saturday 10 June 2023 Dublin: 17°C
Xinhua News Agency/PA Images A soldier stands guard in front of Haitian President Jovenel Moise's home in Port-au-Prince.
# Explainer
Haiti is in a 'state of siege' after its president was assassinated – so what's behind the latest chaos?
The 53-year-old was killed by gunmen yesterday.

THE TURBULENT RULE of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise came to an end yesterday when the 53-year-old was assassinated at his home by a squad of gunmen.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph quickly declared a national “state of siege” as Moise’s violent killing threatened to tip the violence-plagued country into further chaos. 

What do we know about the assassination?

The attack took place at around 1.00am local time yesterday at Moise’s home in the Petion Ville neighbourhood of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The street outside the residence was littered with shell casings and a nearby car was peppered with bullet holes as forensics experts analysed the scene.

Magistrate Carl Henry Destin told a local newspaper that the president’s body had twelve bullet holes in it, from large calibre rifles and smaller 9mm weapons, to the forehead, chest, hips and abdomen.

haiti-port-au-prince-president-assassination Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Investigators work near Haitian President Jovenel Moise's home. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

Moise’s wife Martine and two members of domestic staff were also caught up in the attack.

Martine sustained serious injuries and was first treated at a local hospital before being rushed by air ambulance to a trauma centre in south Florida. She is now in a stable condition.

The two domestic staff members were tied up by the attackers who allegedly shouted “DEA operation” as they burst in.

Moise’s daughter Jomarlie was in the home during the incident but hid in a bedroom and managed to evade the killers.

Interim Prime Minister Joseph said the president was “assassinated at his home by foreigners who spoke English and Spanish”.

“This death will not go unpunished,” he said in an address to the nation.

Haiti’s ambassador to Washington, Bocchit Edmond, said the gunmen were “professional” mercenaries disguised as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Who was Jovenel Moise?

The 53-year-old was a successful businessman before jumping into politics. He burst onto the scene with a populist agenda that included pledges to fight corruption and to bring jobs to the impoverished country.

haiti-president-killed Dieu Nalio Chery President Jovenel Moise, file photo. Dieu Nalio Chery

He was sworn in in February 2017, but his presidency quickly spiralled into instability as Haiti saw a steady uptick in kidnappings and gang violence.

The end date of his mandate became the source of a bitter standoff, as Moise maintained that his term of office ran until 7 February, 2022, while opponents insisted that it ended on 7 February, 2021.

The disagreement stemmed from the fact that Moise was elected in a 2015 vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected in November 2016.

Before politics, Moise had a range of ventures in water treatment, the energy sector and agricultural production, the latter of which earned him his nickname, “Neg Bannan nan” meaning “The Banana Man” in Creole.

What’s the situation in Haiti?

Reports from Haiti in the aftermath of the assassination tell the story of a country that has been rocked by this latest upheaval.

The airport was closed in the capital Port-au-Prince and witnesses said the city was quiet, with deserted streets and no extra security forces on patrol.

haiti-president-killed Joseph Odelyn People walk past military vehicles blocking the entrance to the neighborhood where Moise lived. Joseph Odelyn

“We didn’t expect it. This is another earthquake in Haiti,” said a mother of two, who gave her name only as Bernadette, to the AFP news agency, referring to the deadly 2010 quake.

The country has long struggled with political instability, along with severe poverty and rampant crime, since the end of the brutal dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier from 1957 to 1986. 

Without a parliament due to the Moise standoff, the country’s crisis deepened and kidnappings surged. Gangs have driven thousands of people from their homes and wide-scale protests have also crippled the economy.

Amidst all the upheaval, the country has yet to begin vaccinating its 11 million population against Covid-19 as the coronavirus surges.

The pandemic contributed to the nation’s gross domestic product contracting by nearly 4% last year and a spike in Covid cases has prompted a new state of emergency.

Amidst the deteriorating humanitarian crisis, the World Bank reports that nearly 60% of Haitians live below the poverty line.

Haiti has been without a formal prime minister since April, when Joseph Jouthe resigned amid a spike in violence. Jouthe’s replacement has not yet been approved by the parliament.

With Moise ruling by decree, the government had scheduled new presidential, legislative and local elections for September and a possible runoff in November.

What will happen next?

The UN Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting over the crisis today as Haiti enters a two-week mourning period following Moise’s death.

As well as the raft of elections in September, Haiti was due to hold a constitutional referendum in September after it was twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

haiti-president-killed Joseph Odelyn Security forces investigate the perimeters of Moise's residence. Joseph Odelyn

The United States has called for Haiti to proceed with the elections, with a State Department spokesman saying a fair vote would “facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected president”.

With the country still reeling, many fear Moise’s killing could trigger further violence.

“How much worse can hell get?” asked Haiti expert Irwin Stotzky at the University of Miami.

“Haiti faces even more violence and death and failure as a democratic nation than ever before, which is hard to imagine given its recent and chaotic history.”

The killing came just days after Moise appointed Ariel Henry, a French-trained neurosurgeon, as Haiti’s new prime minister.

Henry, 71, is close to the opposition, but his appointment was not welcomed by the majority of opposition parties.

With reporting by AFP.

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