Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home in Port-au-Prince and his wife, First Lady Martine Moïse was wounded in the attack overnight Wednesday, according to reports.
In a statement, Prime Minister Claude Joseph said a group of unknown attackers swept into the president’s residence, but there was no immediate explanation for the ambush. But the assassination comes as the nation has been facing tense political turmoil with calls for Moïse to step down. Opposition figures had planned to replace him, charging that his tenure was not legitimate, but it is unclear if they had anything to do with his killing.
“An unidentified group of individuals, some of whom were speaking in Spanish, attacked the private residence of the President of the Republic and mortally wounded him,” Joseph said on Wednesday. “The First Lady was wounded by a bullet and the necessary measures are being taken.”
Joseph, himself an interim occupant of his office, has taken control of the nation and says the government is working to secure the stability of the country and placed it in the hands of the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Armed Forces, calling the killing a “heinous, inhuman and barbaric act.”
According to the BBC, Haiti has closed its borders with neighboring country the Dominican Republic. Also, the Port-au-Prince airport is currently shut down. Violent political protests have taken place during the past year over the legitimacy of the president’s term. The United Nations has recently said the nation had reached a political impasse over Moïse’s tenure that could lead to further violence.
Haiti, is known historically for successfully rebelling and ousting the slaveholding French by 1804, to begin as a new republic. But afterward it was economically choked by European and American powers consistently stifling its growth. The assassination of Moïse is the latest of decades, and perhaps generations of instability in Haiti including the days of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Moïse, 53, had been accused of autocracy by critics and of corruption, spurring massive demonstrations. He had been in power since February of 2017, but his opposition said that his five-year term began in 2016 and was set to end in February of 2021. However, those results were negated by Haiti’s electoral council. Moïse has said because of that, he ran and won again and took office in 2017, which would make him set to step down next year.
Elections were set to take place in September, but it is now unclear what will happen.
Vania Andre, a journalist with the Haitian Times and , who has covered the Haitian community for 10 years says the situation, which was already volatile has now become even more unstable with the assassination.
“I think the people had an overall feeling in the months leading up to this said Andre, who also serves as communications director for the New York-based non-profit newsroom The City. “Some said it was inevitable.
“The country is completely shut down and people are terrified of what’s to come next,” she said, also mentioning that nobody knows who could have staged the attack, but there are many rumors ranging from an inside job to people from Colombia or Venezuela behind it. “At this point, no one really knows what the clear facts are. All that we really know is that the president was assassinated in his home and that the First Lady is in critical condition and has been sent to a hospital outside of the country.”
The United States has supported Moïse’s position in the past. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden Administration is still gathering information on the situation.
President Biden offered a brief statement Wednesday morning as news spread about the situation.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on First Lady Martine Moïse of Haiti,” said Biden. “We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
But making things worse, Haiti is suffering from a lack of coronavirus vaccines as the nation is facing a spike in the disease, but cannot accommodate the 760,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month as part of the UN’s COVAX program. Concern over potential side effects and the lack of infrastructure to keep it refrigerated was a serious factor.