A group of unidentified individuals attacked the private residence of Haitian PresidentJovenel Moise overnight and shot him dead, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a statement released Wednesday.
At around 1:00 am 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 the hospital, said a statement released by Interim Prime Minister Claude 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.
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 defense 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.
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”.
On June 30, the US condemned what it described as a systematic violation of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and attacks on the press in Haiti, urging the government to counter a proliferation of gangs and violence.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday expressed shock as the news of the assassination spread.
I am shocked and saddened at the death of President Moïse. Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti. This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 7, 2021
“I am shocked and saddened at the death of President Moise,” Johnson said on Twitter, sending condolences to Haiti. “This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.”
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 organize a poll, given the general insecurity in the country.