The President of Haiti, Jovenal Moïse, was shot dead today in his private residence. He was 53. In a statement from the prime minister’s office Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph called the assassination, that took place at 01:00 today, “a hateful, inhuman and barbaric act". He said the attackers had not yet been identified, but the police and army had the situation under control.
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in the statement. “Democracy and the republic will win.”
The First Lady Martine Moïse was said to be injured in the attack and is in hospital.
Moïse’s residence is in Pelerin 5, a neighbourhood in the hills above the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Local residents reported hearing high-powered rounds fired, and seeing men dressed in black running through the streets. According to videos taken by locals, men presumed to be assailants made the claim that they were agents with the US Drug Enforcement Administration. On one video, someone with an American accent is heard saying in English over a megaphone: “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.”
A high-ranking Haitian government official and other sources firmly denied the claim regarding the DEA. “These were mercenaries,” the official said.
On Wednesday morning, the streets in the capital were largely empty, but some people were ransacking businesses. Gunshots could be heard throughout the city.
Pope Francis with the President of Jovenel Moïse in 2018.
Mr Joseph said police had been deployed to the up-market community of Pétionville and would be sent to other area.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “I am shocked and saddened at the death of President Moise. Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti. This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.”
US President Joe Biden said: “We condemn this heinous attack and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moise'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.”
Speaking to Vatican News, Bishop Alfonse Quesnel of Fort-Liberté in Haiti expressed shock.
"We could not have expected this,” he said. “Although it is true that there was a lot of tension around the president, we could not have thought it would get to this point.”
He said that the president had just appointed a new prime minister who might not even be able to take office, and expressed concern that the country is in “a chaotic situation.”
Bishop Quesnel noted that the situation is relatively calm for the time being, but added: “We cannot say that the situation is under control.”
Moïse himself has been accused of using armed gangs to stay in power.
Fifteen people were killed in a shooting rampage in Port-au-Prince on 30 June. The dead included radio journalist Diego Charles and activist Antoinette Duclaire. A group of police officers was suspected of taking part in the shootings.
Opposition leaders have been demanding that Moïse step down, claiming his term had expired following his election victory in November 2016. Moïse supporters have insisted that his term only began in early 2017, when he actually took office. An interim government held power for a year following the election.
Disorder on the Caribbean island has been increasing exponentially in recent months, with food shortages, people having to flee their homes because of violence, and increasing numbers of killings.
Bishop Launay Saturné of Jacmel, president of the bishops’ conference, has condemned in recent days the failure of the Moïse administration to stop corruption and violence.
Some 60 per cent of Haiti’s population of more than 11 million make less than $2 a day, while the country us still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.