Gunmen assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and wounded his wife in their home early Wednesday, inflicting more chaos on the unstable Caribbean country that was already enduring an escalation of gang violence, anti-government protests and a recent surge in coronavirus infections.
Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, confirmed the killing and said the police and military were in control of security in Haiti, where a history of dictatorship and political upheaval have long stymied the consolidation of democratic rule.
While the streets of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, were quiet Wednesday morning, some people ransacked businesses in one area. Authorities closed the international airport and declared a “state of siege.” The country appeared to be heading for fresh volatility ahead of planned general elections later this year. Moïse, 53, had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold elections and the opposition demanded he step down in recent months.
Joseph is likely to lead Haiti for now, though that could change in a nation where constitutional provisions have been erratically observed, said Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist who teaches at Wesleyan University in the United States.
The best scenario would be for the acting prime minister and opposition parties to come together and hold elections, Dupuy said.
“But, in Haiti, nothing can be taken for granted. It depends how the current balance of forces in Haiti plays out,” said the academic, who described the situation as dangerous and volatile. Haiti’s police force is already grappling with a recent spike in violence in Port-au-Prince that has displaced more than 14,700 people, he said.
Former President Michel Martelly, whom Moïse succeeded, said he was praying for first lady Martine Moïse, calling the assassination “a hard blow for our country and for Haitian democracy, which is struggling to find its way.”
Joseph said Martine Moïse, 47, was shot and in a hospital. He condemned the president’s killing as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.”
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in a statement from his office. “Democracy and the republic will win.”