Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been assassinated. He was 53.
According to a statement from Haiti’s interim prime minister, Moïse was killed in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday morning. First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot in the overnight attack and later hospitalized, interim Premier Claude Joseph said.
Leading up to his assassination, Haiti had grown increasingly unstable under Moïse. The opposition demanded the president step down in recent months, as he’s ruled by decree for more than two years while the country failed to hold elections.
“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.”
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 7, the streets in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince were mostly empty, but some people ended up ransacking businesses in one area. According to Joseph, police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Pétionville and will be sent to other areas.
Interim Premier Claude Josep condemned the assassination, calling it a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.” In the same statement, he said some of the attackers spoke in Spanish, but offered no further explanation. Later, in a radio address, he said that they spoke Spanish or English, still offering no details.
U.S. President Joe Biden will be briefed later today by his national security team, with the White House describing the attack as “horrific” and “tragic,” saying it was still gathering information on what happened.
“The message to the people of Haiti is this is a tragic tragedy,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said during a previously scheduled interview on CNN. “It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss that they are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news. And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”
Throughout Haiti, economic, political, and social problems have deepened in recent years, with gang violence spiking in Port-au-Prince, inflation spiraling, and food and fuel becoming scarcer. Haiti is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew, which struck in 2016.
In the midst of these problems, opposition leaders have accused Moïse of seeking to increase his power, including by approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.
Most recently, over the course of the past few months, opposition leaders demanded the Moïse step down, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021. But according to Moïse and his supporters, his term began when he took office in early 2017, which followed a chaotic election that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve during a year-long gap.
Haiti was scheduled to hold general elections later this year.