Hours After Haiti’s President Is Assassinated, 4 Suspects Are Killed and 2 Arrested

Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack on his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Authorities said late Wednesday that they had intercepted ‘suspected assassins.’

Last Updated July 8, 2021, 12:38 a.m. ETJuly 8, 2021, 12:38 a.m. ET

Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack on his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Authorities said late Wednesday that they had intercepted ‘suspected assassins.’

Here’s what you need to know:

Haiti says four suspects in assassination have been killed and two arrested.

‘Well-trained professionals’ killed the president, a Haitian ambassador says.

He rose from ‘Banana Man,’ then faced accusations of being a strongman.

A night of gunfire. A day of uncertainty.

The U.N.’s long presence in Haiti fails to forestall disaster.

In Pictures: A decade of turmoil in Haiti.

What is an ‘etat de siege’? No one seems quite sure.

A magnet for exploitation: Haiti over the centuries.

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President Jovenel Moise of Haiti was killed in an attack at his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

Four people suspected of being involved in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti were killed by the police in a gun battle and two others were arrested, Haiti’s police chief said late Wednesday. The chief, Leon Charles, also said that three police officers who had been held hostage were freed.

“The police are engaged in a battle with the assailants,” he said at a news conference, noting that the authorities were still in pursuit of some suspects. “We are pursuing them so that, in a gunfight, they meet their fate or in gunfight they die, or we apprehend them.”

The authorities did not name any of the suspects or cite any evidence linking them to the assassination.

Millions of Haitians anxiously huddled around radios and televisions throughout the day, staying off the streets as they tried to understand who killed the president, why and what the coming days might mean for the country. The assassination has created a political void that threatens to deepen the turmoil that has gripped Haiti for months.

Mr. Moise’s wife, Martine Moise, was also shot in the attack, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said in a statement. Ms. Moise was transported to a hospital in southern Florida for treatment.

“A group of unidentified individuals, some of them speaking Spanish, attacked the private residence of the president of the republic and thus fatally wounded the head of state,” the prime minister said, but there was little solid information about who might have carried out the assassination.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Joseph said that he was the one running the country at the moment. Still, it was unclear how much control he had, or how long it might last. A new prime minister had been scheduled to replace Mr. Joseph this week, and the head of the nation’s highest court, who might also have helped establish order, died of Covid-19 in June.

Later Wednesday, in a televised broadcast to the nation, Mr. Joseph presented himself as head of the government and announced that he and his fellow ministers had declared a “state of siege.”

Mr. Joseph called for calm.

“Let’s search for harmony to advance together, so the country doesn’t fall into chaos,” he said.

He also vowed that the commando unit that had carried out the assassination would be brought to justice.

The news of Mr. Moise’s assassination rocked the Caribbean nation 675 miles southeast of Miami. But it had already been in turmoil.

In recent months, protesters had taken to the streets to demand Mr. Moise’s removal. He had clung to power, ruling by decree for more than a year, even as many — including constitutional scholars and legal experts — argued that his term had expired. Others, including the United States, backed his position that his term did not end until next year.

Armed gangs control many streets and have taken to kidnapping even schoolchildren and church pastors in the middle of their services. Poverty and hunger are on the rise, and the government has been accused of enriching itself while not providing even the most basic services.

Now, the political vacuum left by Mr. Moise’s killing could fuel a cycle of violence, experts warned.

More than two centuries ago, Haitians fought to throw off the yoke of colonial France and bring an end to to one of the world’s most brutal slave colonies, which had brought France great wealth. What started as a slave uprising at the turn of the 18th century eventually led to the stunning defeat of Napoleon’s forces in 1803.

But the suffering of the Haitians did not end with the ouster of the French.

More recently, the country suffered under more than two decades of dictatorship by Francois Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, and then his son, Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc.

In 1990, a priest from a poor area, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president. But in less than a year, he was deposed in a coup.

Since a devastating earthquake 11 years ago, the country has not rebuilt, and many say it is worse off, despite billions of dollars of reconstruction aid.

On Wednesday, Mr. Joseph said that the president had been “cowardly assassinated,” but that the murderers “cannot assassinate his ideas.” He called on the country to “stay calm” and said he would address the nation later in the day.

The local Haitian newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, citing a local justice of the peace, reported that President Moise’s body had been riddled with 12 bullets, and that two of his children had been home during the attack.

Mr. Joseph said the country’s security situation was under the control of the police and the army. But international observers warned that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.

Didier Le Bret, a former French ambassador to Haiti, said the situation in Haiti had become so volatile that “many people had an interest in getting rid of Moise.”

He said he hoped Mr. Joseph would be able to run the country, despite his lack of political legitimacy.

Mr. Le Bret criticized the international community for ignoring the volatile political situation in Haiti and said it should now come help the country “to ensure a smooth transition.”

Harold Isaac contributed reporting.

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Haitian Ambassador Says Assassination Was By Professionals

Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, said the murder of President Jovenel Moise “was carried out by well-trained professional killers.”

It’s a terrible situation, what occurred in Haiti early this morning. What we have as information for now, it seems that this horrible act was carried out by well-trained professional killers, commandos. They were speaking Spanish. That’s the — footage has revealed. It’s very important for this international manhunt because those killers are on the loose, we believe. So they’re coming into the country to carry out that dirty work We don’t know if they left or if they’re still in or they left already. But the police is investigating, and I believe we are waiting for details. Hopefully we’ll get some more info yet. Those killers have to be brought to justice. So therefore, we understand it might be difficult to do it for ourselves, but we are requesting international assistance.

Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, said the murder of President Jovenel Moise “was carried out by well-trained professional killers.”CreditCredit…Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States said Wednesday that the murder of the country’s president had been carried out “by well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”

Ambassador Bocchit Edmond, speaking at a news briefing, said the gunmen “are foreigners” who spoke Spanish during the attack on President Jovenel Moise. He said that the killers remained “on the loose” and that his government had formally asked the United States for assistance with its investigation.

“Those killers have to be brought to justice,” he said, calling the attack “a regional security issue.”

“To kill a president today — if we allow that to continue, tomorrow they may feel free to go somewhere else and kill another president,” Mr. Edmond said.

Mr. Edmond said it was not clear whether the assailants were still inside Haiti. Because the country’s airport is closed, he said, they had most likely slipped across the border with the Dominican Republic or perhaps escaped by sea. He said the airport would reopen “once we have the situation under control.”

Mr. Edmond said that the attackers had presented themselves as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but that they were “fake D.E.A.” and “professional killers.” He said he was basing his assessment on security camera footage of the attack.

A State Department spokesman said the D.E.A. claims were “absolutely false.” The agency has a long history of operations in Haiti, and some suggested that the attackers might have been resorting to a ruse to get officers guarding the president to step aside.

Mr. Moise had recently told a Spanish newspaper that “about a million people” want to kill him “because of his policies or the reforms he is carrying out,” Mr. Edmond said.

But the ambassador said there had been no specific warning of the overnight attack.

Mr. Moise’s wife, Martine, survived the attack and is “stable, but in critical condition,” Mr. Edmond said She was transported to Florida for medical treatment.

Mr. Edmond, a career diplomat appointed to his post in December, said he had been in touch with the White House, the State Department and the American ambassador to Haiti, Michele J. Sison. He asked for U.S. aid “to make sure Haiti doesn’t go even deeper into a spiral of violence,” he said.

Specifically, Mr. Edmond said his government is asking for American help “to make sure that the Haitian police have the necessary means to put the situation under control.”

President Jovenel Moise in December 2019 in Port-au-Prince.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It was a battle from the start for Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise.

Even before he took office, Mr. Moise had to fight off accusations that, as a little-known banana exporter, he was nothing but the handpicked puppet of the previous president, Michel Martelly.

“Jovenel is his own man,” he told The New York Times in 2016, shortly after winning his election, trying to flick off the accusations. He promised to show results within six months.

After more than four years in office, he was gunned down in his home early Wednesday at the age of 53. He left a wife and three children.

In his last year in office, as protests grew and he declined to step down, he had to defend himself in other ways: “I am not a dictator,” he told The Times in February.

So who was he?

Mr. Moise was a former chamber of commerce leader when he ran for president. Few people had heard of him as he emerged as a leading candidate. They dubbed him “the Banana Man.”

He won a majority of votes cast in a crowded field where few people bothered to cast ballots.

In interviews, Mr. Moise often recounted how he grew up on a large sugar plantation and could relate to a vast majority of Haitians who live off the land. He was raised in a rural area in the north but attended school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. He said he learned how to succeed by watching his father’s profitable farming business.

“Since I was a child, I was always wondering why people were living in such conditions while enormous lands were empty,” he said. “I believe agriculture is the key to change for this country.”

He ran a large produce cooperative that employed 3,000 farmers.

During his time in office, Mr. Moise was often accused of being a strongman who tried to consolidate power. He tried to push through a new Constitution that would have given his office more power and presidents the ability to seek more terms in office. Those plans were derailed by Covid-19 and rising insecurity.

In a dispute over when his term should end, he declined to step down and ruled by decree as the terms of nearly every elected official in the country expired and no elections were held. He was accused of working with gangs to remain in power.

Even his critics agree that Mr. Moise used his power in office to try to end monopolies that offered lucrative contracts to the powerful elite. And that made him enemies.

“To some he was a corrupt leader, but to others he was a reformer,” said Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian community leader in Miami. “He was a man who was trying to change the power dynamics, particularly when it came to money and who had control over electricity contracts. The oligarchy was paid billions of dollars to provide electricity to a country that was still in the dark.”

Simon Desras, a former senator in Haiti, said Mr. Moise seemed to know that his battle against the wealthy and powerful interests in the country would get him killed.

“I remember in his speech, he said he just targeted the rich people by putting an end to their contracts. He said that could be the reason for his death, because they are used to assassinating people and pushing people into exile,” Mr. Desras said in a telephone interview, as he drove through Haiti’s deserted streets. “It’s like he made a prophecy.”

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The normally clogged streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, were empty following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Bullet holes could be seen on the president’s house.CreditCredit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The first shots rang out after 1 a.m.

For what some witnesses described as a half-hour, explosions echoed through the streets of the leafy, mountainous neighborhood that was home to President Jovenel Moise and many of Haiti’s most affluent citizens.

At first, some nearby residents thought it was one of the twin terrors that plague the nation: gang violence or another earthquake.

But by dawn, as people huddled around radios and listened to television reports, the news slowly emerged that the president was dead.

As people waited for the government to provide them with an update on how it would move forward, that shocking news was one of the few things that was certain.

As the morning went on, videos circulating on WhatsApp painted an ominous scene — a formation of SUVs arriving on the street and spilling out armed men in military formation. One announced in Creole and English over a loudspeaker, “This is a D.E.A. operation.” The legitimacy of the videos could not be verified.

A State Department spokesman said the D.E.A. claims were “absolutely false.” The agency has a long history of operations in Haiti, and some suggested that the attackers might have been resorting to a ruse to get officers guarding the president to step aside.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, offered few details, aside from a rather cryptic comment that some of the attackers were speaking Spanish.

A businessman who lives in the same neighborhood as the president said he had been woken in the night by the sound of explosions around 1 a.m. Other residents said they had heard shooting between 1 and 1:30 and that it had lasted about an hour.

The normally clogged streets of the capital were ominously empty on Wednesday.

Banks and stores were shuttered; university classrooms vacant; the ti machann — market women — who normally line the shoulders of roads selling their wares were conspicuously absent.

Lines formed at some depots, with people stocking up on water — which is normally bought by the container in poorer areas — in case they end up hunkered down for a long time. Others huddled at home, calling one another to check on their safety and ask for updates. In some middle-class neighborhoods, people huddled on the sidewalk sharing their fears for the country’s future.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now — everything is possible,” one man said while speaking to neighbors.

Jenny Joseph, a university student from the suburb of Carrefour, said the country would have to be on the alert. “Things are hard and ugly now,” she said. “For the next few days, things will be crazy in Haiti.”

The main two-lane road up to Pelerin, the suburb where the president lived, was blocked by green camouflage-speckled trucks.

The president had a high level of protection. He regularly traveled with a large motorcade of more than a dozen armored cars and police guards. Many wondered how it was possible that assassins entered his home.

Advisers to Mr. Moise told The New York Times that the country had closed the airport and many other points of entry early Wednesday as they tried to hunt down the team of assailants who assassinated the president.

Harold Isaac and Jacques Richard Miguel contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, and Dieu-Nalio Chery contributed reporting from New York.

Protesting in Port-au-Prince in March.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jovenel Moise had been struggling to quell growing public anger over his attempt to hold onto power despite the opposition’s insistence that his term had expired.

Mr. Moise had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent jurists, contend that his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against his rule, and also has suffered a surge in gang activity.

The opposition said that Mr. Moise’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. But some international parties, including the United States and the Organization of American States, backed his position that his term did not end until next year, and when Mr. Moise refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets, setting trash and tires on fire as they demanded his resignation.

In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a top judge and a senior police officer, who the president said had tried to kill him and overthrow the government.

“The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life,” President Moise said at the time. “That plan was aborted.”

Mr. Moise insisted that he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the vote that brought him to the top office amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian community leader in Miami, said people across the diaspora, however divided they may have been about Mr. Moise, were united in their shock and despair.

“We don’t want to go back to ways of the past where presidents were eliminated through violence,” she said, adding, “There’s no one celebrating.”

The protests this year were part of broader unrest, with heavily armed gangs clashing on the streets and attacking police stations.

“While exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought shelter with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month in a report on the situation.

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Biden Responds to Assassination of Haiti’s President

President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.

Reporter: “Mr. President.” Reporter: “What’s your reaction to the Haitian president’s assassination, Mr. President?” Reporter: “Mr. President –” Reporter: “What’s your reaction, Mr. President, to the Haitian president being assassinated?” “We need a lot more information, but it’s just, it’s very worrisome about the state of Haiti.” Reporter: “Does the U.S. have a role in –” [reporters talking]

President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden said Wednesday that he was “shocked and saddened” by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti and the shooting of the leader’s wife, Martine Moise. The sentiment from the American leader, whose administration has vowed to put a renewed focus on Haiti, came even as it faces difficult questions about U.S. policy goals and actions.

“We condemn this heinous act,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moise’s recovery.”

Representative Andy Levin, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination “a devastating, if not shocking, example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled.”

“For months,” Mr. Levin, a Democrat, said in a statement, “violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community — the United States included, I fear — has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition.”

The committee’s lead Republican, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, likewise condemned the killing, saying in a statement that “there must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder.”

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including helping the country recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny.

The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, and a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries were backed by Western powers.

France, in particular, has long had a difficult relationship with Haiti, a former slave colony that it ruled throughout the 18th century, turning it into an extremely lucrative territory. Anti-French sentiment is common in Haiti, where the first visit by a French president was not until 2010.

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a statement that he was “shocked” by Mr. Moise’s killing. “All light must be shed on this crime, which comes amid a very deteriorated political and security climate,” Mr. Le Drian said. He urged “all of the actors of Haitian political life” to observe “calm and restraint.”

The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said through a spokesman that “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.”

He called on Haitians to “preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence” and vowed that the United Nations would continue to stand with the country’s government and the people of Haiti.

Brazilian soldiers with a U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince in 2007.Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The United Nations once deployed thousands of peacekeeping troops and police officers in Haiti as part of a coordinated international effort to rescue the country from its chronic bouts of political violence and instability. But the cholera epidemic that followed the 2010 earthquake — spread by infected peacekeepers — indelibly tainted the global organization in the eyes of many Haitians.

Even the U.N. secretary-general who presided during that period, Ban Ki-moon, admitted in a memoir published last month that the cholera disaster “forever destroyed the United Nations’ reputation in Haiti.”

A peacekeeping force authorized by the Security Council in 2004, known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or by its French acronym Minustah, was empowered to send as many as 6,700 troops of all ranks and more than 1,600 civilian police officers to Haiti.

Ninety-six members of the peacekeeping mission were among those killed in the 2010 earthquake, which by some estimates left more than 300,000 people dead. The crisis led the Security Council to strengthen Minustah’s size to as many as 8,940 soldiers and 3,711 police officers.

But many Haitians came to regard the peacekeepers as an occupying force, and one that did not necessarily protect them. The force’s reputation was further impaired by reports that a Nepalese contingent may have introduced cholera to the country through poor sanitation — reports that were later confirmed by independent investigations.

Mr. Ban eventually acknowledged some responsibility, but the U.N. successfully rejected claims for compensation sought by aggrieved Haitians. A U.N. trust fund established under Mr. Ban to help Haiti cope with the cholera epidemic’s aftermath, which was supposed to total $400,000, has only a fraction of that sum.

Minustah’s mandate was terminated in 2017 with a transition to a much smaller mission, known as the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti or its French acronym, Binuh. But the mission, which is confined to the capital, Port-au-Prince, has struggled. None of its aspirations — helping Haiti achieve good governance, the rule of law, a stable environment and promotion of human rights — have shown any significant progress.

Helen La Lime, a former American diplomat and Binuh’s chief, summarized the worsening conditions afflicting the country in a report last month to the Security Council:

“The deep-rooted political crisis which has gripped the country for the better part of the last four years shows no sign of abating,” she said. “A political agreement remains elusive, as the rhetoric used by some political leaders grows increasingly acrimonious.”

Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said Wednesday that Ms. La Lime was in “constant contact” with the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and that she was calling “on the Haitian people to ensure calm.”

Mr. Dujarric said Binuh was in the process of accounting for its 1,200 staff members in Haiti, which includes about 200 from other countries, and he was advising them to “stay in place and in a safe place.”

Haiti has suffered a series of devastating events in recent years, including a devastating magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010, a powerful hurricane in 2016 and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Political turmoil in recent months led to thousands taking to the street demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moise, who was killed in the early hours of Wednesday.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “etat de siege” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and security members can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moise. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moise had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moise’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died.

“Jovenel Moise was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince in March to protest the new Constitution promoted by Jovenel Moise.Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

Despite public unrest and fragile political support, in the months before President Jovenel Moise was killed he was pursuing an aggressive agenda that included rewriting the country’s Constitution.

Among the provisions he was pushing for was one that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions while in office, leading critics to charge that he presented a threat to democracy and was setting the country on a course toward authoritarian rule.

“We need a system that works,” Mr. Moise said in a telephone interview with The New York Times in March. “The system now doesn’t work. The president cannot work to deliver.”

The United States, whose support is critical for Haiti, had called on the country to hold presidential and legislative elections as soon as technically feasible. It also opposed the effort to draft a new constitution along the lines Mr. Moise proposed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s tougher stance during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June.

Even though many were critical of Mr. Moise’s approach to reshape the government, many Haitians say a new Constitution is needed.

The current one has created two competing power centers in the country — the president and prime minister — which often leads to friction and a fractured government.

The draft Constitution would have abolished the Senate, leaving in place a single legislative body elected every five years, and replace the post of prime minister with a vice president who answers to the president, in a bid to streamline government.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very beginning.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. But it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moise, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

Selam Gebrekidan contributed reporting.

A street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, last month.Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti could complicate efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the Caribbean nation, which has yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, officials from the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O., said her organization had made Haiti a top priority in recent weeks as reported cases have surged.

“I am hopeful that the arrival of vaccines in the country can start to turn the tide of the pandemic and bring some relief to the Haitian people during these very difficult times,” Dr. Etienne said. “We continue to stand with them now and will redouble our efforts.”

Haiti did not experience the kind of surge early in the pandemic that many experts feared could devastate the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. But the pandemic has grown worse in recent weeks, with a rise in reported cases that experts warn is almost certainly an undercount, considering the country’s very limited testing capacity.

Last month, Covid-19 claimed the life of Rene Sylvestre, the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court — a leading figure who might have helped to establish order in the wake of an assassination that has plunged the country into even deeper political uncertainty.

Dr. Etienne’s organization said in an email response to questions on Wednesday that while it was too soon to evaluate the impact of the assassination, “further deterioration of the security situation in Haiti could have a negative impact on the work that has been done to curtail Covid-19 infections,” as well as on vaccination plans.

The organization said that Haiti was also facing challenges from the start of hurricane season and the recent detection of the Alpha and Gamma virus variants on the island. Though “vaccines are expected to arrive shortly” in Haiti, the organization said it did not have a specific delivery date.

In June, Dr. Etienne urged the global community to do more to help Haiti cope with rising coronavirus cases and deaths. “The situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus,” she said.

Haiti is an extreme example of the “stark inequities on vaccine access,” Dr. Etienne said. “For every success, there are several countries that have been unable to reach even the most vulnerable in their population.”

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, there are “millions of people” who “still don’t know when they will have a chance to be immunized,” she said.

She said the inequitable distribution of vaccines posed practical and moral problems.

“If we don’t ensure that countries in the South have the ability to vaccinate as much as countries in the North, this virus will keep circulating in the poorest nations for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said. “Hundreds of millions will remain at risk while the wealthier nations go back to normal. Obviously, this should not happen.”

— Daniel Politi

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