Live Updates: Haiti’s President Is Assassinated

Jovenel Moise died in an attack on his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. His wife was also shot. The interim prime minister said a group of attackers was involved.

LiveUpdated July 7, 2021, 10:46 a.m. ETJuly 7, 2021, 10:46 a.m. ET

Jovenel Moise died in an attack on his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. His wife was also shot. The interim prime minister said a group of attackers was involved.

Here’s what you need to know:

After the killing of Haiti’s president, the threat of further political violence escalates.

In a country seized by gang violence, public anger was rising over Moise’s attempt to hold onto power.

The president was engaged in a sweeping effort to overhaul the country’s Constitution.

In Pictures: A decade of turmoil in Haiti.

After assuring Congress that it hasn’t forgotten about Haiti, the Biden administration scrambles to assess the crisis.

President Jovenel Moise of Haiti, center, with his wife, Martine Moise, in Port-au-Prince in 2019.Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Jovenel Moise of Haiti was assassinated in an attack in the early hours of Wednesday at his home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, the interim prime minister said, creating a political void that threatens to deepen the turmoil that has gripped the country for months.

As foreign governments struggled to assess the situation, millions of Haitians anxiously huddled around radios and televisions, staying off the streets as they tried to understand what the coming days might bring.

Mr. Moise’s wife, Martine Moise, was also shot in the attack, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said in a statement. Her condition was not immediately clear.

“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 could also help establish order, died of Covid-19 in June.

The news of Mr. Moise’s assassination rocked the Caribbean island nation 675 miles southeast of Miami. 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, with many — including constitutional scholars and legal experts — contending that his term had expired.

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, the country fought to emerge from one of the world’s most brutal slave colonies, one that brought France great wealth and that the colonial rulers fought to keep.

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. 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.

A priest from a poor area, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. 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.

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

He 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.”

Mr. Le Bret said the situation in Haiti had become so volatile that “many people had an interest in getting rid of Moise.”

Harold Isaac, Elian Peltier and Constant Meheut contributed reporting.

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

Jovenal 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. 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.

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.

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 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.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the United Nations, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last month in Washington.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about the assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti. But last month the American ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told House lawmakers that “we’ve not forgotten about Haiti, and I am committed to continuing to work to improve the situation.”

Her remarks, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, prompted what Representative Albio Sires, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of a House panel that oversees policy for the Western Hemisphere, called “a little story” from a meeting he had with Mr. Moise in recent months.

“One of the things he said to us was that he wanted to bring the army back,” Mr. Sires told Ms. Thomas-Greenfield. “You know, to me, we give this island money, money, money. They don’t need an army. So if you could tell him that there are other countries out there without an army that are doing real well …”

“I will,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield responded.

On Wednesday morning, Representative Andy Levin, a member of the committee who is also a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus, called the killing of Mr. Moise “a devastating if not shocking example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled.”

“For months,” he 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 lead Republican on the committee, Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, condemned the killing of Mr. Moise and the shooting of the president’s wife, Martine Moise.

“There must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder. My condolences to the Moise family and people of Haiti,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement.

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