Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, was assassinated by unknown assailants in a brazen assault on his home early Wednesday morning. Moïse’s wife was shot and has been hospitalized.
According to a tweet from Haiti’s communications secretary Frantz Exantus, police had arrested the “presumed assassins” by Wednesday night. Haiti’s police chief Léon Charles added that four of the suspected assassins had been fatally shot by officers, while two more were arrested in what appeared to be a hostage situation; three police officers that were held hostage were also freed.
The Miami Herald reported that the assassins claimed to be Drug Enforcement Administration agents. In videos recorded by residents of the neighborhood, a man with an American accent can be heard shouting via a megaphone, “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.” A Haitian government official told the Herald that these assailants weren’t DEA. “These were mercenaries,” they said.
“I thought there was an earthquake, there was so much shooting,” a nearby resident who heard the attack told the Associated Press.
Moïse, 53, was a divisive figure who had stayed in power the past few months despite the fact that many observers contended that his term expired in February, following rule by decree for the past two years. Protesters had turned out in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, urging Moïse to resign amid a backdrop of increasing gang violence and the pandemic, which has not been brought under control in the country. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has long struggled with political instability — Moïse canceled several local and state elections — and is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
It is unclear who will succeed Moïse thanks to his autocratic tenure. The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, would need to be confirmed by parliament to serve permanently — but the parliament is no longer meeting after Moïse canceled several elections, CNN reports. The country’s president of the Supreme Court would normally have been in line to take over from Moïse, but he recently died of COVID-19. “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. “Democracy and the republic will win.”
Haitian officials have called for an international investigation and have specifically asked the U.S. for help in the search. Joseph expressed concerns that the assassins could have left Haiti by sea or by crossing over into the Dominican Republic. Dominican officials closed the land border Wednesday, describing it as “completely calm.” Joseph also said that the elections scheduled for later this year should not be suspended. He added that Moïse’s political allies and adversaries need to work together during the crisis. “We need every single one to move the country forward,” he told the Associated Press.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the United States is “shocked and saddened” by the attack on Moïse and his wife. “We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery,” Biden said. “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.”