He was a controversial figure at the heart of Haiti’s political and economic turmoil. The assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise in his home earlier today may mark the end of political division in the tiny Caribbean country or perhaps start a new chapter of the chaos gripping politics there for some time.
A group of unidentified people attacked Moise’s home, killed him, and injured his wife Martine Moise with a bullet in a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act”, interim prime minister Claude Joseph said.
Some of the attackers spoke Spanish, he added. Gunshots could be heard throughout the capital, Port-au-Prince, after the attack, which comes amid deepening political and economic instability as well as a spike in gang violence in Haiti.
Haiti became Latin America and the Caribbean’s first independent state during the colonial era and the first Black-led republic when it threw off French rule in the 19th century.
But it has suffered cycles of violence, invasion and repression for most of its subsequent history, including the dynastic Duvalier dictatorship.
In recent years, the small Caribbean country has been plagued by military coups, popular revolts and economic turmoil.
However, the most devastating flash point recently was the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 that killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people, causing widespread damage in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. Despite an international relief effort, the country was all but overwhelmed, exacerbating political, social and economic problems.
Moise’s assassination came on the back of political polarisation that has dominated most of the Haitian president’s time in office.
His critics accuse him of overstaying his term, which should have ended on 7 February this year, but instead, he claimed to have one more year in office. He is also accused of corruption, adopting policies that generated high inflation rates due to austerity and encouraging gang attacks that left hundreds dead in the past few years.
Since January last year, Moise had ruled the country by decree after dissolving the parliament and refusing to hold another general election. “Moise blamed Parliament for the postponement [of a referendum on the constitution], for failing to approve an electoral law, while his opponents accused him of manoeuvres to hijack the process,” Human Rights Watch said in a report.
The Haitian president dismissed all the country’s elected mayors and violated the constitution by removing judges from the supreme court and replacing them with others, according to the opposition.
Former President Michel Martelly selected Moise to succeed him. In November 2016, he won the presidential race by slightly over 55 per cent, in an election widely seen to have been rigged by Martelly’s government.
Moise’s decision in November 2017 to re-establish the National Guard , 22 years after its dissolution, prompted fresh memories of a history of bloody coups and political instability. Haiti had been without military forces since 1995, when former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the army after returning to power following a coup, placing the national police in charge of security.
In recent years, the army’s comeback has been a divisive topic in a country still suffering the impact of the earthquake and fierce hurricanes. Critics and activists said the armed forces would meddle in politics and steal essential education and health care resources.
Shortly after the decision to reinstate the National Guard, widespread unrest broke out against Moise’s government due to increasing gas prices and financial embezzlement. Protests intensified this year after thousands took to the streets chanting “No to dictatorship” and calling for Moise’s resignation.
It remains to be seen whether Moise’s assassination will help stabilise Haiti or open the gates of even greater tumult.
Additional reporting by agencies