Surveillance Camera: President Jovenel Moïse has been shot dead

It is still unclear who is behind the attack on the president. The situation in the bitterly poor country, which has been tense for months anyway, is unclear. Rumors circulating among the population even speak of the involvement of the American government in the attack.

Surveillance Camera: President Jovenel Moïse has been shot dead
Surveillance Camera Moïse has been shot dead

Haiti in shock: President Jovenel Moïse has been assassinated by a heavily armed group

Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse is dead. According to interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, there was an attack on the president's private residence in the hills high above the capital Port-au-Prince at about 1 a.m. Wednesday night. The president was fatally wounded in the attack. His wife Martine Moïse was injured, he said. She is currently being treated in a hospital. Some of the attackers spoke Spanish or even English. Joseph did not provide more detailed information on the background. Videos circulating on the Internet show heavily armed people dressed in black at the president's house in the residential district of Pelerin 5. Volleys of gunfire can be heard. There is also said to have been the use of drones and grenades.

The population is in shock. In many neighborhoods, people do not dare to go out into the streets at the moment. However, there are said to have been isolated incidents of looting. Police and military units have been dispatched to the more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs to maintain peace and order there. The capital's international airport was closed. The Dominican Republic reportedly has already closed border crossings with Haiti. Meanwhile, U.S. authorities said they would close the country's embassy in Port-au-Prince because of the uncertain situation.

Rumors in all directions

The confused situation and few concrete statements by the interim prime minister led to a multitude of rumors spreading among the population about the background to the nighttime attack. For example, the attackers, who appeared in the style of a professionally trained special unit, are said to have spoken with a Venezuelan or Colombian accent. Other reports circulating on the Internet state that the attackers posed as officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Rumors of U.S. involvement were fueled by last week's visit to Colombia and Brazil by CIA Director William Burns and Craig Faller, head of SouthCom, the agency responsible for military operations in Latin America.

The assassination attempt on the president is another high point in the crisis that has been building for several years in the desperately poor country. In recent years, there have been repeated violent protests against Moïse that have partially paralyzed Haiti. Moïse has been accused of corruption and links to violent gangs. But his political opponents are also said to have ties to organized crime. Haiti has hundreds of gangs fighting for sovereignty over neighborhoods and regions and terrorizing the country. Kidnappings of foreigners and wealthy Haitians have increased in recent years. Most recently, the violence increased once again. Videos show gang members equipped with modern firearms. Fighting over control of parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, has driven nearly 15,000 people to flee since early June, according to U.N. figures.

Dispute over length of term

Despite the chaotic conditions, Moïse still enjoyed support, especially among the poor, until the end. However, the opposition and parts of the judiciary questioned his legitimacy. Moïse had won the presidential election in October 2015, but it was repeated in 2016 due to discrepancies. He did not finally take up his normally five-year mandate until Feb. 7, 2017. In February of this year, the dispute escalated over whether Moïse's term had already expired or, as he himself claimed, would not end until February 2022. In early February, the opposition finally proclaimed Chief Justice Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis as interim president.

Moïse then accused the opposition of attempting to coup against him. An assassination attempt was even planned against him, but his security guards were able to thwart it. Twenty-three people were subsequently arrested, including judges and civil servants. At the time, however, Moïse did not present any evidence of the alleged coup. He also repeatedly delayed rescheduling the presidential and parliamentary elections. Since parliament currently no longer has a mandate, the president has ruled by decree since early 2020.

Washington exerted pressure

However, Moïse had announced a constitutional referendum for the end of June. This was intended to curtail the power of parliament and expand the powers of the president. This includes the possibility of re-electing the president. However, Moïse postponed the vote after international pressure, primarily from the United States. Washington had repeatedly spoken out in favor of a democratic and orderly solution to the crisis. Now it was planned to hold the overdue elections and constitutional referendum at the end of September.

At the beginning of this week, Ariel Henry was appointed as the seventh prime minister in four and a half years. He is to replace Claude Joseph and prepare the votes, Moïse had declared on Monday. Henry belongs to the social democratic opposition party Inite. However, Henry has not yet been sworn in, which is why Claude Joseph is still running the government. After a special session on Wednesday morning, Joseph imposed a state of siege on Haiti.