The assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday has pitched the country into uncertainty.
Early Wednesday, Moïse was killed in his home by heavily armed gunmen, according to authorities. His wife and Haiti’s first lady, Martine, was shot and injured as well. She was reportedly in stable, but critical condition following the shooting, and has since been sent to Miami for treatment.
Haitian authorities have reacted quickly to the attack: arresting alleged gunmen, closing borders, and instituting martial law.
Police say they caught the gunmen
Just hours after the attack at Moïse’s home, Haiti’s police chief announced that, following what appeared to be a hostage-taking situation, four suspects were fatally shot by police and two others arrested.
Léon Charles, the police chief, said that three police officers were held hostage but have since been freed.
Authorities claim that the gunmen responsible for Moïse’s killing were likely mercenaries. They have not officially released names of suspects involved in the attack.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph also described some of them as “Spanish speaking.” There are other reports that the gunmen also spoke English.
Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, said the attackers posed as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, likely gaining entry to Moïse’s home by using that identity.
President Joe Biden condemned what he called the “horrific assassination” of Haiti’s leader.
“We condemn this heinous act,” he said in a statement. “We stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
In brief remarks to reports, Biden called the situation “worrisome” and said more information was needed about what happened.
Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
Who was President Moïse?
Prior to his killing, opponents of the president tried to remove the 53-year-old from office, claiming he was improperly attempting to extend his presidency.
Moïse was not well-liked in the country and was overall rated fairly low by citizens, according to Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder of The Haitian Times, who spoke to Morning Edition early Thursday.
Before he was handpicked by the previous president, Moïse worked in agriculture as a banana exporter.
He took office in 2017 after a protracted and contested election. But once in office, his leadership was no less chaotic.
Moïse had stripped rival political parties, businesspeople and prominent families of power. He made a lot of enemies, according to François Pierre-Louis, an expert on Haitian politics at Queens College at the City University of New York.
“[The attack] could have come from anywhere. And he alienated too many people,” Pierre-Louis told NPR.
For more than a year before his death, Moïse had been ruling by decree after he failed to hold legislative elections and Parliament dissolved. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council said was deeply concerning.
What’s next for Haiti?
Haiti was already in crisis before its president’s assassination, according to experts.
Political instability, the lasting effects of a devastating earthquake and a cholera epidemic, foreign political meddling, and gang violence have all contributed to serious instability in the country.
“You have this situation where the institutions are not working, where the economy is stagnated … the politics has been extremely volatile. The current government has been challenged by the population. There have been massive accusations of corruption,” Robert Fatton, an expert on Haitian politics at the University of Virginia, told NPR. “So you name it, in terms of instability and institutional decay, you have it at the moment in Haiti.”
Joseph, the interim prime minister, urged residents to remain calm following the shocking developments of the past day.
Joseph said the police and military were in control of security. He also remains the top official in charge.
Looking ahead, Joseph said in an interview with The Associated Press, elections in the Caribbean nation that are scheduled for later this year should go ahead as planned.
Among Haitians however, Moïse’s shocking killing has caused confusion and widespread anxiety as officials declared a “state of siege” in the country and closed the international airport.
Haiti’s neighbor the Dominican Republic announced it would close its border and reinforce security to prevent alleged assassins from escaping.