Assassination of Haitian President Opens A Power Vacuum

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and his wife, Martine Moïse, was wounded in an overnight raid. Interim prime minister Claude Joseph released a statement calling the killing a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.” 

Security forces engaged in an intense battle with gunmen while they attempted to flee the scene. Four suspects were shot and killed in the fight. Police General Director Leon Charles described the assassins as “mercenaries.” 

“We blocked them [the mercenaries] en route as they left the scene of the crime. Since then, we have been battling with them,” Charles said in a televised address. “They will be killed or apprehended.”

According to Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the US, the assassins were experienced “foreign mercenaries” posing as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Haitian authorities announced that of the 28 mercenaries, 26 were Colombian and 2 were Haitian-American. 

The Haitian government has declared a two-week state of emergency in response to the assassination. Haiti has been battling an increase in gang violence and insecurity. Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haiti has struggled to achieve political instability. Moise ruled by a decree after Haiti failed to hold presidential elections. Moise’s opposition began demanding his resignation in recent months amid claims of his growing authoritarianism. 

The international community has been united in its response to the assassination. President Biden expressed his sadness and condemnation over the murder. Governments across the world from Latin America to Europe have expressed concern over Haiti. Additionally, the United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting regarding Haiti. Al Jazeera reported the session will evaluate whether “Haiti, given its current security situation, has the capacity to investigate the crime or if there should be an international investigation.”

There appear to be few other options for Haiti’s government. Haiti’s Supreme Court chief justice, who would have been Moise’s successor and provided some stability to the country, recently died of COVID-19. The assassination has opened a power vacuum in Haiti. Following Moise’s assassination, Haiti experienced a drastic escalation in gang violence. The gangs appear to be as powerful and organized as ever in contrast to the Haitian political crisis. 

“There’s been an enduring political crisis worsening over the past several years,” said Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. “Over the past months, in particular, there have been a lot of warnings coming from observers on the ground that the situation has gotten extremely distressing and deteriorating. This is part of that course of events but it is very difficult to understand exactly what transpired and also, worryingly, exactly what will unfold over the next couple of days in the wake of this.”

With the future of Haiti’s government unclear, civilians are particularly at risk of being subjected to the brutality of gangs. There needs to be unified international action to help reestablish Haiti’s government and protect ordinary citizens.