On 7 July President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was assassinated. His assailants? A group of Colombians, some of which were former members of the country’s armed forces and Haitian Americans. These assailants claimed that they did not intend to kill the president but only arrest him, and hired two translators, James Solages and Joseph Vincent to assist in the operation. The translators were told the group was a commando unit that held an arrest warrant for the president. Some assailants also claimed to work as security personnel in Haiti, which could have helped make their break-in and navigation of the president’s residence at the Port-au-Prince easier.
Uncertainty over the murder, assailants’ identities and their intentions have extended political crises in Haiti. While Moïse was in office, demonstrators protested his continued rule. International legal experts and civil society groups proposed the president’s term should have ended in February, but he and his supporters insisted it wouldn’t end until next year.
In the past Haiti, a country of 11 million people, has struggled to achieve national stability since the fall of the Duvalier dynastic dictatorship in 1986. While the president ruled by decree, general elections planned for later this year would have opened a space for the opposition to replace the government.
Throughout Moïse’s campaign, he was accused of fraud and corruption. He assumed office in 2017, facing further accusations of accepting multiple bribes related to Venezuelan aid. During his run as president, Moïse used his power in the judicial system to dismiss charges against him and undermine the growing opposition which never accepted his electoral victory. In May, United States Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of temporary legal status for Haitians living in the U.S. This was due to “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuse,” and lacking resources “exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The president’s death resulted in a leadership gap, with multiple men claiming the vacant title. Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said the constitution designated him prime minister. Ariel Henry, who Moise named prime minister a day before his death, claims he is the new president. The presidency is not the only government role left vacant; the Supreme Court’s chief justice who was expected to help provide stability in the crises died recently of COVID-19.
It is likely that Claude Joseph’s claim to leadership will be officially recognized after Helen La Lime, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti supports his position. She cited Article 149 of Haiti’s constitution as evidence. The article states, “[I]n the event of the vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic…the Council of Ministers, under the Presidency of the Prime Minister, exercises the Executive Power until the election of another president.” Interviewing with the Hatian newspaper Le Nouvelliste, Ariel Henry said that while he claimed to be the rightful leader, due partly to the exceptional situation, he urged a “consensus” should be reached and that he did not want to add to the chaos.
In response to the assassination, Claude Joseph called on the country to “stay calm” and attempted to reassure Haitians and the rest of the world that the situation was under investigation. However, concerns of chaos and the missing voice in the Senate have persisted.
Currently, 19 of 28 suspects are apprehended, and three were killed. The attackers disguised themselves as U.S. drug agents and likely used this to hide their identity while sparking international suspicion and misinformation. The two security officials in charge of Moise’s safety are under investigation and were summoned to hearings on the 13th and 14th of July. Until the origins and intentions of the gunmen become clear, it is crucial that Haiti is provided with the support necessary to calm political unrest. Authorities also need to make it clear who has the authority to lead the country.