jovenel moise assassinated
Photo: @Jovenel Moise/Instagram
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Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise Assassinated Amid Political Unrest

Update: A Haitian national was arrested in connection with the murder of President Moise on Sunday, July 12. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, who was living in Florida but flew to Haiti by private plane early in June, with the intention of taking over as president, is believed to be one of three masterminds of the attack and reportedly hired a unit of assassins that included 26 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans, to conduct the siege on the president’s residence. It is believed he did so through a Venezuelan security agency based in Florida.

According to Aljazeera, two other Haitians living in America were also arrested in connection with the murder, with 21 total arrests having been made since the July 7 attack, the other 18 of which were among the hired Colombian assassins. “The mission of these attackers was initially to ensure the safety of Emmanuel Sanon, but later the mission was changed,” said National Police Chief Leon Charles in a press conference.

The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, 53, was killed in an early morning attack on his home on Wednesday, July 7. Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a statement that a “heinous, inhumane and barbaric act,” was committed when at around 1a.m. an unidentified group of individuals stormed President Moise’s private residence and assassinated him. CNN reported that Prime Minister Joseph further explained that it was a “highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group,” and that the first lady was shot in the attack and receiving treatment. However, the prime minister did not specify how President Moise was killed.

“Me and all the ministers have been working since the news broke and we want to assure you we will bring the killers of the president to justice,” Prime Minister Joseph said in a televised statement. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and has been plagued by political unrest for years.

Many Haitians believe that President Moise’s term should have ended back in February 2021, but he and his supporters have asserted for months that his five-year term was not set to end until 2022. Moise refused to leave office, prompting ongoing protests that have often led to violence, with citizens and journalists having been injured.

According to Aljazeera, the discrepancy regarding President Moise’s term is the result of a botched election back in October 2015. Moise won the election, but a runoff was conducted due to claims of voter fraud. After being delayed several times, the runoff election finally occurred in November 2016, President Moise won and officially took office in February 2017. However, the Haitian constitution dictates that if a vote cannot take place before February 7 (in this case, the delayed runoff), “the elected president takes office immediately after the vote is confirmed and his mandate is expected to begin on February 7 in the year of the election.”

Therefore the Haitian Bar Federation, the Superior Council of Judicial Power and Quisqueya University, as well as a number of other groups claim that his term should have ended this year, and have been urging him to leave office since that time.

Back in February when many were expecting the change in power, thousands flooded the streets of Port-au-Prince in a protest and the government dubbed it an attempted coup. At the time, BBC reported that 23 people were arrested for attempting to stage a coup, including Supreme Court judge, Ivickel Dabresil, who was selected as a provisional president by those who insisted Moise’s presidential term had ended. When Dabresil was detained, the opposition named Supreme Court judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis interim leader.

Opposition to President Moise has been ongoing throughout his administration though, with many accusing him of corruption. BBC reported that members of the opposition, who largely say they did not attempt a coup back in February, have called Moise’s administration “irresponsible” and “corrupt.” They blame him for an increase in violent crimes and poverty, as well as for failing to hold a legislative election that should have happened in October 2019, which has left the country with no parliament.

Many people with connections to Haiti have taken to social media in the wake of President Moise’s death to explain to the rest of the world the issues that have been plaguing Haiti.  Still others, are expressing their shock that yet another crisis has hit this small, poverty-stricken country with a population of about 11 million.

Prior to his assassination, President Moise was reportedly planning to hold a referendum to meet calls from citizens to update Haiti’s constitution. However, some believe he had ulterior motives and was going to attempt to remove a clause that would have prevented him from running for a second term as president.

The United States government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations both agreed to continue supporting President Moise as long as he followed through on his promise to hold “free and fair” elections later this year. For various reasons, it is unclear who will step into office now that President Moise has been killed. According to CNN, the President of the Supreme Court would normally step in, but he died of COVID-19 recently, and that Prime Minister Joseph would normally be able to request to take office, but because the legislative elections were not held in 2019, there is no parliament for him to submit his request to.

In the aftermath of President Moise’s assassination, the US embassy in Haiti has closed its office for the day and issued a security alert. “We stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that is needed … it’s important that people of Haiti know that,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.