More violence could follow Moïse's killing (July 8, 2021)
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated yesterday in his home by gunmen carrying assault weapons. His death has stunned the country, and analysts are concerned that an already grave crisis of violence could spiral out of control.
Moïse was shot at least a dozen times and died at the scene. There were signs the president may have been tortured. The president’s office and bedroom were ransacked and he was found lying on his back, covered in blood. First Lady Martine Moïse was gravely wounded, and has been transported to Miami for treatment. The attackers tied up staff while one of Moïse’s three children survived by hiding in her brother’s bedroom. (Miami Herald, Guardian)
Moïse was guarded by his own personal security, who are part of a specialized unit of the Haitian National Police assigned to the presidential palace. But sources say there have always been concerns about his security being inadequate, reports the Miami Herald.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said yesterday some of the killers spoke Spanish, and officials suspected mercenaries. Another senior official said some of the alleged attackers were Haitian. He also reiterated that among the assailants “were individuals who spoke English, who spoke Spanish, who entered the home of a president.” (Miami Herald)
The assailants apparently claimed to be agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to videos taken by people in the area of the president’s home. Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said at a news conference that the killing of the country’s president had been carried out “by well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.” Edmond said the DEA link was a ruse.
One theory circulating in the Haitian community was that the killers, who were heard speaking Spanish, could have been hired assassins from the Dominican Republic. (New York Times) The Dominican paper Diario Libre reported that investigators there were examining the possibility that some of the assassins may have used the country to access or flee Haiti. (Guardian)
Haiti’s National Police killed four of the suspected assailants allegedly behind Moïse's death yesterday morning and arrested two others, while the department had the other killers trapped and they were exchanging gunfire, the agency’s interim chief León Charles said late yesterday. Charles, also said that three police officers who had been held hostage were freed. “The pursuit of the mercenaries continues. Their fate is fixed. They will fall in the fighting or will be arrested.” (Miami Herald)
Haitian streets were absolutely silent yesterday as a breathless population waited to see how the leadership crisis will evolve.
The assassination caught Haiti in-between prime ministers -- Moïse had named Ariel Henry to the post Monday, but he hadn't sworn in before yesterday's assassination. In a press conference, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said that as head of the government “who is still in function,” he and other members of the government held a special meeting of Haiti’s security apparatus and decided to “declare a state of siege throughout the entire country.” The two-week declaration of martial law permits the police and security members to enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins." The decree also forbids meetings meant to incite disorder. (Miami Herald, New York Times)
It is not clear Joseph can legally do this. Neither of the country's two constitutions gives power to the prime minister in the event of a president's death. The first one, published in French and Creole in 1987, says the country’s most senior judge should step in. In 2012, however, it was amended to say that if there’s a vacancy in the last year of a president’s term, the Parliament should vote for a provisional president. The amendment was only published in French, raising questions over which is valid.
Further complicating matters, Haiti hasn't had a functioning parliament since January 2020, when the terms of the entire lower house expired. The president, who suspended elections to replace lawmakers 18 months ago, citing security concerns, had ruled by decree since. Only 10 of Haiti’s 30 senate seats are currently filled.
The head of Haiti's highest court died of Covid-19 last week. Another member is part of an opposition group that argues Moïse's legal term in office ended in February, five years after the 2016 election in which Moïse won with just under 600,000 votes in a country of 11 million people -- most people didn't participate. Moïse insisted he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the presidential election, amid accusations of voting fraud.
Moïse had been engaged in organizing a controversial constitutional referendum ahead of legislative and presidential elections scheduled for later this year. The referendum had been delayed twice because of the pandemic. Critics say the proposed constitution, which would strengthen the power of the presidency, was part of Moïse's authoritarian slide. (Slate)
Moïse was accused of significant corruption schemes related to Petrocaribe development funds. He was also accused of having used powerful violent gangs to suppress political opposition. Critics had accused Moïse’s circle of using the feared G9 alliance of nine Haitian gangs, led by the former police officer Jimmy Cherizier (also known as Barbecue), to target opponents, reports the Guardian.
Haiti has spiralled into a violent cycle, with thousands of people displaced by gang violence and an epidemic of kidnappings. (New York Times) There have been more than a dozen massacres since the fall of 2018, when youth organizations launched a nationwide anticorruption movement. In just the last week, at least 60 people have been killed in the escalating violence. (CEPR)
In fact, Fulton Armstrong, an American University Haiti specialist, told the Guardian that the country's soaring violence meant he was shocked, but not surprised by Moïse’s murder. “When you have these permissive escalations of violence, where innocent people get shot or killed or kidnapped, if there is no action, then one of these goons-for-hire that Haitian politicians use is going to take a shot,” said Armstrong, who was the CIA’s chief in Haiti during the 1990s. “These things have to have a denouement.”
Jake Johnston, a Haiti specialist from the Center for Economic and Policy Research told the Guardian he was also not entirely surprised by the “brazen” attack, which follows a spate of high-profile killings including those of a journalist and a human rights activist. (See last Thursday's post.)
“This is a situation that has been building for some time,” Johnston said. “A huge part of this story is that when you have a situation where the police has failed to provide security to the population, anything becomes possible.”
Though Moïse was widely criticized by portions of the population, there broad agreement that the assassination is bad news for Haiti's crisis-ridden democratic institutions, and for Haitians in general. Experts say the political vacuum Haiti finds itself in could fuel a renewed cycle of violence. (New York Times)
The Dominican Republic closed the border it shares with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, except to returning nationals, and beefed up security. “This crime is an attack against the democratic order of Haiti and the region,” Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader said. (Reuters)
International condemnation of the attack was universal, while some voices noted it was a sign of how deep Haiti's crisis has gotten. Yesterday the international community was deeply concerned about chaos erupting in the country and how best to prevent it, reports the Miami Herald.
"All of CARICOM feel the pain which has been inflicted on Haiti by this killing," wrote the organization chair Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. "The assassination of last evening further complicates the jostling for power that has characterized the Haitian state and its future." (Antigua Observer)
U.S. Representative Andy Levin decried international failure to support a Haitian-led democratic transition as “violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity." (New York Times)
U.S. officials said yesterday they still hope to see long overdue elections held this year for parliament, local offices and the presidency. But that view had been questioned even before the assassination.
There had been increasing calls in the U.S. for the government to change its stance on Moïse, particularly its support for the president's plans to hold elections and a referendum on a new constitution this year, reports the Washington Post. The push for Moïse to hold elections later this year was ludicrous given conditions on the ground, according to Haitian civil society groups. (CEPR)
The long, and very fraught history of foreign (U.S.) interference in Haiti complicates the options for the international community to aid in the current crisis. (See, for example "A magnet for exploitation: Haiti over the centuries" -- New York Times.)
"Too often, the Caribbean nation tends to exist at a distance for many White Americans: a tropical tapestry for tales of dictators and political dysfunction, of poverty and adversity, of stories and tropes that exist in an ever-present now, ready to be deployed in fundraising materials and political campaigns," writes Robert Taber in the Washington Post. "These stereotypes are steeped in anti-Black racism and mask an important truth: The histories of Haiti and the United States are intertwined and reach back centuries."