Haitian President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at his home

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By EVENS SANON and DÁNICA COTO

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – A squad of gunmen assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and injured his wife during a night raid on their home on Wednesday, and police later said they shot dead four suspects and arrested two more, inflicting more chaos in the poorest country in the Americas.

Three police officers held hostage by the suspected armed men were released Wednesday evening, said Léon Charles, head of the Haitian National Police.

The murder of Moses threatened further turmoil for a country already suffering from gang violence, skyrocketing inflation and protests against its increasingly authoritarian regime.

Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph said police and military control security in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas where a history of dictatorship and political upheaval has long hampered the consolidation of a democratic regime.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Joseph called for an international investigation into the assassination, said elections slated for the end of the year should take place and pledged to work with allies and opponents of Moses.

“We need everyone to move the country forward,” said Joseph. He alluded to the president’s enemies, describing him as “a man of courage” who had opposed “certain oligarchs in the country, and we believe these things are not without consequences.”

Despite Joseph’s assurances that order would prevail, there was confusion over who should take control and widespread anxiety among Haitians. The authorities have declared a “state of siege” in the country and closed the international airport.

The normally busy streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, were empty on Wednesday. Sporadic gunshots were heard in the distance, public transport was scarce, and some people searched for shops open to food and water.

Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, said the attack on Moses, 53, “was carried out by foreign mercenaries and professional killers – well orchestrated”, and that they were impersonating for US Drug Enforcement agents. Administration. The DEA has an office in the Haitian capital to assist the government with anti-narcotics programs, according to the United States Embassy.

Joseph said the heavily armed gunmen spoke Spanish or English, but gave no further details.

Moses’ wife, Martine, was in stable but critical condition and was being transferred to Miami for treatment, Edmond said in Washington.

Haiti asked the US government for help with the investigation, he said, adding that the assassins could have escaped through the land border with the Dominican Republic or by sea.

The Dominican Republic has said it is closing the border and increasing security in the region, describing the border as “completely calm”.

Haiti appeared to be heading into further volatility ahead of this year’s general election. Moses had ruled by decree for more than a year after failing to hold an election, and the opposition demanded he resign in recent months, saying he was leading him into another dark period of authoritarianism.

It is a testament to Haiti’s fragile political situation that Joseph, a protege of Moïse who was only supposed to be prime minister temporarily, found himself in charge.

But Haiti seems to have few other options. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who could be expected to help ensure stability in a crisis, recently died of COVID-19.

The main opposition parties have said they are very dismayed by the murder.

“In this painful circumstance, the political forces of the opposition condemn with the utmost rigor this heinous crime which is in contradiction with democratic principles”, declared their press release.

The parties added that they hope the National Police will take all necessary measures to protect lives and property, and called on Haitians to be “extremely vigilant”.

Joseph is likely to lead Haiti for now, although that may change in a country where constitutional provisions have been observed erratically, said Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

The best scenario would be for the interim prime minister and the opposition parties to come together and hold an election, Dupuy said.

“But in Haiti, nothing is taken for granted. It depends on the current balance of power in Haiti, ”he said, describing the situation as dangerous and volatile. Haitian police are already grappling with a recent outbreak of violence in Port-au-Prince that has displaced more than 14,700 people, he said.

Former President Michel Martelly, who was succeeded by Moïse, described the assassination as “a blow to our country and to Haitian democracy, which is struggling to find its way.”

US President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and saddened to learn of this horrific assassination” and condemned “this heinous act”.

“The United States offers its condolences to the Haitian people, and we stand ready to help as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” Biden said in a statement.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also condemned the assassination and stressed that “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. The Security Council has scheduled an emergency closed-door meeting on Haiti on Thursday.

Governments in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere have also expressed concern over the plight of Haiti.

A resident who lives near the president’s home said she heard the attack.

“I thought there had been an earthquake, there was so much shooting,” said the woman, who requested anonymity because she fears for her life. “The president has had issues with a lot of people, but that’s not how we expected him to die.”

The U.S. embassy in Haiti said it was limiting U.S. personnel to its premises and closed the embassy on Wednesday.

It’s too early to know exactly what will happen next, said Jonathan Katz, who previously covered Haiti for the PA and wrote a book on the country’s devastating earthquake.

“We don’t know who did this, what their end goal is, what else they planned,” he said, noting that Moses had a long list of enemies. “There were a lot of people who wanted him to go. And there were a lot of people he wanted to leave.

“It seems like a fairly well-funded operation,” he said, adding that it could take days to piece together what happened. “This is the question: who is behind it and what do they want? “

Moses was killed a day after appointing Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, as the new prime minister. Joseph resumed the post of interim prime minister in April following the resignation of the previous prime minister, Joseph Jouthe – the latest in a revolving door of prime ministers.

In the AP interview, Joseph said he had spoken with Henry three times and that there was agreement that he was in charge at the moment.

“He was actually appointed but never took office,” Joseph said of Henry. “I was the one who was Prime Minister, who was in office. That’s what the law and the constitution say.

However, in a separate interview with AP, Henry appeared to contradict Joseph. “It’s an exceptional situation. There is a bit of confusion, ”he said. “I am the incumbent Prime Minister.

Haiti’s economic, political and social woes have worsened recently, with the surge in gang violence in Port-au-Prince, skyrocketing inflation, and scarcity of food and fuel in a country where 60% of the population earns less than $ 2 a day. These problems come as Haiti is still trying to recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Opposition leaders accused Moïse of seeking to increase his power, including approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and one that created an intelligence agency that reports only to the president. .

He had faced large protests in recent months which turned violent as opposition leaders and their supporters rejected his plan to hold a constitutional referendum with proposals that would strengthen the presidency.

In recent months, opposition leaders have demanded that he resign, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021. Moïse and his supporters argued that his term began when he took office in early 2017 , following a chaotic election that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve for a one-year hiatus.

In May, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of the temporary legal status of Haitians living in the United States, citing “serious security concerns (in Haiti), social unrest, a increasing human rights violations, crippling poverty and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “

The reprieve benefited an estimated 100,000 people who arrived after the devastating 2010 earthquake and are eligible for Temporary Protection Status, which provides refuge for people fleeing countries experiencing civil unrest or natural disasters.

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This story has been updated to correct that Moses ruled by decree for over a year, not more than two years.

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press editors Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Joshua Goodman in Miami and Ben Fox in Washington contributed.

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