HAITI – Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated overnight during an armed attack at his private residence, a top Haitian official confirmed to Local 10 News Wednesday. He was 53.
First Lady Martine Moïse was shot multiple times during the attack and was brought to South Florida for treatment. Her vitals are stable but critical, officials said.
Haitian news outlets reported that a group of people, some of whom spoke in Spanish and English, stormed the home around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
In a statement, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said the president’s assassination was a “highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group.”
He vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
The official who spoke to Local 10 News said the assassin posed as a DEA agent.
Wednesday night, the Associated press reported that Haiti’s police chief said four of the suspected assailants had been shot and killed by police and two others were arrested.
No additional details were provided on the suspects.
Cellphone footage that was taken overnight appearing to be from outside the president’s home shows armed men in the street outside the residence.
It’s unclear whether the video was taken before or after the attack.
Another video shows what appears to be a body on the street, surrounded by armed individuals.
In one video, someone is heard screaming in English, “DEA operations. Everybody stand down!”
Joseph condemned what he called a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” adding that Haiti’s National Police and other authorities had the situation in the Caribbean country under control.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on First Lady Martine Moïse of Haiti,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement after being briefed by his national security team. “We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also released a statement Wednesday morning, saying she was praying for the people of Haiti.
“My prayers are with the people of Haiti as they wake up to the deeply troubling news that the President was assassinated,” the statement read. “The island was already facing grave challenges and instability which are only deepened by this development. South Florida is home to a vibrant and thriving Haitian community and we stand with them during this difficult time, as we pray for peace for the Haitian people.”
The killing comes amid deepening political and economic stability and a spike in gang violence.
Moïse spoke with Local 10 News anchor Calvin Hughes in May as the opposition was holding rallies and protests day after day, calling for him to resign.
Hughes said he traveled with the presidential motorcade to various parts of the country as Moïse wanted to show him what he believed were his successes.
Hughes said Moïse had heavy security, but there had been multiple assassination attempts on his life beginning when he was first elected president.
While the country has been unstable for some time, Hughes said he believes the president’s killing will create a lot of panic and more unrest in Haiti.
The nation of more than 11 million people had grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled under Moïse’s rule.
Its economic, political and social woes have deepened, with gang violence spiking heavily in the capital of Port-au-Prince, inflation spiraling and food and fuel becoming scarcer at times in a country where 60% of the population makes less than $2 a day.
These troubles come as Haiti still tries to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.
Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold elections, which led to Parliament being dissolved.
Opposition leaders have accused him of seeking to increase his power, including approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.
In recent months, opposition leaders demanded that he step down, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021.
Moïse and supporters maintained 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 during a year-long gap.
In his last post to Twitter, Moïse said he was naming Ariel Henry for the seat of Prime Minister.
J’ai nommé le citoyen Ariel Henry au poste de Premier Ministre. Il aura à former un gouvernement d’ouverture incluant les forces vives de la Nation, résoudre le problème criant de l’insécurité et accompagner le CEP pour la réalisation des élections générales et du référendum. pic.twitter.com/w5qSOjncSJ— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) July 5, 2021
“He will have to form an open government, including the vital forces of the nation, solve the problem of insecurity and accompany the CEP for the realization of the general elections and the referendum,” Moïse wrote in Creole.
The presidential and legislative elections in Haiti are scheduled to be held this year on Sept. 26. A constitutional referendum will also be held on that date. It had been postponed twice, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Below is the prime minister’s full statement on the president’s assassination:
“It is with deep sorrow that the Government of Haiti can confirm that President Moise has been assassinated. The attack occurred at the president’s personal residence at around 1:00am on July 7th. Although details are still emerging, at this time it can be confirmed that this was a highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group. Further details on the situation will be provided as soon as possible and we will ensure that those responsible for this heinous act are swiftly brought to justice.
“Haiti has lost a true statesman who was committed to progressing our country’s democratic transition and fighting corruption. President Moise believed that Haiti could become a beacon of democracy and worked tirelessly to address serious systemic failures within Haiti, including reform of the constitution. He sought to distance himself from polarized Haitian politics and deliver lasting, meaningful change for the country in the face of powerful forces of resistance.
“We urge Haitians to show restraint and maintain a peaceful environment over the coming days. We also call on the international community to launch an investigation into the assassination and for the United Nations to hold a Security Council meeting on Haiti as soon as possible.
“President Moise died in defence of democracy and we have a duty to ensure his legacy is honored. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire nation, and with the family of the President and the First Lady.”