The assassination of the president of Haiti in the early hours of this Wednesday represents the high point of a growing political and security crisis that could open a new and violent chapter in the volatile history of the Caribbean nation.
Keys to understanding what happened in Haiti
Jovenel Moïse was shot dead in his home in Port-au-Prince, the capital. According to witnesses and government authorities, they were “mercenaries” dressed in black posing as employees of the United States anti-drug agency (DEA). The first lady, Martine Moïse, was also injured in the attack.
Robert Fatton, a professor of Haitian politics at the University of Virginia, has been “simply stunned.” “I do not understand how it is possible to enter the residence of the president, kill him, and then leave; it is all very strange; I am not sure who is going to benefit from this, we have no idea.” “In our era we had not had assassinations of presidents,” he says. “We had had coups and frustrated coups, but killing a president is something else, it is something that goes beyond what had been seen in Haiti.”
“State of total uncertainty”
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, has described what happened as an “atrocious act”. Whoever is responsible for the attack, analysts agree that Moïse’s assassination bodes ill for the future of a deeply impoverished nation that has already been grappling with a series of interconnected crises of politics, economics, organized crime and coronavirus. “What we have now is a state of total uncertainty,” says Fatton.
In the Haitian Constitution, according to Fatton, the position of acting president would now go to the Chief Justice. “But the Chief Justice died from COVID-19 [en junio]So obviously there is no one in charge, “he says.
It is also unclear who the position of prime minister will be for. After removing Claude Joseph, Moïse’s plan was to appoint Ariel Henry on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, it was Joseph who announced the murder of Moïse.
“We have no Parliament, we have a Prime Minister who is no longer a Prime Minister, a dead Chief Justice, the police crumbling, and gangs roaming the streets of Port au Prince“says Fatton.” There’s no one really in charge, I think it’s going to lead to more chaos. ”
A conflicting presidency
Moïse, a banana exporter with no political experience, was elected president at the end of 2016 after a campaign on social media in which he presented himself as the Banana Man of Haiti (Nèg Bannann nan). When he assumed the presidency in February 2017, there were those who hoped that he would bring a modicum of stability to the country’s turbulent politics. With 11 million inhabitants, serious deficiencies and still recovering from the earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak in 2010, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Instead of stability, Haiti was further plunged into political and economic conflict. Moïse faced growing discontent over corruption, incompetence, the alleged erosion of democracy, the inability to vaccinate citizens against COVID-19, and the recent increase in violence that, in many cases, was politically motivated.
Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Faced with the increase in protests for what, according to its critics, it was an authoritarian attempt to cling to power, in February he ordered the arrest of 23 people and said that he had foiled a plot to assassinate him and carry out a coup. In the last year, the number of murders, kidnappings and gang violence has increased, with some accusing Moïse of fomenting them.
“Today there is no safe place in Haiti,” says Pierre Espérance, a well-known human rights activist. Since November 2018, his organization has recorded 13 gang-related massacres in which 437 people were killed and 129 remain missing. “It is a very complicated situation,” he says.
Fear and uncertainty
Fulton Armstrong, who in the 1990s was the head of the CIA in Haiti, says he is shocked but not surprised by the murder of Moïse. “When these escalations of tolerated violence occur, in which innocent people are shot, killed or kidnapped, without a reaction, then one of these thugs hired by Haitian politicians is going to try to gamble,” he says. Armstrong, who is currently a Haiti specialist at the American University. “These things always have their ending.”
Center for Economic and Policy Research Haiti specialist Jake Johnston also says he was not entirely surprised by the “blatant” aggression. after the series of murders of well-known people, including that of a journalist and that of a human rights activist. “It is an attack that has been brewing for a while,” he says. “In a situation in which the police have not given security to the population, anything is possible.”
According to Espérance, the climate of fear and palpable uncertainty in Port-au-Prince has intensified in the hours since the president’s assassination. “Everyone is without leaving home,” says the activist, who fears for the possibility of foreign intervention to impose a political solution in Haiti.
In the more than 100 years since the last assassination of a president, the country has been repeatedly intervened. The American invasion and occupation that followed the assassination of President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in July 1915 lasted until 1934.
According to Fatton, an intervention similar to the controversial UN stabilization mission between 2004 and 2007 cannot be ruled out if the security situation worsens after the assassination of the president. “Now all this is pure conjecture, but what I think is quite clear is that the situation is going to deteriorate soon, because there are going to be a lot of people fighting for power.”
Translated by Francisco de Zárate