Written by: Ashley Lay (21-O1), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1), Emma Shuen Lee (21-O1), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Rakshita Murugan (21-E1), He Jizhao (21-U5), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2)
Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, 7 July, gunshots were heard in the home of President Jovenel Moïse. Moments later, he was declared dead, launching Haiti into a full-blown political crisis. While jockeying for control with the Senate President, Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared “a state of siege throughout the country”, deepening the constitutional crisis and posing an existential threat to an already fragile system.
Haiti’s background and the President’s background
Even before President Moïse’s assassination, Haiti’s political climate has been a turbulent and unstable one that was wracked with endemic corruption. Although the toppling of the brutal Duvalier dictatorship set it on a shaky democratic path, the country had once again begun to slip back into authoritarianism with President Jovenel Moïse at its helm. In his own words, there is no one “after God, who has more power than me in the country”.
Under Moïse, who was sworn in in February 2016, the country has witnessed a surge in kidnappings and gang violence, with several neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital, controlled by criminal organisations. This chaos, coupled with grinding poverty (with more than 60% of the population living on less than $2 per day, Haiti often ranks as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) and the increase in COVID-19 cases, forces thousands of displaced individuals to seek refuge in countries like Canada.
When Moïse’s right to continue serving his presidency was disputed this year, he asserted that his five-year term was to end in 2022 (this interpretation was supported by the US, the UN and the Organisation of American States), and imposed a rule by decree in January 2020. This decision sparked widespread civilian protests, with thousands demanding Moïse’s resignation and chanting “no to dictatorship”, further destabilizing the nation.
Suspects and other theories for the assassination
A group of 28 foreign mercenaries are under suspicion for executing the assassination operation on President Moïse. The hit squad consisted mainly of Colombians, along with two Haiti-Americans and the Colombian police director, Gen Jorge Luis Vargas. 17 former Colombian soldiers might also have been involved. They were found in possession of firearms, Moïse’s personal chequebook and a server that held surveillance camera footage of Moïse’s home. Currently, 17 suspects are detained, 3 have been killed, and the remaining 8 are fugitives. The suspects’ identities and their intentions to assassinate remain a mystery.
Yet, some question this theory. Steven Benoit, a prominent opposition politician and former senator claimed, “The president was assassinated by his own guards, not by the Colombians.”
Supporting this is Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo. It claims a source informed them of security footage from the presidential compound showing the Colombian operatives arriving at Moïse’s residence between 2.30am and 2.40am on Wednesday. This means the “hit squad” arrived one and a half hours following the President’s assassination, which the police claimed occurred at about 1.00am.
However, nothing is definitive and these only remain as possible theroies of what transpired that fateful day.
Impacts of his death
At home, the coup-like assasination of the Haitian President has caused outrage amongst the local Jalousie residents, in particular, patriotic outcry for the assasination by foreigners who are especially vehement within the local community. There is a pushing agenda for the police to vamp up search warrants for potential suspects in the murder of the President, wherein under the recently decreed ‘state of siege’, the police are permissed to do “anything necessary” to find the suspects. However, some fear that this could be a blanket permit to round up any political opponents of the President. Especially under the current defunctionalised parliament, the line of authority in approving replacements and confirming officials in the line of succession is muddled.
Looking at regional ramifications, the death of President Moïse has triggered the closure of the Dominican Republic border, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Dominican President Luis Abinader has also stepped up the military presence by the frontier. This could have a serious impact on the Dominican economy. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic is urging the international community to prioritise the political crisis and instability in its neighbouring country.
Globally, the most prominent action is by far from the USA. The USA has just had a US delegation visit Haiti and investigate the assasination. The visit included meetings with both Ariel Henry and Claude Joseph, the successor to Moïse and the interim Prime Minister. The key leader in dealing with the assasination, the USA has also remarked that the visit is only the beginning of US action.
However, many others have warned against international action, including Kinsley Jean, a youth leader and activist, who cited previous instances of international intervention, which brought about “cholera and killed thousands of people”. Haiti specialist Jake Johnston also opposes US intervention especially, citing US intervention in 1915 to have brought about more harm than good.
Assassinations have typically gripped countries internationally, regardless of the nature of their respective political climates; it is an obviously unpredictable phenomena that has not left any form of governance merciful, be it democratic, socialist or authoritarian. Nonetheless, it is crucial to look ahead and ponder over what holds in the future after the scene. In most cases, a suitable leader is replaced. Haiti’s situation is however, starkly different; the country has grappled with a worriedly lawless environment for years— and the hopes of it changing is even more deterred now with the loss of its leader.
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