Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse speaks during the investiture ceremony of the independent advisory committee for the drafting of the new constitution at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
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  • On Wednesday night, assailants with assault weapons killed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in his private house
  • Police described the attack as a well-planned operation involving “foreigners” disguised as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials
  • In a televised address to the nation, Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, pleaded for calm
  • Since taking office in 2017, Mr Moïse faced calls to resign and mass protests over corruption accusations, economic management and his growing authority
  • The assassination has threatened to further destabilise one of the world’s most unstable and poor nations

Around 1 am on Wednesday morning the first shot rang out, a group of gunmen using assault weapons had assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in his private house.

In what police described as a well-planned operation involving “foreigners” who spoke English and Spanish, a group of unknown assailants invaded Mr Moïse’s home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, early on Wednesday, killing him and injuring his wife, Martine Moïse.

In an interview with Reuters, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said the gunmen pretended to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials when they approached Moïse’s guarded house after dark — a tactic that would have undoubtedly helped them obtain access.

According to Haiti’s police chief, two of President Jovenel Mose’s “suspected assassins” who were labelled as mercenaries have been apprehended, four have been killed, and a handful have been ringed by security forces.

Three policemen taken hostage by the assassins have been released, and all those engaged in the President’s assassination will be killed or detained, the police chief said. 

In a televised address to the nation, Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, pleaded for calm and introduced himself as the country’s new leader, saying that he and his fellow ministers had proclaimed a “state of siege” and imposed martial law on the country.

“My compatriots— remain calm because the situation is under control,” Mr Joseph said.

“This blow has wounded this country, this nation, but it will not go unpunished.”

However, the killing left a political vacuum that has exacerbated the chaos and bloodshed that has engulfed Haiti for months, threatening to further destabilise one of the world’s most unstable countries.

Since the fall of the Duvalier dynastic dictatorship in 1986, Haiti, a country of roughly 11 million people where the majority speak French or Haitian Creole, has struggled to maintain stability and has faced a series of coups and foreign interventions.

Mrs Moïse is in critical condition and arrived in Florida late on Wednesday for treatment, according to local US television stations.

US President Joe Biden stated on Wednesday that the situation had left him “shocked and saddened”. In a statement, Mr Biden said, “We condemn this heinous act”.

Many Haitians had wanted Mr Moïse to step down. Since taking office in 2017, he has faced calls to resign and mass protests, first over corruption accusations and his economic management, then over his growing authority.

After the government failed to hold parliamentary elections, the banana exporter-turned-politician, who entered office in 2017, governed by decree for more than a year. In Haiti’s government, there are just 10 elected senate officials out of the 30 senate seats.

Recently, he presided over an uptick in gang violence, which human rights campaigners attribute to politicians and corporate elites using armed organisations for their own gain. Many areas of the city, Port-au-Prince, have become no-go zones in recent months.

Haiti’s economic, political, and social problems have gotten worse, inflation rising, and food and gasoline becoming short at times in a nation where 60 per cent of the population lives on less than $3 a day.

With a GDP per capita of US$1,149.50 (A$1,539) and a Human Development Index of 170 out of 189 nations in 2020, Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as one of the poorest countries in the world.

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