By Earnest McBride
Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor
Haitian President Jovenel Moise, whose term in office got off to a rocky start in 2016 and 2017, died of gunshot wounds early Wednesday morning. He was 53-years-old.
A formal announcement from the Embassy of Haiti in the USA was issued around 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“It is with deep sorrow that the government of Haiti can confirm that President Moise has been assassinated,” the embassy said. “The attack occurred at the Presidential Residence at around 1:00 a.m. on July 7.
“Although details are still emerging, at this time it can be confirmed that this was a well-coordinated attack by a highly-trained and heavily-armed group. Further details will be provided as soon as possible.”
Yahoo News reports that a neighbor of the president and his wife heard a loud and continuous burst of gunfire in the early morning attack.
“I thought there was an earthquake; there was so much shooting,” the neighbor said. “The president had problems with many people, but this is not how we expected him to die. This is something I wouldn’t wish on any Haitian.”
Opposition groups in Haiti began calling for Moise’s resignation from the time he first took office in early 2016, after winning by a narrow margin in 2015. That election was set aside due to widespread claims of fraud. Moise had then increased his lead in the new elections and assumed office in February 2017 for a five-year term.
President Joe Biden said he was shocked and saddened by the assassination.
“We condemn this heinous act,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moise’s recovery.”
The four members of the Haiti caucus in the House of Representatives called for “peace and stability” while also condemning the slaying of the island state’s president.
“We also call for full transparency and an independent investigation into this criminal act,” caucus members Val Demings, Yvette Clarke, Andy Levin, and Ayanna Pressley said in a statement.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced Wednesday that the assassination came at the hands of “unidentified individuals – some of them speaking Spanish,” who assassinated Moise and seriously wounded his wife, Martine, while both slept at their residence just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Joseph, who also serves as foreign minister, was scheduled to be replaced as prime minister by the end of this week. Despite announcing that the nation was in a “state of siege,” he reassured the international community that he was in charge of government affairs.
While the Haitian presidency is an elective office and carries the title of head of state, the prime minister is appointed by the president and is recognized as the leader of the government.
Because of Haiti’s ever-increasing debt to foreign banks and other lending agencies, the island nation has had to follow the orders of the lending nations in order to qualify for much-needed foreign aid and donations from such agencies as the United Nations Food Relief Program.
In 2018, the International Monetary Fund demanded that Moise raise gas prices.
“His effort to do so on July 6, 2018, resulted in a three-day popular explosion that has culminated in the current uprising,” reported the opposition newspaper Liberation.
Unrest among the opposition parties in Haiti has also been fed in large part by the continuing presence of the United Nations peacekeeping force that has been in place since the 2010 massive earthquake that caused the death of 200,000 mostly poor citizens and destroyed the economy and infrastructure of several major cities.
An outbreak of cholera in the fall of 2010, the first such outbreak in Haiti’s history, was traced to the UN troops deployed there following the 2010 earthquake. With the death toll teetering around 10,000 among the nearly 800,000 infected, the distrust among Haitians for both its own government, the United States, and the United Nations reached the breaking point. Widespread revolts against foreign involvement inside the country and suspicions about public medical programs and vaccines remain a constant presence across the nation.
A large part of Haiti’s indebtedness is tied to specious claims by the French government that date back to the era of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), when the newly independent nation nationalized or confiscated some of the most profitable colonial properties. In 1825, France demanded the equivalent of $21 billion from Haiti. The United States supported France in these questionable claims.
Haiti, under French colonization, was known as the Pearl of the Indies and was reputed to have been the most profitable of all the colonial properties in the Americas for its large-scale coffee and sugar production.
In 2003, besieged President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay the extorted $21 billion brazenly taken from the Haitian treasury while the island was under U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Because of his unrelenting claims of injustice, Aristide was kidnapped by the U. S. Military in March 2004 and was flown to his exile in South Africa.
Jovenel was the sixth elected president since the forced ouster of Aristide. Because of the retake of the 2015-2016 election, Jovenel claimed that his five-year term would end in 2022. The opposition, however, seriously disagreed, and lay part of the blame on the United States for supporting Jovenel’s claims.
In the eyes of his growing list of opponents, Jovenel should have stepped down from office in February 2021. Despite the fact that he was viewed by a large segment of the political opposition as the main cause of Haiti’s current problems, Jovenel in recent months realized that the nation’s basic political structure needed changing.
“We need a system that works,” the New York Times quoted him as saying in March 2021. “The system now doesn’t work.”
He was pushing for a rewriting of the Haitian constitution, the newspaper reported.
“Among the provisions he was pushing for was one that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions while in office, leading critics to charge that he presented a threat to democracy and was setting the country on a course toward authoritarian rule,” the Times said.