Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was shot dead by unidentified attackers in his private residence overnight in a “barbaric act,” the government said on Wednesday, stirring fears of escalating turmoil in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The assassination coincided with a wave of gang violence in the capital Port-au-Prince as armed groups have battled with police and one another for control of the streets in recent months, turning many districts of the capital into no-go zones.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in televised remarks after chairing a cabinet meeting that the government had declared a state of emergency amid confusion over who would take over the reins of the country. “My compatriots, remain calm because the situation is under control,” he said.
The 53-year-old president’s wife, Martine Moïse, was also shot in the attack that took place around 1 a.m. local time and was receiving medical treatment, Joseph said in a statement.
“A group of unidentified individuals, some of them speaking Spanish, attacked the private residence of the president of the republic and thus fatally wounded the head of state,” he said.
Gunshots heard in capital
In his statement, Joseph said the police and army had the security situation under control, but gunshots could be heard throughout the capital after the attack. The Dominican Republic said it was closing the border it shares with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.
With Haiti politically divided, and facing a growing humanitarian crisis and shortages of food, there are fears of widespread disorder.
The violence has been fuelled by an increase in poverty and political instability. Moïse faced fierce protests since he took office as president in 2017, with the opposition accusing him this year of seeking to install a dictatorship by overstaying his mandate and becoming more authoritarian — charges he denied.
Ruled by decree
“All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the state and to protect the nation,” Joseph said.
Mose had ruled by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections and wanted to push through a controversial constitutional reform.
The Canadian Embassy in Haiti issued a tweet saying it will be closed to the public today.
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement it would be closed on Wednesday due to the “ongoing security situation.”
The United States had on June 30 condemned what it described as a systematic violation of human rights, fundamental freedoms and attacks on the press in Haiti, urging the government to counter a proliferation of gangs and violence.
Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader held an emergency meeting early on Wednesday about the situation but had yet to issue a statement.
Statement by Haitian interim prime minister via the Embassy of Haiti in Canada: