Unidentified gunmen have shot Haitian President Jovenel Moïse dead at his private residence in Port-au-Prince overnight on Wednesday, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said.
Joseph also described the attack as an “inhuman and barbaric act” and explained that the assailants were “foreigners who spoke English and Spanish.”
First lady Martine Moïse survived the shooting but needed hospitalization due to her wounds. “She’s stable but in critical condition,” Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond said. “Efforts are being done now to take her to Miami to be treated.”
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in a statement from his office. “Democracy and the republic will win.”
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was already in a precarious political situation before the assassination, having grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled under Moïse.
Moïse, who was 53, ruled by decree for more than two years after the country failed to hold elections and the opposition demanded his resignation in recent months.
In the early hours of Wednesday, the streets of Port-au-Prince were empty, but some businesses were ransacked. After the attack, gunshots could be heard throughout the capital.
Joseph said police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Pétionville and will be sent to other areas.
The Dominican Republic said it was closing the border it shares with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.
Haiti’s economic, political and social woes have deepened recently, with gang violence spiking heavily in the nation's capital, inflation spiralling and food and fuel becoming scarcer in a country where 60% of the population makes less than US $ 2 a day.
These troubles come as Haiti still tries to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake as well as from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Moïse had 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.
In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti was due to have a constitutional referendum in September after it was postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.