Assassination of Haiti’s President Foreshadows Ongoing Political Instability


Caroline Owen

On July 7th, 2021, in a turn of events that has shocked the world, the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated. Moïse, who took office in early 2017, was shot in a nighttime break-in of his private residence. His wife Martine was injured, but survived. 


In the immediate wake of the assassination, Haiti has been struggling. Gruesome photos, allegedly of the mutilated corpse of the former President, began to surface on WhatsApp the day after the assassination, which the government denounced as inhumane and lowly attempts to terrorize the Haitian people. Still recovering after a disastrous earthquake eleven years ago, the country is in economic turmoil, and the assassination has only furthered this – with no apparent leader, Haiti’s poltical system, and likewise its response to the ongoing crisis, is in question. The situation has grown so dire that the Haitian government has called on the United States and to send in troops to stabilize the nation. This decision, however, has been rebuked by many Haitian activists, who believe that Hatiians themselves should be responsible for mitigating the ongoing crisis. 


In recent days, suspects have emerged regarding the killing, and several theories have begun to gain traction. The most widely-credited theory, backed by the Haitian police, states that a Haitian-American doctor based out of Florida hired mercenaries to assassinate the president. Several Haitians, Columbians, and Americans have been arrested as a part of an ongoing investigation, which alleges that American businessmen offered thousands of dollars to Columbian veterans to carry out a hit on Moïse. Furthermore, the acting president Claude Joseph, the former Prime Minister of Haiti under Moïse, has been implicated in assassination, providing a political motivation – Joseph’s role as President was only attained after Moïse’s death.


Since even before he took office, Moïse has been the center of controversy. The process to certify his party’s political victory in 2015 took almost two years as the process was halted by allegations of voter fraud. Moïse claimed to win the general election with 33% of the vote while exit tickets showed his party winning just 6% of the vote – the election was subsequently nullified. In 2016, Moïse was legally declared the victor of a redo election with only 21% voter turnout. While Moïse ran as a center-right politician, he expressed support for boosting Haiti’s agricultural sector and expanding social welfare programs, a platform that ultimately gained him mass popularity among desperate voters. However, these promises soon were revealed to be false.


In 2018, nationwide protests began in retaliation to raises in fuel prices supported by the Haitian government. Over the next months the cry for change evolved into a call against Moïsie: reformers wanted to remove the president from office and create an interim, transitory government that would alleviate socioeconomic pressures on the public, increase access to public healthcare and social programs, and address corruption among high-profile Haitin politicians. The protests forced businesses to close and many Haitians to hide inside their homes for fear of their safety. In January 2021, a second wave of protests emerged after Moïsie expressed a desire to extend his term past the traditional five-year-limit, which many Haitians insist began in 2016 after his election victory was certified.


As of now, it is unclear who will succeed Moïse to become the head of the Carribean country. Joseph Lambert, the head of the Haitian Senate, has made clear he is interested in the position. The Haitian senate passed a resolution proposing Lambert become the provisional president until January of 2022, when a new Parliament will be elected. Haiti’s parliament, which itself is in a state of uncertainty, has called for Claude Joseph, the President at the moment, to be removed from office on grounds of his involvement with the inconsistent narratives produced about the assassination. 


Haitians are hopeful that this monumental event, which has uprooted much of the country, will be a unifying force among people who have witnessed so much tragedy.