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The Assassination of Haiti’s President

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Haiti, a small country on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean (shared with the Dominican Republic), has recently been placed into turmoil with the assassination of its President Jovenel Moise. An even more uncertain future faces Haiti, which has been struggling with rising violence, poverty, and COVID-19. The acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has assumed leadership, declaring a state of siege to forestall further turmoil.

On Wednesday, 7 July 2021 at around 1 A.M. a group of unidentified individuals broke into Moise’s home, fatally wounding him and shooting First Lady Martine Moise. Moise’s death occurred in the larger context of political instability- many key roles of the government are empty, the parliament is not functioning, and Haiti’s opposition movement had called for Moise to resign.

Criminal violence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has recently increased after ex-police officer Jimmy Cherlzler vowed to carry out a revolution in the city in June before the media. According to the UN, over 13,000 people fled the city for temporary shelters. Targeted attacks against the police and the burning of civilian homes, in addition to rival groups and the police struggling for control over the city, have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Haiti was already facing a dire economic situation. The pandemic coupled with the recent increase in violence has only added to the troubles of citizens and efforts of aid groups such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. UNICEF has warned that severe acute childhood malnutrition is expected to double in Haiti because of the pandemic, rising violence, and lack of access to clean water and food. In addition, acute malnutrition, less dire than severe acute malnutrition, has been reported to have increased over 61% in the past year.

Moise was a controversial figure in Haitian politics because his right to continue to serve as president was denied by many people. While Moise stated that his five-year term would end in 2022-- backed by the US, UN, and Organization of American States-- the opposition-- which accused him of allowing corruption and insecurity to grow in the country-- argued he should have stepped down on 7 February of this year as the clock starts when the president is elected, not when he or she takes office. Furthermore, Moise failed to hold elections at both the local and national levels throughout his term, leaving many positions in the government empty.

Further complicating matters, there is uncertainty as to who should replace Moise for the immediate future. The President of the Supreme Court would normally be next in line, but the position is currently empty. The previous officeholder, Rene Sylvestre, recently died of COVID-19. Acting Prime Minister Joseph needs to be approved by parliament to formally replace the president, but the parliament is partially empty and is not functioning. Moise had also appointed Dr. Ariel Henry as another Prime Minister on 5 July, leaving Haiti with two Prime Ministers: one in office, and one legally appointed by the president. A third option would be Joseph Lambert. While it is the President of the National Assembly who usually replaces the President of the Republic, there is currently no President of the National Assembly, However, Joseph Lambert, a former senator, presides over a third of the Senate in parliament, and a third of the Senate still exists.

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