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Haiti President Assassinated, Instability and Conflict Loom

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated overnight when a group of gunmen stormed his private residence at around 1:00 a.m. local time. Moïse’s wife, Martine, was wounded by the unidentified assailants, some of whom allegedly spoke Spanish or English, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a radio address.

Joseph, who called the assassination a “heinous, inhumane, and barbaric act,” said in a statement that the “security situation in the country is under the control of the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Armed Forces. All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the State and to protect the Nation.”

The attack has stoked fears that the Caribbean country—already challenged by political instability and gang violence—could face worse upheaval after the assassination, The Washington Post reported. Recent fighting in the capital of Port-au-Prince between rival gangs and police forces has displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations. As of early June, the exact number of displaced persons was unknown, but widespread gang violence led to the burning of hundreds of houses and the death or injury of numerous victims. The UN estimated that 260,000 people were affected.

In a report issued in June, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “The national police is often, during these clashes and attacks, not in a position to provide the necessary security and protection, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves.” Assailants have attacked police stations, stealing weapons and harming officers.

The report continued: “The unprecedented level of violence and subsequent displacements is creating a host of secondary issues, such as the disruption of community-level social functioning, family separation, increased financial burdens on host families, forced school closures, loss of livelihoods, and a general fear among the affected populations.”

According to the Associated Press, gang violence, inflation, and food and fuel scarcity have already hit Haiti hard—especially where 60 percent of the population makes less than $2 a day. Haiti is still trying to recover from a 2010 earthquake and a 2016 hurricane.

After the assassination, the Dominican Republic announced the closure of border crossings between the two countries and ordered the reinforcement of surveillance in the area.

Haiti was already facing political strife, according to the BBC. Moïse had been elected to a five-year presidential term in 2016 after the previous president resigned. However, a dispute over election results delayed the official start of his term, and Moïse insisted that the delay entitled him to an extra year of the presidency, sparking disagreements from his opponents. In February 2021, opposition forces declared Moïse’s term ended, appointing a supreme court judge as interim president, but Moïse called the move a coup attempt, and he had 23 opponents arrested.

According to CNN, the line of presidential succession in the aftermath of Moïse’s death is unclear since the traditional successor, the president of the supreme court, recently died of COVID-19. Without an election, the parliament is effectively defunct, CNN reported.