Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – As news of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise spread across the globe yesterday, a shocked and disbelieving silence was the response from Haitians who are now under a “state of siege”, leading to closure of the country’s international airport.
The Associated Press reported last night that police killed four suspects and arrested two others hours later amid growing chaos in a country already enduring gang violence and protests of his increasingly authoritarian rule.
Three police officers held hostage by the suspected gunmen were freed late yesterday, said Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said the police and military were in control of security in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, where a history of dictatorship and political upheaval have long stymied the consolidation of democratic rule.
The presidency of Moise, who was killed in a gun attack and his wife injured at their Port-au-Prince home yesterday, has been rocked by controversy since he first took power in an October 2015 election. That election was, however, riddled with voter fraud.
Following another round of voting in November 2016, Moise won with 55.6 percent support and officially took office on February 7, 2017. He continued to rule by decree in 2019 after Haiti failed to hold elections, an action which sparked violent protests. The tug of war was over whether Moise’s five-year term began in 2016 – after the initial poll which ended in his favour – or in 2017. The president and his allies held that his term would end in 2022.
Yesterday, a representative from Radio Television Pacific and Le National, speaking with the Jamaica Observer, described the pall that had settled over the country known for politically induced tumult.
“There is no protestations on the street. We cannot say that there will be huge unrest and reprisals. This situation is unexpected,” the representative, who asked not be named, said.
This reporter, during the telephone interview, could hear, at intervals, rapid and heavy bouts of gunfire said to be coming from the direction of Pétion-Ville, an eastern suburb of Port-au-Prince, southern Haiti.
“We have been hearing shots from from 1:00 am [yesterday] ’til now,” the source said in the mid-afternoon interview.
Footage shared with the Observer of a daylight drive through of the capital showed bare streets, some blocked by the vehicles driven by the military. There were no sign of the protestors who in February stormed Port-au-Prince, angered at the president’s refusal to step down, injuring even journalists in their fury.
“Most citizens don’t want to react to this situation. They don’t realise it. They don’t believe that the president is assassinated because they don’t see his body,” the source noted.
Asked about the general mood on the ground at the time, the individual said, “People are very scared. It is this fear that does not encourage them to protest.”
Assistant lecturer in the Department of Government at The University of West Indies, Mona, and doctoral candidate in the global governance and human security programme at McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies in Boston, United States, Jean Pierre Murray, speaking with the Observer yesterday, said the unfortunate turn of events had blown the lid off the long-seething tensions in the country.
“So, from 2018, what would have happened in Haiti would have been an increase in the price of oil, which was passed on to the consumers… so from 2018 there have been protests, and it really didn’t die down…it ballooned, those protests have been ongoing.
“There was a point where the whole country was on lockdown for months….towards the end of 2019. Even before the [novel coronavirus] pandemic they had their own lockdown. The political climate in Haiti has always been tenuous,” Murray pointed out.
He said, however, that despite Haiti’s struggles with what was a “very challenging political situation” underlined by societal unrest, the assassination of the president was “shocking”.
It was not “unprecedented, given the context… It had been brewing; clearly it was descending into a state of crisis. There has been a build-up,” Murray stated.
At the same time, he said the fact that the former president had basically suspended the legislature now puts the country in a further quandary as far as governance is concerned in the interim.
In this respect, Murray said, while there have been howls of disgust about supposed interference in Haiti’s affairs by other governments, the country might need external assistance to regain its footing.
“There will be a need for assistance from external partners to guide the remainder of the leadership. I think it is about time the international community put more resources behind the rhetoric…I don’t think they should waste a crisis like this, it should be a turning point…they have to be part of the consensus for charting the way forward,” Murray declared.
“Resources are needed because people have been living in alarming conditions. If people have been protesting since 2018, and if people have caused the country to go into lockdown, it’s not because they want to send the country into lockdown, but because they are not seeing growth. It is unfortunate [that there was an assassination]; this wasn’t a despotic leader, we have to decry this kind of affront to the State; a State that was already quite fragile,” he told the Observer.
Yesterday as news of the assassination spread, regional and world leaders expressed shock and condemned the action, while calling for calm and unity amongst Haitians.
Jamaica’s own prime minister Andrew Holness, condemned the assassination of the Haitian president, describing it as a heinous act, a stain on Haiti, and a sorrowful time for the Caribbean.
President of the Opposition People’s National Party Mark Golding, in a statement, also condemned the murder of the president and the wounding of his wife, while calling on the Caribbean region to prioritise stabilising Haiti and its people and redouble efforts through Caricom to address the issues being faced by the country.
Meanwhile, Caricom heads of government, following a special emergency session yesterday in the wake of the assassination, called for the perpetrators to be apprehended and brought to justice, and for law and order to prevail.
They further expressed a willingness to play a lead role in facilitating a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people and their institutions to craft an indigenous solution to the crisis.
They further called on Haitians to remain calm.
As a mark of respect, the member states of the Caribbean Community and the Caricom Secretariat will fly their flags and the Caricom standard at half-mast for three days, beginning yesterday, as well as on the day of the funeral, a Caricom statement said.
And Vice Chancellor of The University of The West Indies Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said, “No country in the modern world has paid as great a human and material price as Haiti in seeking to convert its rubble of bloody imperial domination into a viable democratic nation State. In this regard, the murder of Moïse is the latest in a legacy that includes political leaders such as Walter Rodney and Maurice Bishop.
“His political execution reflects but an element in the internal political gridlock many Caribbean societies face in their effort to detach from the colonial scaffold with its endemic thirst for violence, and advance to a peaceful domestic democratic idealism. The University of the West Indies is dedicated to this process and transition and mourns the lost life of President Moïse,” he said.